Colorism in Asia: why be scared of melanin when it's what makes you beautiful?

TechNews Writer
Mon Sep 13, 2021

Growing up in India, the idea of colorism has always piqued my interest, because as a nation of dark-skinned people, we are quite obsessed with getting fairer. Rationally, being fairer has no real biological benefit, so where did this fixation originate from, despite having historic texts that depict the darker shade of skin as something beautiful and coveted? Even the idols of gods eventually could not escape the prison of being more aesthetic based on the color of the stone they're carved from. 

The beauty standard of being light-skinned has been a long-standing trend in the southeastern and eastern countries of Asia for centuries. Despite some of the easternmost countries not having been colonized by the west, the idea of white supremacy has been cultivated there too. Having been told often to not stay out in the sun so that I do not become tanner than my natural color, I know that the fear of being dark was something that was drilled into generations of southeast Asians from an early age. Although the concept of colorism rises from racism, factors such as caste (primarily in India), class (China and Korea), and economic factors add to the discrimination too. For Filipinos, having a lighter complexion is desirable because it signifies social status, noble ancestry, and most significantly, economic status.

It is quite often seen that there is no dignity in labor in these countries, as the labor class are the people who spend their days out in the sultry heat, and this is associated with their skin being darker, their social status being lower and them being portrayed as uneducated. All this coupled with either the oppression of the caste system or the ranking of one's social status by class, it is never easy for a dark-skinned person to attain equality.

The colorist view is further propagated by the cosmetic industry. Skin bleaching is a $7.5 billion industry in Asia. Eurocentric beauty standards are encouraged by advertisements and the film industry on a daily basis. The models (irrespective of gender) employed in advertisements tend to have features that are often associated with the western standards of beauty, whether it's an ad for toothpaste, cars, or as discussed, skin "brightening" products. Skin bleaching products work on the principle of adding mercury to the skin to prevent melanin from developing, which can eventually lead to kidney failure. About 82.8% of women who bleach their skin are aware of this fact but continue to do so. Colorism is a torpid evil that affects people in the most fundamental of circumstances, diminishing their confidence and sometimes their opportunities. It is my most genuine hope that the people with thousands of different skin tones in the rich lands of the east are taught that their melanin is what brings their magic.



Appears in
2021-Fall-Issue 2