Coming back from the Philippines to Shanghai, I felt refreshed, renewed, reanimated and ready to take on the world. Thank you Philippines! I was also sunkissed, bronzed and had a bit of colour on those pale white bird legs of mine. Sure, I went diving and island hopping so I used sunscreen a lot but I eventually got a suntan. Little did I know upon my return to China, that this would open a whole can of worms with racism in Asia.
Returning to my first day back at work, my Chinese colleague turned round to me and exclaimed ‘You used to be so beautiful but then you went to the Philippines. Look at you. You’re so dark‘. Wowsers. The worst part? I’d subconsciously been waiting for her to say it. I’m so used to the common perception in this part of Asia, I just knew it was coming. The second worst part My other freshly tanned colleagues got exactly the same treatment. Which led me to basically exclaim when I got back home, ‘What the hell?!’
Why is white so beautiful in China?
Put simply, white is more beautiful in China because it signifies a higher economical status. Haven’t got a lot of money? You must be working in the fields…peasant…and that makes your skin brown and dirty. Sad but true. I had exactly the same experience in Korea and I can’t see this idea of ‘white = the best’ changing any time soon. As I think more and more about how important being white is around here, the examples of its prominence just keep coming up:
- Skin whitening TV commercials
- Foundation and make-up making you super white: it feels black skin is invisible here
- My friends being turned down for jobs when employers saw them face-to-face: ‘You sounded white on the phone. Sorry you’re not what we’re looking for’.
- Asian ladies on the beach: there’s no bikini in their luggage, that’s for sure. Something more like this…
The white Western world doesn’t get out of this debate either though!
We’re riding the same weird wave of skin colour preference: we just like it the other way. Brown and ‘sun-kissed’ is sexy / slimming / healthy / beautiful i.e. your white ass sucks. Some people even have tanorexia. Think of Tan Mom, she really, really, really loves orange. I can’t quite say we take it as far as our Asian friends but we’re definitely buying into the idea that a certain skin colour is better. I used to buy fake tan when I was younger, rubbing it into my dried elbows and knees. We all know how that biscuit streaky bacon look turned out…
I’ll leave you with a fantastic music video from local Shanghai expat band Round Eye. Their track ‘suntan’ rounds up this subject very nicely.