The demeaning reality of Asia’s beauty standards

By Puteri Balkish

Making melanin as a huge nemesis in the beauty sector seems to rake up sales in the business of maintaining body and aesthetic image. Especially with the rise of the ‘selfie’ culture, promoted by social media platforms namely Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, the standard of beauty has now evolved into a fast-paced competition as every girl attempts to look better than the other.

Beauty actually matters. Try asking any Asian teenager around who has spent most of her time tormenting herself with these questions, “Am I fair enough to be deemed beautiful or pretty?” or “Am I skinny enough to be seen as attractive?”

In Asia, the notion that fairer skin is more beautiful is always an unspoken rule. The sad truth is that Asians around the world succumb to this pressure of having fair skin. This seemingly undying obsession towards skin colour does not only subject to beauty, but also to other issues like the standards of living and socioeconomic status. Undeniably, the richer you are, the more money you can invest in maintaining your looks, even to the extent of having plastic surgery.

Nowadays, systemic oppression are packed within beauty ads touted on billboards and TV screens and nicely packaged whitening products. In China, Korea and Japan especially, unlike the United States, where Instagram is filled with thick brow looks, contouring and lip-lining looks, it is all porcelain, paper-white skin, rosy, pink cheeks, Bambi, doe-looking eyes and just-bitten lips. With a combination of Western ideals, like large breasts, a tiny, hourglass-shaped waist and a thigh gap, they have created a limited, seemingly non-existing space for those who fail to meet those standards.

‘Whitewashing’ is rampantly done by the media without any form of embarrassment and without realisation, racism sprawls from this promotional act of whitening one’s skin colour to be looked upon as beautiful and attractive. Unlike in the United States where showing a lot of flesh is considered empowerment, in Asia, approval is given to those who are ‘cuter’. With a kink for ‘cute’ looks like bunny ears, flushed cheeks and just-bitten lips, they admit to rather be ‘innocent and cute’ than be deemed as sexy and controversial as it goes against social conduct.

Consequently, most Asian girls rather dish out the makeup and opt for a more natural look, and with the rise of beauty-apps like Perfect 365, Looks, Line Camera and Camera 360, the more ‘natural, effortless’ look would not be so hard to achieve since there are skin-softening tools, and widgets to make your facial features look more appealing. In terms of body image, Asians prefer to be skinnier than curvy. Asians glorify the beauty that comes from being skinny and underweight unlike Americans, who prosper in having a nicely-built, toned body. Instead of perceiving it as an eating disorder, it is likely to be seen as extreme measures taken to maintain the body image.

Especially living in a society where mental health is not taken of its importance, the societal pressure and depression that comes from the fact that you have to be ‘attractive and beautiful’ is not seen as a discriminative mentality.  The energy put into the demeaning reality of these unruly, unrealistic standards should be vested into changing the mindsets of the society to be more accommodative to every body type and facial appearance.

Dating back to the Han Dynasty where beauty ideals represented status and distinction in the society, we ironically end up asking ourselves today what Snow White asked the mirror before, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’ In the end, the only thing that matters is how we perceive ourselves behind closed doors and no media, stranger, family or person should be given the power to define your beauty.***

Puteri Balkish

KUL, MY | Not an optimist or a pessimist, but definitely a realist.

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