Social Issues

Colorism, the dark side of skin whitening in Thailand

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela and Jackree Bunyamethi

Bangkok, Oct 22 (efe-epa).- The winner of this year’s Miss Grand Thailand beauty pageant has become the target of discrimination on social media for her darker complexion, a deeply ingrained issue in the nation that academics are referring to as colorism.

The pejorative messages began when Pacharaporn “Nam” Chantarapadit, who won the competition in September, voiced her support for pro-democracy student protests in Thailand.

“The beauty queen looks like an African monkey,” wrote one social media user. “Is she really a beauty queen? I thought she was a Ngo-Pa barbarian,” wrote another, using a derogatory term for an ethnic group native to southern Thailand.

Colorism, as opposed to racism, occurs when people from the same ethnic group discriminate against each other on the basis of skin color. It is a growing issue across Asia, Africa and South America.

Nam, who is 22 years old and studies English at university, told EFE: “To be honest, I don’t hate them.”

She acknowledged, however, the intimidating nature of the bullying and said she had been the subject of discrimination and hateful comments due to her skin color her whole life.

Although she is not the first darker-skinned person to win Miss Grand Thailand, light-colored skin continues to be sold to the public as the ideal beauty standard.

There is an abundance of skin-whitening products in the shops. Products containing mercury and hydroquinone, which are harmful to health and banned in many countries, including the European Union, are sold on the black market.

The supposed superiority of pale skin is openly shown in Thai TV shows and films, where it is used to denote high status. Advertisements also herald it as something to aspire to.

In 2013, a Thai subsidiary of consumer goods giant Unilever was forced to apologize after its ad campaign for the skin whitening product ‘Citra 3D Brightening Girls Search’ negatively portrayed a woman with a darker complexion.

Seoul Secret, a Thai company, was forced to pull an ad for the same reason just two years later.

Although attitudes are slowly changing, the market for skin-whitening products in Thailand and other countries is booming.

Grand View Research, a consultancy firm, said the global market for these products was worth over $8.3 billion in 2018 and was strong in countries such as China, Thailand, the Philippines, Kenya and Ghana.

Major companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and L’Oréal this year have begun to withdraw skin-whitening products or at least remove the words “whitening,” “white” or “clear” from the packaging due to the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“All women want to have white skin because they think it is beautiful, as the original Thais do not have white skin. Also, Thai men like white-skinned women, so it’s a way of satisfying their appreciation,” Gorawit Tanomsat, a 29-year-old Thai man, told EFE.

Advertisements with pale-skinned women and men are ubiquitous in Bangkok’s shopping malls and for some that is becoming an issue.

Kawinthida, an 18-year-old student, spoke to EFE in one such commercial center.

“I think the discrimination is so obvious. People with white skin are always considered beautiful or pretty, even if their face is not,” she said.

In Thailand and other Asian countries, members of society’s elite have stereotypically associated darker complexions with farmers and the lower classes.

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