Spirit of Thailand

Spirit of Thailand

Culture, Relationships,
Thai Massage, Traveling

Why Are Thai Women Obsessed With Being White?

CC BY-SA by °Florian

Recently I purchased some sunblock cream in Thailand. When I checked the ingredients, I saw that they contained a whitening agent. Since I did not want to be whitened or bleached, I checked some other brands – same story – all contained whitening agents.

I went to a couple more drugstores, and finally in the third one I found an imported sun block which did not contain any skin bleach.

I have known since a long time that most Thai women are obsessed with being as white as possible. They keep an array of whitening creams in their bathroom, and you can often spot them on the street. Their bleached faces look much whiter than the rest of their bodies – kind of a ghostly look if you ask me.

Thai women with whitened face
The pale look is considered classy

But the Thai men love the white look. If you ever watch any TV commercials in Thailand, you would notice that the female actors are all very light skinned.

Or look at the models in a Thai fashion show – almost all of them are very light skinned – by intention and with cosmetic help.

You can watch the Thai women riding on their omnipresent scooters in the blazing sun, but they are bundled up in jackets and even gloves to avoid getting any tan.

You will never see a Thai woman lying on the beach, that’s only for tourists. And of course there are no tanning beds in Thailand..

Thai peasant
Dark skin is seen as low class. It is associated with peasants working outside as this boy who is taking care of a buffalo.

The Thais feel that the white look is high class, and the dark skin reveals a lower class person who maybe works out in the fields – a peasant in other words.

Thai men don’t feel obliged to become unnaturally whiter, but they do prefer their women to have the snow white look.

In stark contrast, millions of foreigners come to Thailand every year to roast themselves on the beaches and get a deep tan. Their sunblock contains agents which make the skin darker – just the opposite of the Thai sunblocks.

And then the visitors return to their home countries where they proudly display their tan, and all their friends are duly impressed.

After all, in the western world the tanned look indicates a person who has traveled, who can enjoy the good life on a beach in far-away exotic places and who has the means to afford such vacations. It’s the complete opposite of the Thai way of looking at it. The Thais want to be white and the foreigners want to be dark.

image of a nose
Compared to Western noses, Thais generally have a lower, and sometimes no nose bridge at all.

The whitening craze is not the only area where the Thais want to look like Westerners. The other mega craze is plastic surgery for the nose, (along with eyes and other parts) to make them look more like Caucasian noses. Well, Japanese noses are also popular, I have been told.

The Thais generally have low nose bridges or no nose bridges. Countless Thai women have artificial plastic nose bridges and they are convinced that this makes them more beautiful and desirable.

Next is the eyes. They also have to be turned into Caucasian style eyes. Thailand is famous for the good looks of their women, however they want to look more like Americans or Europeans.

In all honesty I have to admit that the Koreans outdo the Thais in the cosmetics craze. The latest mega industry in Korea is cosmetics and plastic surgery for men. Yes, foundation, eye liners, nose and eye jobs, the works.

Thai ladyboy
Believe it or not, this stunning Thai beauty is a man, a ladyboy or kathoey.

But then again the Thais outdo the Koreans with their overwhelming number of sex change operations.

There are more transgenders in Thailand (they are called ‘ladyboys’ or ‘kathoeys’ here) than anywhere else in the world – about half a million.

It’s a mystery to me why everybody wants to be different. Thai women want to be white. Western women want to be dark.

And the Thai men want to become women. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Even my Thai wife asked me if she should get a nose job. I told her that if I wanted a woman with a western nose, I would have stayed in America, and that I like her nose just as it is.

Luckily that put an end to this discussion. However her girlfriends still pester her about the latest plastic surgery fashion.

Talking about relationships in Thailand – there are tens of thousands of cross cultural relationships here, and most foreign men find themselves in relationships with dark skinned Thai women.

They have no problems with the darker skin tone, they actually find it attractive. The Thai men however go for the white look, so there is no competition between the Thai men and the foreign men.

It does help the self esteem of the naturally attractive Thai women when they realize that their western partners do not expect them to be a Thai version of Michael Jackson’s cosmetic and surgical transformation.

It all seems quite strange to me. Thai women are known for their natural attractive features, but they all want to change them. Maybe you have to be a woman to understand this.

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The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for well over a decade and is happily married to his Thai wife. 
He can be reached at [email protected]

Related articles:
Why Thai women don’t mind telling you their age
Relationships in Thailand part 4

11 thoughts on “Why Are Thai Women Obsessed With Being White?”

  1. Hola Shama, just finish reading your article with Banana at my side, many good laugh we had, because she fits the description of the Thai woman that would like to stay lite skin or to be white if she could, yes the gloves and the reverse sweater is in style here, I make jokes about it all the time, and I keep asking her why do you want to be white, and yes I tell her that if I wanted to be with a white woman I would of stayed in Canada, where they are real white, when it comes to noses, well Banana did have a nose job some years ago in Bangkok, I keep telling her that if she wants more cosmetic work that I will go and get a sex change, I will become to oldest recipient of such transformation, great article Shama, it is a great conversation subject for the party that we are going to tomorrow evening, it is the first ” Billionaire Beach Party Bash ” it is a chance to network with adults, vacationers and locals alike, this is to take place every first Saturday of the month from now on, http://www.theakyra.com/billionaire-party.php Thank you for sharing, this one makes my day, Ciao for now

    • Thanks for the comment Coco. I hope that more cross cultural couples will read my story. It will probably hit home for most of them.

  2. Evolutionists reckon that the original man who was dark skinned came from Africa. As we migrated to more northern latitudes, we needed to become lighter skinned to be able to produce vitamin D. Hence the lighter skinned people in Europe. Similarly Tibetans and Nepalese people have developed blood circulation systems to cope with higher altitudes as they too migrated.

    So when us light skinned people migrate back to sunnier climates we are prone to skin cancer because we do not have the pigments in our skin to protect us. So from an evolutionary point of view it makes sense for us to be attracted to darker skinned partners so that our offspring can deal with increased light exposure. So nature could be using its ways to give us that little bit of inspiration when we see a lovely Isaan woman. The Thais on the other hand are becoming less rural and with the Urban migration they are spending more time indoors and no longer need such pigmented skins.

    The hole in the Ozone layer means that in Australia we get even more UV exposure and skin cancer is quite common. Doctors regularly burn of skin cancers with liquid nitrogen and are proficient at identifying malignant skin spots. And its no longer so cool to sit and bake in the sun compared to 40 years ago.

    In Zimbabwe where I lived there was a hot market for skin whitening cream amongst Africans. It was found that the most effective variety was actually carcinogenic and was banned. There then became a black market for the remaining stocks and other similar concoctions.

    So its no accident that the dark skinned ladies turn us guys on. The ways of nature are profound. It may appear that we are independent thinkers, but maybe we are more influenced by the agendas of our genes than our heads or egos.

    • Thanks Graham for your interesting angle on the skin color issue. I didn’t know that Africans like in Zimbabwe are also into skin whitening creams as well. It definitely is not an exclusive Thai issue, since just a few days ago I was contacted by someone in Vietnam who asked me about importing whitening cream from Thailand.

      • My feeling is that the attraction between Asians and Caucasians is not only about money and status. Nature is also giving our brains little signals that there is a need for inter-racial breeding to improve the genetics of the offspring.
        A few years ago I travelled to the Philippines and found it quite amazing how even women 40 years younger than I were interested in a relationship. When I asked why they quite nonchalantly replied that there were some mixed race announcers on TV and they thought that they looked good!

        • It’s the same in Thailand. Many Thai women don’t care if the man is quite a bit older, at least in the relationships between Thai women and foreign men. I once asked a Thai woman why that is, and she said older men are more reliable and mature, and less likely to run off with some other girl.

          As far as the mixed genetics go, I agree with you that the world is better off with more mixing instead of cultivating “pure” racial breeding hehe.

  3. Whether this is true or not, lady boys are an integral part of the Thailand experience. Lady boys can be seen in bars, flirting with men, dancing in cabaret shows and performing in various events. Many foreigners are fascinating by this group of people: not exactly men and not exactly women. The Kathoey subculture is especially fascinating because of their acceptance by other members of Thai society. Despite the conservative country, lady boys are very open about their sexuality and have no problem flaunting their fake breasts or their smooth nether regions. The Buddhist religion is often credited as the reason for the acceptance of sub-groups like lady boys in Thailand.

    • Yes, the ladyboys are often seen in those entertainment venues which you mentioned. However many of them also work in regular jobs, just like everybody else. I know one bus company which I use regularly for my visa runs to Burma which employs quite a few ladyboys as stewardesses or attendants in their buses. It is obvious who they are but nobody minds at all.

  4. Perhaps it is human nature to feel generally incomplete. There seems always something to be missing, hence we have desires, which can lead to ever more discomfort and suffering. It is hard for most people to accept themselves as they are. Not sure what the many reasons are for the longing to be different – perhaps it is the millions of cravings and the hope for everlasting acceptance and love. A million reasons could be an influence here (see environmental toxins like plastic which can cause impotence). In a way, the ladyboys, I saw them in India too. They liked to dress up as Radha and wanted to adhore Kr’sna and the thought behind this was that all of creation is female and the awareness when combined with creation is the ultimate love (Shiva and Shakti make the Body of Brahma – Ananda Sutram).

    Perhaps Buddhism (and Yoga) is best equipped to support people’s quest for happiness in yoga though Ahimsa against self and other is an issue. If that entails even changing and cutting parts of the body and alter appearance and sexuality – it might be supported – taking Ahimsa into account. If it does not make them happy on the ultimate level, other things can at the end be tried out – see meditation. One just has to become our own best friend or else this quest into Samsara goes on and on. Coming to a halt and looking within is a choice not to be dismissed.

    I wonder, if we could see ourselves and all other human beings as the precious beings we are (more or less unconditionally???), then we may be able to accept ourselves and others as they are in a unconditional way just as we are.

    I personally cannot fathom how somebody can be so unhappy in their body that they want to change (alter, cut and hurt parts of it and in this painful way grow into another kind of hopefully healing, I wish them the best.

    I too discovered the urge for young women to be white in India, Indonesia, Thailand as they admired my white skin, even they were actually the magazine model beauty types. This was a weird experience for me as I thought how wonderful and beautiful the ladies were… I totally admired the people of the East wherever I went and I too was admired. Perhaps this admiration of each other is at the end a good thing as we support each others happiness through accepting each other.

    • Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. As long as we perceive beauty exclusively as an outside thing, it will always be like that. When people learn to see the person behind the mask, then we won’t need to mess with our external appearance so much.

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