“Have you gain weight? And with that short haircut you look like a fat lesbian. I’ve never thought you would grow up to be such a disappointment.” Those were exact words from my own mother, seeing me during my yearly family visit from the States a couple years ago. I’ve never forgotten it.
It has been about three years since I’ve been back in my hometown of Bangkok, Thailand, and on a regular basis I’m confronted with commercials and billboards blasting ads for whitening creams, TV shows displaying nose jobs on actresses and presenters that match that of an “ideal” Asian woman. Telling girls that only light-skinned, long haired, adorable and sweet types are desirable is part of the everyday media dosage. Being tanned with strong features and having an outspoken personality, I stick out. In the company of my friends, I don’t notice, but sometimes, when I catch myself in the reflection of the sky train, I feel like a stranger in my own country.
What I have come to realize is that Thailand (and possibly other countries in Asia, though I speak from my experience here) encourages a certain look. Western features like large, double eyelids and a high nose bridge are ideal when combined with more delicate, characteristically Asian features–the thin lips, oval face, long silky hair. Walking along the street of Bangkok, or better yet, a luxurious mall where “Hi-so” (Bangkok high society) hang out, the effects of this are evident. You can barely tell faces apart because they all fit the mould of being “beautiful.”
The decision to improve your look to better yourself is great, but changing yourself to look or be a certain way as a requirement to advance your career, finding better mate, make more money and finally being happy… that’s unhealthy.
Media is only part of the problem. I strongly believe–at least from my personal experiences–that the issue at heart starts in childhood, and it starts in the home. Asian families like to call it “tough love” — when it should really be called “verbal assaults.” It has spiraled out of control, so much so that standard greeting here is often something similar to what my mother once berated me with. Names like “fat” and “short” get tossed around as if it’s the person’s actual name. I am not here to tell you to spoil your kids, or be so wrapped up in your ego that you see no room for even small improvements. We just need to be a little more open-minded and accept variety of “beautiful people” in our lives. Teach kids that they can be what they wanted to be without sawing their chin in half and drinking glutathione goops. Teach them to just at least be OK with themselves.