COLORISM IN THE THAI COMMUNITY
Colorism is prevalent in many cultures and communities. The idea of lighter skin is prettier skin is not a new concept to me. I've experienced colorism at such a young age and I constantly notice it around me, especially in Asian communities but I'll be focusing on the Thai community since this is the community I've grown up with.
At a really young age, maybe when I was 10, I had an experience that has stuck with me to this very day. When I was younger, I did Traditional Thai Dancing for a Thai Temple that my family attended. One day after practice, my parents were running a little late picking me up so I just hung out downstairs where practice usually took place. I don't remember there being anyone else down there with me except another dancer's mom. She was putting away costumes and makeup into the supply closet and then suddenly she walked up next to me and started telling me how dark my skin is and how I need to stay out of the sun as much as possible to avoid getting darker or else I'd have a hard time finding someone to love me in the future.
I had no idea why this grown woman would say something like this to me. Her own complexion wasn't that much darker than mine and her daughter's skin tone was also very similar to ours. To be told that no one would find me attractive or love me because my complexion happens to be a little darker than other Thai folks really shook me to my core. Especially at 10 years old. She even went through the liberty of holding up a fairer foundation up to my face before making some more comments. After this incident, I decided to go wait for my parents outside on the steps. I couldn't help but think back to what just happened. I started crying. My dance teacher happened to come across me and asked me what was wrong. I told her everything and she was LIVID. My parents arrived not too long after this happened and understandably, they were outraged too. No one understood what this GROWN UP WOMAN was gaining from putting a 10 year old down. My dance teacher had a stern talking to with her and I never saw her again and her daughter didn't return to dance practice. I'm just very appreciative to my parents and dance teacher who stood up for me. Unfortunately, this wasn't my first brush with colorism (at the hands of someone way older than me) and it wouldn't be the last.
Even though I was told that my skin is beautiful the way it is, the criticisms left a long impression in my mind.
There was a point in my life where I did avoid the sun and starting using more body scrubs that contained turmeric powder because I was so desperate to lighten my skin. Even if it was just a smidgen. Since people with darker complexions were seen as being part of a lower working class, I wanted to fit in with the lighter skinned people who were valued higher in society.
Every time we returned to Thailand, I could always expect at LEAST 5 comments about how dark my skin is. Another lovely people like to talk about is how "white" I was a baby and now I look "burnt". Again, even if this is a completely normalized part of Thai culture, I still took everything to heart. Despite being told that these ADULTS who are making these entirely inappropriate jokes are "just kidding" or how they don't really mean it and this is just Thai people banter. It's weird. Putting people down for traits they're probably already really self conscious about? What are you gaining? Do you feel better about yourself now?
The media also plays a huge role in colorism. If you turn on the TV, chances are that there will be a commercial for whitening creams every couple of minutes. It baffles me how nonchalant and accepting people are towards skin bleaching.
Unfortunately, I don't think this is an issue that will be resolved anytime soon. It's become so embedded in the culture that we don't know anything else. This has sadly become the beauty standard.
I know that it may be hard to accept and love the color of your skin when everyone around you, including family members are commenting on it. But please remember that it does not define you, you are not less beautiful based on the melanin in your skin.