Beautification in Thailand: A self-identity path through cosmetic and plastic surgeries, skin lightening and influences on beauty standards.

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In this blog, the beauty standards in Thailand will be explained, along with what factors are influencing them, the cosmetic surgeries and procedures Thai people and foreigners undergo in order to be more attractive, to tabboos such as skin whitening and gender reassignment and the symbol of Kathoeys in the Thai culture and the role of the make-up industry.

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Written by Pricop Florentina (4506855)
NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences

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Cosmetic Procedures in Thailand

In the past decade, tourism agencies in Thailand started to offer tourist packages for medical purposes. Nowadays, the medical tourism in Thailand is a promoted and valuable market for the country. Thai medical services have managed to gain the foreigner’s reputation and international attention in the world market of cosmetic surgeries (B.Enteen, November 2013) The cosmetic surgery is currently growing among both Thai and foreigners. Foreigners are attracted by the relatively low prices of cosmetic surgery and the good quality of the procedures.Currently, Thailand has become a well-known destinational for undergoing plastic surgery overseas such as South Korea or Turkey. (Teerasu, March 2017)

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Competitive costs compared to the Western countries

The cost of cosmetic surgery in Thailand may vary from clinic to clinic. It also depends on the califications of the surgeon but overall is more affordable than any other Western country.

The costs of a hospital like Bumrungrad in Bangkok is between 50% and 70% cheaper compared to hospitals in the Europe and USA. Cosmetic surgeries are 50% less expensive compared to Europe. The term „country of smiles” takes its full meaning because the prices are between 50% and 70% lower than in Europe (Haupt, 2016). The quality is another factor people take into consideration. The patients from the United Arab Emirates and other ASEAN countries go to Thailand to benefit from the superior and more afforable quality of service (Bathia, 2018).

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Gender-reassignment and Kathoeys

Somebody’s path to self-identity and self-acceptance can be a long and expensive journey. There are numerous obstacles, from social acceptance, costs, discrimination and so on. In the last years, the LGBTQ community embraced more attention from the media and began a positive path to social acceptance and an easier way to beautification.

Few years ago, Thailand had tourist agencies which were offering tourist packages for medical purposes. Nowadays, the medical packages offer cosmetic surgeries and even sex/gender change surgeries. Those are classified in the category of SRS (sexual reassignment surgery). The Thai trans theory framework has 5 T’s : transexual, transactional, transitive, transnational and translation (B.Enteen, 2013). Smaller, less reputable clinics might charge as little as 45,000 baht (1,400 dollars). By comparison, sex change surgery in the United States usually costs more than 20,000 dollars (English, 2015)

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The self-identity on the gender and sexuality is growing rapidly in Thailand. In a predominant patriarchal culture, male to female transgenderisms and effiminate gay identities are flourishing alongside masculine ones. Kathoey can be seen as a de-masculinized male or has male effeminacy, who is cross dressing, has a femmine behavior, dress.
Thai society widely acknowledges the idea of a third gender, known as “kathoey.” Although the group has struggled for legal recognition – transgender females are still identified as “mister” in their passports, for instance – the government is considering granting them formal distinction under the country’s next constitution. (English, 2015)
The ritualized performance of feminity and the acceptance of transsexual beauty contests have created a new kathoey identity. The visibility of them is increased and the beauty, grace and elegance is displayed. Nowadays in Thailand, kathoeys can seek to gain social mobility, status, power and acceptance. The performance of kathoeys on public stages and media has draw the global attention of their feminine beauty (WUEN, 2007).

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Skin-whitening beauty standard in the Thai culture

Health and beauty are strongly interconnected in Thailand. There is an abundance of advertising on billboards regarding the whitening creams, facelifts, teeth whitening, skin bleaching, double eyelid surgery, nose surgery which strongly influences the population to resort to this beautification process. Thai culture is a racialised economy which associates beauty, progress, succces, modernity with whiteness. Market intelligence firm Global Industry Analysts shows that the demand for whiteners is rising, projected to reach $31.2 billion by 2024 (Persaud, 2006).

However, the beauty standard norm regarding the whiteness and the color of the skin has deep rots especially in Asia and also in the Thai culture. Dark skin was often associated with a low societal status of working in the fields which meant rural poverty, while light skin was associated with a high status, of living a comfortable cosmopolitan life indoors, away from the sun, feminity, delicacy, fragility, and gracefulness. Therefore the color of the skin was a sign for people to recognize someone’s social class.

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Despite the history, the white skin beauty standard is continuously supported in the media such as television, billboards, magazines and adds. Drug-stores have on shelters whitening creams pilled up. Having a fair skin is not only directed to woman. There are also numerous products and services aimed at men who wish to have a whiter skin

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The make-up industry in Thailand

Compared to Western countries, in Thailand the skincare products and color cosmetics are the largest products sectors among the Southeast Asian countries.
Due to the high demand, major international brands such as L’oreal have invested in the Thai cosmetics market (Manakitsomboon, 2021). New brands for those products also emerged from current trends and from social media influencers. The most popular sectors are : skin care, hair care, make-up, perfume and personal hygiene.

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Considering the Thai lifestyle is constantly changing and modernizing, the changes can be seen in Thai woman who live mostly in urban areas. Thai women are concerned on their appeareances because they see spending on beauty products can reflect on their personality (Anantaya Ponbamrungwong, 2009).

Another reason is that women put emphasis on their looks and therefore spend large amounts of money on beauty products. They believe their personality is reflected on their appearance. Women who are wearing make-up are more satisfied with their faces and their general appearance. They assumed they were seen as more attractive by the people around them when wearing make-up, rather than were they not wearing any make-up. They are influenced by the heavily advertising of make-up brands and the numerous media channels and influencers (Anantaya Ponbamrungwong, 2009).

The make-up industry growing in the Thai market because of the large number of young female consumers and the young population of Thailand. This has a segment with a high spending power. Furthermore, Thailand has been influenced by international media by both East and West. East: Japan, Korea; West: America, Europe and Australia. Around 15 million Thai people use cosmetic products and spend between 10% and 20% of their total income on beauty products. (Anantaya Ponbamrungwong, 2009)

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Another reason is that women put emphasis on their looks and therefore spend large amounts of money on beauty products. They believe their personality is reflected on their appearance. Women who are wearing make-up are more satisfied with their faces and their general appearance. They assumed they were seen as more attractive by the people around them when wearing make-up, rather than were they not wearing any make-up. They are influenced by the heavily advertising of make-up brands and the numerous media channels and influencers (Anantaya Ponbamrungwong, 2009)

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Korean influences on the Thai beauty standards

With the sky-scraping rising of the Korean entertainment, pop music and television dramas, the Thai beauty standards have changed. In the Thai entertainment there are numerous Korean actors and products being featured. As a result, the Korean style and beauty has become the sinonime for universal beauty for the Thai population. The increasing of Korean beauty-related businesses in Thailand promoted Korean beauty standards; features include a V-shaped face, pearl-white skin, a slender figure and a pointed, slender nose. Thai people even go to the lengths of travelling to South Korea to have plastic surgeries to look like their idols. According to Kosum Omphornuwat, a lecturer at Thammassat University, ”the market economy, the huge consumerism and the selfie syndrome and social media only reinforce and support this obssession” (Salvá, 2019).

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“The beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. The ideal of beauty, vary from country to country. The things that impact a nation of how it views the “universal beauty”, are not only its own traditions and culture but also the influences from the outside. Nowadays, with social media, make-up industry, and the K-pop phenomenon, the Thai society was influenced on how it perceive beauty and the lengths women and men alike have to go through to achieve it, also called the “beautification” process.

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Anantaya Ponbamrungwong, S. C. (2009, June 2). The impact of brand on Thai female. Retrieved from International Marketing Spring 2009:
B.Enteen, J. (2013). Transitioning Online: Cosmetic Surgery Tourism in Thailand. Sage Journals.
B.Enteen, J. (November 2013). Transitioning Online: Cosmetic Surgery Tourism in Thailand. Sage Journals.
Bathia, G. (2018, November 19). Plastic Surgery Cost in Thailand: Top Clinics, Doctors, & Reviews. Retrieved from MediGence:
Haupt, T. (2016, December 5). MEDICAL TOURISM IN THAILAND STILL VERY ATTRACTIVE. Retrieved from TourismReview News:
Manakitsomboon, H. (2021, August 10). Cosmetics market in Thailand – statistics & facts. Retrieved from statista:
Persaud, W. (2006, 08 19). Gender, race and global modernity: A perspective from Thailand. Retrieved from Taylor& Francis Online:
Salvá, A. (2019, December 02). Where Does the Asian Obsession With White Skin Come From? Retrieved from THE DIPLOMAT:


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