The impact of beauty standards on women in Thailand

Beautiful fair-skinned women with long black hair and beautiful smiles on their gorgeous V-shaped faces, who does not want to look like them? These women stand on the front page of all magazines, movies, and newspapers, representing the current beauty standards of Thailand. There are plenty of women who want to look a-like. In this blog, I share the beauty standards of Thailand, their impact on women, and the consequences attached to them. And believe me, there are consequences. Let’s start at the beginning, the beginning of the beauty standards.

Beauty standards throughout the history

The concept ‘Beauty Standards’ is known for ages. In the Ancient Egypt era (3300 B.C.-330 B.C.), the beauty standards for women consisted of narrow shoulders, high waist, symmetrical face, and being slender. In the Ancient Greek era (500 B.C.-300 B.C.) its beauty standards were chubby women, to represent her wealth, and fair skin. China knew the Han Dynasty era (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) where women were expected to have small feet, a slim waist, pale skin, large eyes, red lips, and long black hair. The feet of women were even bound to prevent them from growing. In the Italian Renaissance (1400-1700), the beauty standards consist of fair skin, big breasts, light hair, and full hips. The Victorian era (1837-1901) expected hourglass-shaped figures, with the help of the corset.

Beauty standards [A, B, C &D]

In the Roaring 20s (1920s) women started to cut their hair, wear shorter skirts, tighter dresses, and preferred a flat chest. The Golden Age of Hollywood (1930s-1950s) was formed by Marilyn Monroe with her full figure and tanned skin. In the time of the supermodels (1980s), women were preferred to be skinny but athletic, slender but curvy, long-legged, small-waisted, and to have toned arms. This resulted in a massive rise in anorexia. Currently, in the era of people like Kim Kardashian, women want to have a small waist, flat stomach, big breasts, tanned, and a big butt.

Not all women follow these beauty standards but a lot of them get influenced by the beauty standards they are surrounded with and try to follow these up. Sometimes with bad consequences [1 & 2].

Current beauty standards in Thailand

The main beauty standards in Thailand are influenced by the Indian caste system, indicating that the lighter you are, the higher you stand in the caste system. Darker people tend to be seen as the working class for low payments. Thai people see light skin as youthful, wealthy, and healthy and consider having light skin as a symbol for high quality and decency in women [3]. These beauty standards consist of having light/c;ean skin, a skinny body, a prominent nose, and a V-shaped face.

Additionally, Thai men and women are following the Korean beauty standards of ‘K-Pop’ currently as well. The standards for K-Pop consist of being tall and very skinny. This results in a lot of eating disorders and women wearing extremely high soles on their shoes. Among the height and weight, it is also important to have fair skin, and big eyes [4].

There are a lot of TV shows in Thailand where people get influenced by beauty standards. One extreme example of such a show is ‘Let me in’. Originally a Korean show but presented in Thailand now as well. In this program, poor and socially excluded women get a full make-over. They get surgery for extreme things like bone structure, different shaping of eyes and mouth. Even though there is a lot of criticism on this program, it still is a great success on television [5].

How women change their appearance to embrace the beauty standards

The most common thing women try to change is their skin colour. The sales value of skincare products in Thailand from June 2021 to January 2022 can be seen in the image below:

Sales value of skincare products in Thailand [E]

From this graph can be concluded that a huge amount of people in Thailand purchase skin whitening products to live up to the current beauty standards. The numbers become even bigger when you realize that skin whitening products in Thailand cost around 37 Baht. The most common products used are creams and lotions. However, these creams and lotions are illegal in Thailand since they consist of a lot of chemicals that are dangerous and harmful to your body. One of the main ingredients is Kojic Acid, which can be very bad for the skin. Another common ingredient used is Mercury. This chemical can cause serious harm like kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration, scarring, anxiety, depression, and making it harder for your body to fight bacterial and fungal infections in the future. Additionally, washing it off your face and ending up in the rivers and seas, results in environmental harm [6].

Examples of Skin Whitening products [F,G,H &I]

Although those lotions and creams are illegal, they still got imported in huge amounts into the country. The main reason behind this is that consumer agencies want to do people a favour that cannot afford a treatment [7].

Besides creams and lotions, people can also get microdermabrasion, a mechanical peeling of dead skin and the upper layer to create a smooth and younger skin [8]; chemical peels, where a chemical solution is applied on your skin; laser treatments, where doctors minimize the melanin build-up in your skin and thereby makes it brighter [9]; and glutathione injections/pills. Glutathione is a natural substance produced by the liver. It helps your immunity, acts as an anti-cancer agent, and delays the aging of the skin. However, when you become older, your glutathione level is decreasing. Injections and pills can boost this level and make your skin look lighter/younger [10]. In the video below is the process explained of a client wanting to get a laser treatment to create a lighter skin:

The tools named above are all specified for the beauty standard of having fair/light skin. But the Thai beauty standard also includes a prominent nose and a V-shaped face. To obtain those beauty standards, most females undergo plastic surgery. In 2020, a total of 63,37 thousand people had face and head surgery including eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty, and fat grafting. Additionally, an amount of 48,3 thousand people chose injectables and 3,06 thousand people had a facial rejuvenation [11].

How women get influenced by the beauty standards

In Thailand, people get influenced by the beauty standards of Thailand everywhere they look. On all billboards and commercial spaces are advertisements to be seen on whitening your skin. Often they contain the message

The whiter you are, the better you are

If you are white, you will win

There was even an advertisement on television that contained this message:

“Just being white, you will win” [J]

Additionally, actors and presenters on television all have fair skin. Sometimes they even get chosen as an actor due to their skin colour instead of their skill. All celebrities live up to the beauty standards and people from a young age get influenced by that. They want to be like their idols and see that if you have fair skin or a V-shaped face, you will achieve success. Besides the advertisements, tv-shows, and the influence of social media by celebrities, ordinary people that want to live up to the beauty standards walk around with umbrellas, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats to protect themselves from getting tanned from the sun.

Being surrounded by that much ‘advertisement’ for the current beauty standards in Thailand, make you believe that you indeed should be more white or should change your face structure. Simply because everybody does it and if you do not, you will be an outcast [6].

Consequences of measurements to change your appearance

The women that get influenced by beauty standards and try to change their appearance, often go through negative side effects. Besides the effects of creams and lotions mentioned in the part about how women change their appearance, women also get psychologically affected. It all starts at a young age. Children at school already get bullied due to their appearance. Children in their puberty are more likely to get depressed, anxious, and even suicidal when they have negative body images. When you get bullied at school for your appearance and see advertisements of how you should look, it is understandable that a lot of young females are not confident and have low self-esteem [12].

Luckily,  Thai society has been developing the acceptance of natural skin colour more in the last years. Take Anchilee ‘Ann’ Scott-Kemmis as an example.

Miss Universe Thailand [K]

This woman became Miss Universe Thailand in October 2021 even though she has an athletic, normal body figure (normal as in a full figure without being chubby). This woman is the start of a new era in Thailand. The era of “Real-sized” beauty [13].

My own opinion

Throughout this blog, I shared the history of beauty standards, the current beauty standards in Thailand, the measurements Thai women take, those consequences, and a small description of what the future might look like for the beauty standards of Thailand. But how do I think about this?

In my opinion, beauty standards are unavoidable in society. There will always be women that want to look like others, as their role models. I just hope that society and social media get more friendly towards all types of bodies. I am glad women like Anchilee exist and stand up for those that do not fit the beauty standards. Everybody is beautiful in their way. We just need our society and social media to confirm that more.

 

References:

[1] Chalker, H. (2020). The Evolution of Female Beauty Standards Throughout History. Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from: https://hers-magazine.com/the-evolution-of-female-beauty-standards-throughout-history/

[2] Vardaraj, A. (2020). Female beauty standards through the ages. Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from: https://www.asiaville.in/article/female-beauty-standards-through-the-ages-57139

[3] Sirinya. (2015). Thai Beauty Ideals and Desire for ‘Fair Skin’. Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from: Thai Beauty Ideals and Desire for ‘Fair Skin’ | Sirinya’s Thailand (sirinyas-thailand.de)

[4] Wong, L. & Yoon, J. The Strict Beauty Standards in the K-Pop Industry. Retrieved on 23-03-2022 from: https://theasianarticles.medium.com/the-strict-beauty-standards-in-the-k-pop-industry-6e15c660ca60

[5] Spooky. (2020). The Crazy Transformations on South Korea’s Controversial Plastic Surgery Reality Show. Retrieved on 23-03-2022 from: https://www.odditycentral.com/news/the-crazy-transformations-on-south-koreas-controversial-plastic-surgery-reality-show.html

[6] Iverson, K. (2017). The Whitening Skin Epidemic in Thailand: Is it Changing? Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/thailand/articles/the-whitening-skin-epidemic-in-thailand-is-it-changing/

[7] Refinery29/Shady. (2019). Why people risk their lives to bleach their skin. [VIDEO] YouTube. Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYTIh2cXfvM

[8] Beauty clinic Lotus. (2022). Microdermabrasion. Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from: https://beautycliniclotus.nl/en/skin-improvement/microdermabrasion/

[9] Rekha Sighn, T.N. (2020). What is the cost of skin whitening treatment in India? Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from:  https://www.olivaclinic.com/blog/skin-whitening-treatment-cost-in-india/

[10] Kukreja, K. (2020). What is Glutathione Injections: Benefits, Cost and Side Effects. Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from:  https://www.olivaclinic.com/blog/side-effects-glutathione-injection-skin-whitening/

[11] Statista. (2022). Total number of cosmetic and aesthetic procedures in Thailand in 2020, by type. Retrieved on 22-03-2022 from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1012503/thailand-number-cosmetic-aesthetic-procedures-by-type/

[12] Mahoney, B. (2021). The Obsession with Beauty and How it is Linked to Depression in Teens. Retrieved on 23-03-2022 from: https://discoverymood.com/blog/obsession-beauty-linked-depression-teens/

[13] Chia, J. & Maneechote, P. (2021). Thailand’s ‘Revolution’ in beauty standards only skin-deep. Retrieved on 23-03-2022 from: https://asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/Tea-Leaves/Thailand-s-revolution-in-beauty-standards-only-skin-deep

 

 

Pictures:

[A] Agnew, M.E. (2019). Ancient Greek Beauty Standards. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: Ancient Greek Beauty Standards — Eternal Goddess

[B] Victorian Era. (2020). Edwardian Era Corsets. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: The Victorian Corset: The Predecessor of Edwardian Corset (victorian-era.org)

[C] Talmon, N. (2021). Here’s what the ideal beauty standards for men and women in the 1920s looked like. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: Here’s What 1920s Beauty Standards For Men & Women Looked Like (ranker.com)

[D] Instagram, Kim Kardashian. (2022). [PICTURE INSTAGRAM]. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: Kim Kardashian op Instagram: “🌊 You’ve asked, we’ve listened 🌊 @SKIMS SWIM launches this Friday, March 18 at 9AM PT”

[E] Statista. (2022). Monthly sales value of skincare products in Thailand. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1218720/thailand-monthly-skincare-sales-value/

[F] Ebay. (2022). 80ml Kojic Acid Skin Whitening Cream Triple Action Brightening Acid Dark Spots. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: 80ml Kojic Acid Skin Whitening Cream Triple Action Brightening Acid Dark Spots | eBay

[G] Ebay. (2022). Anti-Melasma Cream Reduce Freckle Acne Dark Spot Wrinkles Sunburn Whitening 30gr. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: Anti Melasma Cream Reduce Freckle Acne Dark Spot Wrinkles Sunburn Whitening 30gr | eBay

[H] Xue, F. (2022). An Antioxidant Shot That Promises Brighter Skin? I Tried It. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: Glutathione Injections: An Antioxidant Shot for Brighter Skin (byrdie.com)

[I] Made in China. (2022). Glutathione Skin Whitening Injection for Brighten The Skin Tone. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: China Glutathione Skin Whitening Injection for Brighten The Skin Tone Photos & Pictures – Made-in-china.com

[J] Bangkok Post. (2016). Firm behind ‘Be white to win’ skin-pill ad apologises. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from:  https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/820268/firm-behind-be-white-to-win-skin-pill-ad-apologises

[K] Chuah, R. (2021). 71 kg Model Anchilee Scott-Kemmis Wins Miss Universe Thailand 2021. Retrieved on 24-03-2022 from: https://hype.my/2021/250910/71kg-model-anchilee-scott-kemmis-wins-miss-universe-thailand-2021/

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