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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

#RacisminThaiMedia: Can you count how many times you’ve seen skin lightening products in commercials

Can you count the amount of times you’ve seen skin lightening products in Thai commercials?

The colour of one’s skin has long been associated with certain stereotypes and class. It is so influential that it can determine one’s success or failure. Thailand is no exception. Here, lighter skin is associated with wealthy Chinese descent typically residing in Bangkok while darker skin is tied to the lower class, outdoor labour, people from the countryside and indigenous peoples.

From a young age, we are bombarded with the idea that white is good and black is bad.

Light skin has been the standard of beauty and the object of desire, despite a large majority of Thai and ethnic people having tan skin.

Sangthong (สังข์ทอง), a classic Thai literature, shows a beautiful princess who was “unfortunately” matched with an indigenous commoner also known as “Ngo-Pa”. His dark skin and curly hair were described as ‘ugly’. He was frowned upon and was eventually banished from the Kingdom. It is only when he transforms into a light skin “handsome” prince that he is accepted by society.

To this day, the caricature of Ngo-Pa is still reused in Thai dramas for comedic purposes and it always involves an actor wearing blackface. Many news reports would praise their role transformation as “willing to be ugly” and is committed to acting.

There are countless Thai dramas and movies that portray black or darker skin as undesirable. A common trope is that of a female protagonist from the countryside, with painted tan skin, short hair and a big mole. These traits are usually coupled with crude or foolish manners that have to be fixed in order to gain male attraction.

From the examples, we can see that Indigenous peoples and countryside people (Baan nok), especially those with darker skin are often represented in the media as uneducated, backwards, helpless, as opposed to the “civilised” and “whiter skin” city people.

The actors that portray the marginalised characters do not share these features or identities in real life. They are able to remove the blackface after the job is done and easily have a successful career. There is no actual representation from the people in these communities and it further reinforces the idea that these marginalised identities must transform themselves to fit in.

It is not a surprise that Thai commercials are littered with skin whitening and skin correcting products, raking in large amounts of money from people’s insecurities. One of the most controversial being Snowz, an advertisement for whitening pills, with the notorious tagline “Just be white, and you will win”

Although the commercial is extremely racist, it is sadly the reality in Thailand.

We need to create more diversity in Thai media and push for accurate portrayals of all ethnicities and marginalised identities. Blackface and barbaric acts should no longer be used as the butt of a joke. It is time to move on and appreciate the beauty in all skin tones.




Content by: @art_poka


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