Being fair-skinned in Asia is one of the most important components of beauty and high class; both women and men put forth much effort and money into maintaining a fair complexion. This is nothing new, however. Even thousands of years ago, Greek and Roman women painted their faces with chalk and lead paint to create an appearance of whiter skin. Geishas, considered the most beautiful and desirable women in Japan, put many hours into feigning a fair complexion.
The sixth grade is a difficult time for any kid, but especially challenging when you’ve got pale skin. Not only are you stared at when learning about albinos in science class, but you usually end up being the butt of many jokes. I’ll never forget one boy, who shall remain nameless, started calling me “Casper, the friendly ghost.” This caught on quickly amongst the other boys and I’ve always had a hard time shaking it. From that time, I developed a complex which left me extremely insecure about my fair skin. Even in college, my friends encouraged me to go to the tanning bed, unaware of my past attempts to tan, which only resulted in a slew of 2nd degree burns that left me blistered and ruined my beach vacations in high school. Throughout the years, I’ve spent many times cursing my Irish genes; I’ve worn pants during the summer and although I’m comfortable with my size, felt insecure wearing bathing suits. I’ve learned to make jokes about my glow-in-the-dark complexion, but have never fully happily accepted it…. that is, until now.
Not only are umbrellas essential during summer months when rain is expected, but also when the sun is shining. Many people of all ages can be seen walking the streets with umbrellas in hand and consistently applying sunscreen. Speaking of SPF, sunscreen is an essential element in the daily cosmetic application of each woman. BB Creams, or blemish balm creams, are a popular trend in cosmetics here, each with specific purposes. The best sellers are those with a high SPF (35 or greater) and have additional whitening properties which promise to brighten the skin with continued use.
Umbrellas are essential even on the sunniest of days. [Retrieved from Google Images.]
It’s obvious that whitening creams and lotions are also in high demand, as they seem to be needing constant restocking whenever I’m shopping in cosmetic stores such as Aritaum, Skin Food, and Missah. “Whitening cremes?” you ask? Yes, they exist, and are as accessible in Korea as tanning products are in the States. These products work over an extended amount of time, but some of them work instantaneously. Recently I was browsing through Tony Moly, a newer beauty store, and was encouraged to try a whitening crème packaged in a tomato-shaped jar. The sales girl placed a blob on my hand, let it sit for a couple of minutes, wiped it off and… viola! The spot where the crème had been was a few shades lighter than the rest of my skin. I was so surprised by the effects of the crème that I had to buy some.
“White or wrong?” questions an advertisement for a whitening product. [Retrieved from Google Images.]
I’ll admit that I haven’t used it, but I couldn’t pass up buying this whitening creme after I saw it’s amazing whitening effects. [Retrieved from Google Images.]
Since fair skin, in addition to big eyes and a high nose, is considered beautiful, it’s rare that you find any sort of tanning product in Korea. I’ve heard that in the past, one pop star made her debut on the entertainment scene with tan skin; it made tanning a fad, but it faded just as quickly as it had started. Today, the most admired celebrities flaunt their fair skin. Some even have their magazine spreads and music album art photoshopped so they look even whiter. It’s also no surprise that these celebrities, along with the rest of Asians, always look so much younger than their actual age; with minimal sun exposure, wrinkles are few. Sure, Botox is an option here, but it isn’t as necessary since so many people focus on preventing wrinkles.
Gu Hye Seon, my favorite actress, received tons of compliments from her fans when she posted these pictures of herself on the internet. [Retrieved from Google Images.]
All those “Casper” comments I’ve received over the years have been negated by comments from my students and even strangers in the markets or clothing stores. “Wow! Your skin is so white!” is a compliment in this part of the world, and I’ll gladly take it. These days, I don’t mind my skin being compared to milk or random old women miming how surprised they are at the whiteness of my skin. I even had an old man at the zoo tell me in broken English to be sure to wear sunscreen. Sure, I’ll eventually have to go back to a land of tanning beds and sunbathing, but, for now, I’ll embrace the fairness.