I was also lucky enough to do exchange in China for 4 and a half months in 2016, followed by a month travel in India and two weeks in Sri Lanka. I can’t describe how lucky I was to have met the amazing friends I did along the way and how much I learnt from them; about themselves, their country and their culture. Finally, as a common holiday destination for Australians, I have been to Indonesia on multiple family trips. I learnt so much across all these countries that I could easily fall back on for my autoethnographic research project, but the point was to focus on something you knew nothing about. Now that I reflect, one thing that was common in all those countries (except Turkey) that I never really investigated was the desire for whiter skin.
I still remember when I first discovered the trend for myself in Bali when I was young. It was 30 plus degrees and I was suffocating in the heat and melting in sweat while the local women were casual in their jeans and long sleeve sweaters. Being a shy kid I asked mum first; and, trying to teach me to no longer be shy, she told me to ask them myself. “Aren’t you hot? Why are you wearing long pants and a long shirt?” The woman I’d chosen to ask laughed at me and lifted the sleeve of her sweater revealing a distinctive contrast in skin tones amplified at the wrist where her sweater reached. “I want skin like this” she said pointing to the previously covered lighter flesh, then she pointed to me “skin like yours, so beautiful and white.” My turn to laugh, “No way, I want a tan!”
I never really questioned it from then on, I always viewed it as something mum used to tell me, “We always want what we can’t have”. Like in Primary School when I wanted my friend’s curly hair and she wanted my straight hair. Little did I know then that the beauty and status associated with pale skin in Asian culture is a tradition that dates much, much, further back than the Australian culture of tanning.
So, as you’d suspect by now I’ve decided for my Authoethnographic research to learn about the history of skin whitening in Asia. Although the previous story was in Bali I’ve decided to specifically focus on India and China and a single skin whitening brand for each. I chose these two countries specifically because I have friends I can contact there who can help me identify what the most popular brand is. From there (with my background research) I will search for and experience advertisements to see how they promote the product, and try the product out for myself.
My friend in China explained that although she doesn’t use skin whitening herself, all her friends use Olay, SK-II and L’Oréal because “they are not so expensive and the quality is good.” These are all brands recognisable in Australia and shouldn’t be so hard to come by; for this research project, I’ll focus on just Olay as representative skin whitening brand for China.
When I asked my friend in India what the most popular product was, she suggested Fair and Lovely. This product is new to me and so far, but I’ve managed to order it for less than $15. A few advertisements for each product are accessible on youtube and honestly, I’m kind of weirded out by how excited I am to find out more on the subject, such as how far it dates back, and if it causes any harm to your skin.
I think this is going to be exciting and interesting studying using autoethnographic practices on a cultural tradition that is polar opposite to what I’ve known and practice myself.