Pale Beauty – Izel

I am undeniably fortunate to have experienced what I have in some of the countries within beautiful Asia. First of all (if my name doesn’t bluntly give it away) I’m half Turkish; which although is technically part of both Europe and Asia, is geographically more Asian. I visited family there twice when I was very young, unfortunately since then I’ve lost that connection, however I still have many memories and experiences that have made a pretty large impact on my life and the way I view things.

 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.


  1. I think your idea is really unique and interesting! I too have always been intrigued by face whiting in these countries. I have been to Bali multiple times and have noticed that the locals have been really fascinated by my pale white skin, which was a surprise to me as all I want is to be tanned in the Australian summer… But when you think about it, its not really that crazy to believe that people make their skin lighter to fit in with cultural norms when people here in Australia get regular spray tans to make their skin darker. You should check out the website I attached, I was surprised to discover that men actually get involved with face whitening too. Probably worth it to look further into that. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a person who grew up in Asia, this story can’t be any more relatable though I may never really understand why pale skin is still so important to young generations. In the Far East, you can’t forget to mention “the pinkish white” when talking about standard beauty (or maybe just white because normally, Asian skin doesn’t have pink in undertone). That’s why you always see women dressing like ninjas during summer as fear of getting tan. Partly the reason is the impact of media and cosmetics brands. They have been praising the white skin beauty for years, however, the underlying reason must stem from the European Colonialism, which created a belief that you would be rich and have a dream life when you’re white. There was a (almost) truth that manual labour appeared to be more tanned and blemished. I guess because they have been living in poverty for so long, so having pale skin was no longer just a dream but has become an obsession. Nowadays, it’s really not hard to find people risking their health just to get white skin and immoral small business that sells poor quality whitening cream. I believe it’s not just about being pretty, it’s about to appear richer and expand their opportunities.

    This is a nice topic to look at. You may want to look at Pond’s advertising campaigns in Asia or any Korean skin care brand to understand more about this culture.


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