“Skin White As Snow” – Snow White

It seems intense some of the processes of skin whitening, using products containing bleach, overdressing, excessive make-up and even crushing pearls to powers for oral consumption.  Not that I can judge, melanoma is the outcome of consistently sun baking.

After discovering the trend, I began to look into the history of pale skin, which dates back to Ancient China, India and Japan and then later spread further across Asia. Their reason for practice was to infer aristocracy and wealth for both males and females. Those with darker skin were associated as servants or workers because of labouring under the sun.


Google Images, Ancient Chinese Women, http://www.talesofdowntown.com/.a/6a01156f4fdb93970c0120a557cc83970b-pi

Google Images, Ubtan Powder, https://www.addoway.com/viewad/Ubtan-Powder-Skin-face-Body-Pack-Scrub-Glow-Radiance-Acne-100gms-3907834

I found this interesting because throughout High School especially in English subjects I was always taught that white was a colour to represent things like purity, innocence, goodness and virginity, not a matter of wealth or social class.

I haven’t started looking at the physicality of the cream or application yet, because the product still hasn’t arrived. However, I wanted to take a look at the advertisements and how these products are viewed in current society as well as any problems associated with whitening creams.

Firstly, I took a look at an Indian ad for Fair and Lovely which is aimed at men. It was a thrilling story line, a model going for a part in a commercial but his face is too tanned which is deemed unattractive and another actor cuts in front to claim the fame. A girl recommends he uses Fair and Lovely Men’s Active, and after washing his face with it, we see the transformation of his skin getting 3 tones lighter. With confidence, he wins back the commercial with his face making it on billboards, and ends with him getting the beautiful girl on the red carpet.

I’d say that this ad couldn’t portray and pressure the idea of the beauty of pale skin anymore obviously than they have. Hey, if I was promised fame and love and admiration like this guy in the ad, then I’d want pale skin too. Switching it up now, I took a look at the Chinese ad for Olay skin whitening.

This ad reminded me a lot of the beauty product ads we have at home in Australia. A beautiful model (beautiful because of the product – duh, they want you to buy the brand) with lots of close ups to show just how effective it is for her skin, no blemishes or darkness no matter how close you look. Then followed by a scientific explanation and scientific visual imagery that most likely makes no sense to anyone (not me anyway) describing how scientists designed the product for a successful specific function.

MD Arroyo explains in his article that scientific language in cosmetic advertising tries to “persuade the addressee… to gain credibility” (Arroyo 2013) and to lead consumers to think that “scientific names are going to enhance the product’s performance because they are the result of scientific knowledge and the latest technology” (Arroyo 2013).

Between these two ads we can see a major difference with India focusing hard on the social aspect of whiter skin whereas China; still focusing on the social perception of beauty, urges audiences to look at the science and health behind whiter skin.

What I found has been a problem throughout the use of whitening creams in the past is the mercury levels in them, which is a whitening agent and highly toxic. After looking at the fair and lovely website they state that they do not use or add any mercury into their products. I couldn’t find Olay state the same but the ingredients list on the skin whitening product I looked at  doesn’t display any mercury. Mercury in skin whitening products today is a very serious issue. M Bray for CNN reported (2002) in Hong Kong that two whitener creams (Rosedew and La Rose Blanche) had mercury levels between 9,000 and 65, 000 times the recommended dose, causing one woman to be admitted to hospital and 13 others to seek specialists.

Unfortunately, physical issues aren’t the only problems that can be associated with skin whitening creams. It also has a physiological impact. “Young boys and girls with darker complexions grow up with lower self-confidence, which often impacts their personal and professional success” (Banerji, 2016).

In terms of tanning in Australian culture, it’s so easy for people who can’t tan to get a fake tan. To make your skin white however, is not as easy a process and I can see how this can affect the youth in a society pushing pale skin as a necessity.

To finish, I just wanted to add what I found was a pretty cool fun fact. BCC reported in 2010 that lightening creams in South Asia outsold coca cola bottles. Woah.







  1. Wow! Your autoethnographical analysis was so interesting to read and your methodology of analysing epiphanies in relation to TV ads, scientific explanations and social class made it easier for both “insiders and outsiders to better understand the culture.” (Ellis et al)

    I didn’t know that India also has pressure to have lighter skin. I always thought their need for white skin had something to do with racism because in Western countries one’s skin colour is directly linked to racism and discrimination. However, my epiphany and your epiphany– regarding white skin being linked to purity and goodness–reflects Ellis. et al where the researchers influence and perspective of the research is displayed and not hidden from the audience.

    I also had a look at this article where in Thailand they had a creation story stating that people of darker skin were created first and people with lighter skin were created last symbolising the gradual perfection of the human. I thought this would be really interesting to add to your analysis! https://matadornetwork.com/bnt/white-skin-why-racism-in-asia-isnt-quite-what-you-think/
    Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good job! Your blog is really interesting as it provides me another perspective to look into beauty products. I have always bear in mind that white skin is only for Asian and tan skin is for Western countries. But as I read from your own perspective, I felt like even you are Asian or Western, white skin is still a dominant color to approach.
      I like how you link and compare between the ideology between Indian and Chinese. I have never realised such a big difference in the way people think of white skin.
      In your example about the Indian advertisement, it is a real good story of discrimination due to skin color as well.
      Good post. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to your upcoming post.


  2. Unlike the majority of our generation, I have never tanned in my life. I go outside with eight layers of sun screen and if i do partake in the Australian tanning ritual, I sunburn, I peel, I’m even paler than before. Physically, tanning isn’t an option for me. It isn’t something I had even thought or dwelled upon. I know it is a thing that exists, just like dying one’s hair or tinting one’s eyelashes, these are all just ways we change our appearances and skin is seemingly, no different. It’s something i’ve simply known as part of our culture, the sunkissed country with sunskissed skin. It’s something my brain logically knows would repeat and iterate in other races and countries, to their own specifications, but I never thought about it going the opposite way. Asian countries seek paler complexions, to hear about its expansive industry in India is, mind blowing. Myself, I can’t possibly go lighter, and cannot go darker without risks, so anyone changing their skin just doesnt seem entirely real. Monique made a really good point above about skin colour being linked to racism, that was my immediate thought when reading this, that there was some link to Westernisation, but it probably isn’t the case. I guess I do have a very set mindset about Indian and other asian countries in their appearance, of dark skin, so it’s jarring to hear they do not see that image within themselves. It might be a bit of an Orientalism outlook, but it is good to have that outlook broken up by how the actual group being ‘Othered’ has a way of breaking up these stereotypes.


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