Can beauty really be measured by a person’s skin color?  In some cultures, yes.  Many Asian cultures, Hmong included, value light skin over dark skin.  This obsession with fair skin has a long history in Asian cultures.  It dates back to the time of nobility and aristocracy.  Only the rich could afford to stay inside, away from the sun, thus their skin was lighter than the peasants who had to work in the fields.  In many Southeast Asian countries, one could tell a person’s socioeconomic status by the color of their skin.  The lighter you are, the richer you must be.

Light skin not only represent your class, but also your beauty.  Only maidens of skin as pale as the moon are considered beautiful.  And this leads back to nobility and aristocracy.  It is believed no peasant can be more beautiful than an aristocrat’s daughter.

Baby MB with her very tanned skin.

In the Hmong culture, being dark means you’re ugly.  I was a dark kid.  So dark that my family called me, “Cambodian.”  Being called “Cambodian” or “Laotian” is an insult to many Hmong people.  Why?  Because the stereotypical Cambodian or Laotian has dark skin, and being dark means you’re ugly.

I believed every word of it.  I wasn’t beautiful because of my skin color.  So, when I was old enough to put on make-up, I tried to find the lightest shade of foundation and powder that I could get away with.  I would put it on my face, to make my skin appear lighter.  However, it only turned my face a pale grayish-blue color.  But that didn’t matter, just as long as my skin wasn’t dark.  Right?

This went on for two years.  Then I finally accepted myself in high school.  I am beautiful the way I am.  And once I accepted that my skin color was beautiful, I started to see that some of the most beautiful people I know have dark skin, such as my friends, Sam and Rosa.

I’m not as dark as I was six or seven years ago because my skin has lightened over the years.  Maybe it’s due to not playing outside every day like when I was a kid.  Or maybe my skin just “matured.”  I don’t really know, but I do know that I’m not scared to go out during the summer time and get a tan.  I hear other Hmong people complain about getting “dark” because they’ve been out in the sun too long.  I just roll my eyes.  And every time when I hear someone criticize a child for being too dark or say that they don’t want to “turn” ugly, I state my opinion.  “It’s not so bad being dark.  And it is definitely not ugly.”  (It is one thing to have concern for premature wrinkles and skin cancer from staying out in the sun too long than to have concern for getting tanned and turning “ugly”).

This “obsession” with being white is so rampant in Asian countries that skin whitening creams are all over the markets.  (And sadly, skin whitening creams contain dangerously high levels of mercury, the bleaching agent in these creams).  This desire to have fair skin is probably as high as the desire to have double-folded eyelids.  We all want what we don’t have.  White people bake themselves in tanning salons to get that golden skin they don’t have.  Asians slather mercury on their faces to get the fair skin that they’re not born with.  Asians are dying to be White while the Whites are dying to be dark.  A funny world we live in.

29 thoughts on “Beauty really is just skin deep; Asians are dying to be White

  1. I am a naturally dark skin Hmong girl too.

    Growing up, I used to hate being called “ugly” just because I was dark. It hurt a lot. I remember going to visit my relatives in MN and telling me that I should live in MN so I won’t be so dark (I live in Atlanta).

    However, did you notice this is only targets towards Asian girls? If the Asian guys are dark, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same thing with weight. Hmong men could be dark, short, and fat but a Hmong woman must not look like that. Very contradicting, biase, and unfair!

    I love my skin color now. Americans want to be dark like me! They live my sun-kissed skin. I mostly get mistaken for Hawaiin or Filipino. My husband is Cambodian but many people think he’s mixed with black or Desi 😀

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  2. I am not certain if all Asian men see themselves as “exempt” from the dark skin as lower status syndrome.

    I worked at a construction engineering project here in Vancouver area. we had labourers direct from Thailand. They were covering up their face (balaklavas) and wearing long sleeved shirts in 80 degree F weather when they were working! All men.

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  3. This is the same in the African-American community but it really depends on how we are raised. I didn’t know I was considered dark-skin until HS. My younger sister is very light and we were called the light-skin.dark-skin twins.
    It’s really about being able to embrace yourself and love your look because you could spend your whole life wanting to look like someone else that wants to look just like you.

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    1. My friend (who is African American) told me that lighter Blacks are more accepted in the community and have more advantage than darker ones. The reason behind this dates back to the time of slavery in America. If you’re a light-skinned African American, it must mean that you’re mixed with White blood. Your ancestors were probably the more “privileged” slaves who worked in the house rather than the fields. And sometimes, because the master would sleep with (or rape) his slaves, you’d get light-skinned African Americans. And because of this, light skinned African Americans are sometimes shunned in the Black community. Whether it rings true or not, I guess it’s up to the person.

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      1. I have to ask: if a white man slept with his black slave, why is the resulting child still an “African American” since the child had an American father and was born on American soil?

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        1. I know someone had already answered your question, but I want to point one thing out. You have to think of society during the time of slavery. Do you think the White man who slept with his Black slave would acknowledge that the baby is his? Let’s say he has a wife and children. What do you think would’ve happened if the slave had said that her baby is her master’s while he denies it? She would’ve received retribution for smearing her master’s good name. Maybe this is the reason why the resulting child would still be an “African American” and not just “American.”

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      2. Well, typically small children will show many of their father’s features (I’m sure there’s a biological/evolutionary explanation for that), and I’m sure it would be rather hard for a white man to deny a light-skinned child being born from a dark-skinned woman who also shares many of his facial features. Even if he did publicly deny it, everyone would still know.

        I’m just wondering why people here are still referring to such a child as an “African-American.”

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      3. A lot of dark-skinned Blacks think that Blacks with lighter skin tones are more accepted. It is probably true in a lot of cases but… I noticed that so many people think that it is true in all cases that it affects the way they treat or view light skinned people. In the end, there is also some kind of discrimination towards the light-skinned because everybody seems to think they have it easier.

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  4. i accidentally ran across your blog, and i’m so happy i did. i am of mixed heritage (filipina and african american) and for both groups, that seems to be a common theme. it is funny to me to watch light complected individuals bake themselves in the sun for hours so that they can have the beautiful brown colored skin that others are busy hiding away from the sun. i’ve never understood that way of thinking. i love being out in the sun, i love my dark brown skin, and i know that brown is beautiful.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this. Being African American I definitely see this in parts of our culture… usually it’s African American women who wear blond hair pieces, blue or gray eye contacts and attempt to mimic their Caucasian sisters in various other ways in hopes of coming closer to their Whiteness and to remove themselves from their Blackness.

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  6. My family moved to the Caribbean from India many generations ago. What you’ve highlighted is still so prevalent throughout the Caribbean today in that light skin is considered to be more beautiful than dark skin.

    Reading your post made me understand where this thinking has come from. Makes total sense regarding the nobility, beauty and not working outdoors. Amazing how an idealogy can last hundreds of years….

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  7. @Natassia Because of the one drop-rule. If you have a tiny little bit of Black, the other side will not matter, you will be an African American. I’vre written and read many posts on the absurdity of such rule but it is still widely accepted even in Black communities.

    @MaiBao I`m glad to have found your blog because I’m now reading about this issue on a different perspective. I have read similar stories from Indian, Pakistanese, Blacks, Latinas… It is crazy!
    I personally find “tanned” Asian to be gorgeous!

    It’s amazing how things that took place generations ago (slavery, aristocracy…) still have a huge impact on the way we perceive each other. Because it is really perception. It has nothing to do with reality, with who you trully are.

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    1. I suppose this one-drop rule has to do with how someone perceives who they are and how others perceive who they are…and what that actually means.

      I would understand how someone who is has a white American father and a black African mother might identify themselves as a “black” person, especially if he is more inclined towards his mother’s culture.

      But do blacks and whites necessarily have different cultures? Perhaps that’s where the “African-American” label comes into play. It goes further than just “black American” (which describes a particular color of skin but still the person is still identified as an American) by implying that someone is more closely aligned with his African roots and the culture represented by those roots.

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      1. That is an interesting debate. I guess if you are labelled “African American” or “Black” you will eventually identify with these groups – even if you are Mixed-race. I don’t think all mixed-races systematically identify wih “Blacks” . While reading Obama’s book, I understood that he felt like it did not have a very defined racial or cultural identity. Since then, he’s been labelled the “First Black President of the U.S. “Whether or not he feels more White or Mixed-race than Black, he appears that he had to accept this “role” because this is what people want him to be. Nobody cares about what he really feels inside and I bet that if he says he doesn’t feel African American, he’ll get booed so he is gonna keep quiet.

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  8. Whether or not he feels more White or Mixed-race than Black, he appears that he had to accept this “role” because this is what people want him to be. Nobody cares about what he really feels inside and I bet that if he says he doesn’t feel African American, he’ll get booed so he is gonna keep quiet.

    Who would boo him?

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    1. Some Black folks I guess and all the other races that were thrilled to elect or dream about the First Black President of America. In Obama’s case, him being Black has almost became a symbol, a branding.

      I personally think that racially or culturally, he is sitting on the fence and I don’t blame him. Actually, I’m myself pretty unsure of my cultural identity. I have noticed that people with whom I share similar origins get really offended when I tell them that I don’t have a definite culture. One of my cousin nicknamed me “la déracinéè”, which I think means “the uprooted” in English. Not quite a compliment but that`s the way a lot of people see me.

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      1. Are you actually insinuating that people were thrilled to elect Obama based on the color of his skin? *gasp* Say it ain’t so! :-O

        This fence that he is straddling–what lies on each side of it? What are these two separate cultures?

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  9. Election based on race? Nothing is further from my mind than to think that! He has charisma and had great reforms in mind; that’s why he made it so far. But it is also precisely because he is such a personality that every community wants its piece of cake and now he is a brand. Not because he wanted necessarily but because people want him to promote a color blind America by the same token. If he were to make a statement on his identity, it will create controversy. Ask Tiger, he knows! =>http://wp.me/pwZGb-aD

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  10. Growing up my lips were thicker and fuller than your average kid so my family teased me and called be black. It was mean. They would tell me I was adopted and my parents were black, not Hmong. That really hurt. Now, however, being a woman, my lips are my best feature. They are perfect and luscious! The kind of lips that celebrities pay thousands of dollars to get done. I love them!

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    1. I can relate. My family used to tease me a lot because of my full thick lips too. My mom would say that I have Black lips. I used to bite my lower lips to hide it. Then my mom would say that the reason why it’s so big is because I keep biting it and hiding it in my mouth. I hated it. My grams told me a story about a man whose lips hung down to his chin because he kept on biting it. It was awful, but, like you said, I love my lips now. I don’t have to use lip plumpers. It’s ironic how we all want to be something we’re not just because of our society’s view of “beauty.”

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  11. lol amazing just came across this and had to say GOD DON’T MAKE ANY MISTAKES AND we all identify to our ancestors BLACKS and this do include whites as well do research on the albinos of Africa. Also the reason for light skin is due basic race mixing not with just whites but indians a lot of blacks in america with light skin is due to mixing with indians. Which all still points back to what is in your blood really have nothing to do with what you look like on the outside now.

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  12. If you look different, you will be more noticeable. Asian people is real good when it comes to segregation be it in social class, employment or even education. Our social values consistent with your description of how society perceived light-skin. It is very very nonsesical when I questioned why we all want something that we don’t have in first place (in extreme case, you know what measure some an Asian is willing to take!), and the answer is simply long long time ago our king & queen, noble family, educated elitis were all fair-skinned. And it connoted dark is evil and light is heaven…so we must hate & look down Asian with not-so-light skin colored. Those with light skin is hardly portray as criminal in printed media! There is of course some very pale skin naturally (which is few!). Good for him/her.

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  13. You have it the other way around. Hmongs are seen as dark and ugly, while Laotians are fair-skinned. Remember that Hmongs are farmers, while Laotians live in the cities.

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