Skin Color: An Age Old Discussion

 By Andrew Taylor

Skin colour. It has been the subject of arguments and the cause of war, slavery, and racist city regulations for centuries. It has been highly publicised news regarding U.S presidential races, and debated over among television and movie viewers. It is the rationale for segregation dividing neighborhoods and in social settings.


Skin colour. Some people are considered to be more attractive and beautiful than others because of the colour of their skin. There are colours of skin that are regarded as being more pristine and worthy of respect, while others are seen as ugly and deserving of cruel jokes.


Skin colour is the cause of issues like inferiority complex, depression and low self-esteem among adolescents. It is at the root of bullying, and clique-forming among young people.


Skin colour. Some people fear it, some people love it, and some people hate it.


When I arrived in Malaysia a year and a half ago, as I was looking for shower soap to buy in the market. I was shocked to learn that soaps, facial creams and lotions contained chemical agents to help people’s skin turn “whiter”.


I didn’t know beauty products containing “whitening agents” existed. Why was this so? The more I started learning about the social constructs of this country and experiencing different conversations and situations, the more I started to realise. Whiter, or lighter, is considered more beautiful among the citizens here and especially young people. I must say, I became very saddened by this newfound knowledge, especially as one who cares a great deal about kids and who is brown-skinned himself.


In America, as well as other parts of the “western” world, it is the opposite (to an extent, let’s be honest). People want to be darker-skinned, or “tan” as they call it, and will go to great lengths often sacrificing their health in the process, to do so. People will sunbathe at the beach or in the park. They will apply chemical-ladened tanning lotion to their bodies, or expose themselves to ultraviolet lights at tanning salons, literally frying their skin just so they can give their bodies that nice golden brown shimmer. It’s pretty amusing. It’s the exact opposite here in Malaysia. People apply whitening lotions and soaps to their bodies, and walk outside protected by the sun wearing long sleeves, pants and hats.


This was the subject of a conversation I had with a group of my Form 5 female students a couple of weeks ago. They were shocked to learn that many Americans desire a darker shade of skin rather than a lighter one. The conversation was sparked after they asked me how to obtain clear, pimple-free, skin. I told them that several different factors are involved including diet, exercise, and stress levels.


I asked them if they wore makeup, which could have an effect on one’s skin appearance. Then, a couple of them told me that they use the whitening shower soaps.


I was sad to hear this, one, because this means that they are applying a lot of heavy chemicals to their face and body which isn’t healthy for their bodies. But I was especially sorry for the fact that they had been brainwashed to think that their skin color needs to be lighter. That is a serious issue. No child should possess the mentality that they aren’t as beautiful or are considered “less than”, due to their skin color being darker than the next person. This isn’t anything new, however. This isn’t some newly developed problem occurring among these younger generations. What is unfortunate is that this train of thought still exists.


It is believed that the media plays a major role in the development of perceptions that people, again especially children and adolescents, have. I remember walking through the Bukit Bintang area of KL this past January and seeing a picture of a Caucasian woman plastered on the side of the Pavilion mall in an advertisement for a particular brand of make-up. She was very fair-skinned, with blond hair and blue eyes.


Just yesterday, I was in the market buying groceries and as I walked past the display of Malaysian magazines being sold, I noticed that all the women on the covers were of a very light skin color. These are women from this region of the world, who could pass for Caucasian!


Why is this troubling? Well, for one, Malaysia isn’t a country of European citizens who are stereotyped as being white. Malaysia is a country in which its inhabitants are brown-skinned. Of course there are many different shades, from light to dark. I think it’s safe to say that pretty much every country in the world has people who have different shades of skin color. But little girls and boys look at these ads, and watch these television shows in which the models and actors are majority fair-skinned, and they start to believe that light skin colour equals beauty.


That’s how the mind conditioning begins. I’m not saying that this is only prevalent in Malaysia. If one looks through American magazines and watches American television, they will see the exact same thing happening. It’s a shame really.


But, what can we do about it? We need to instill within the minds of our youth that their skin is gorgeous no matter what color or shade it is. They don’t need to use whitening soaps or tanning lotions to try and change the skin color they were born with. They don’t need to feel ashamed or worthless because their skin is of a darker shade.


In the words of Bruno Mars, “You’re amazing, just the way you are”. When I told my students that day, that I thought darker skin was just as beautiful and attractive and maybe even more so, than light skin, one of them perked up and said with a smile, “I want to have dark skin.”


Hearing those words made my day and every day after. So, to any young person out there, reading this article, be confident in yourself and with the way you look. Whether you were born with light skin or dark skin, you are beautiful just the way you are. To parents, remind your children that they are perfect in the bodies they were born with. By doing this, maybe one day, we can change this misconception that people need to change who they are to be special.


We are all special no matter what we look like.



Andrew Taylor hails from Los Angeles, California. He is a Fulbright Fellow under the United States Department of State, teaching here in Malaysia for the second year in a row.
Last year he taught at a Vokasional school in Perak and this year he has felt so blessed to be living and teaching in Sarawak at SMK Siburan outside of Kuching.
He loves working with young people, but especially the youth of Malaysia. For Andrew, it’s an everyday occurrence to be inspired by his students and their unique inquisitiveness, kindness, and eagerness to gain new knowledge. Their smiles and sunny disposition are what make his days beautiful.
Sarawak and its people, culture, food, and splendid scenery, have become a place that Andrew truly loves and he feels fortunate to be able to call it his home.


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