Make no apologies for having darker skin

  • Style
  • Tuesday, 24 Mar 2015

Brown-Young is now a vitiligo spokesperson as well as a respected model.

Our columnist makes a stand on skin brightening, with some caveats

SOMEWHERE along the way, the gods of beauty have declared March as the (unofficial) month for brightening. At this time of the year, skincare companies usually go all out to launch their full ammunition on whitening, lightening and brightening.

Call it what you will, essentially it all boils down to the same difference. Women, in this part of the globe anyway, place an indecent amount of importance on a pallor complexion. This, in turn, generates millions for the opportunistic beauty industry which has capitalised on this fetish.

Critics have come forward to condemn this as being politically incorrect and discrimination against those with darker skin tones. But this has hardly affected the Asian appetite for whiter skin.

In some countries like India, for instance, the demand for a fairer complexion has grown to obsessive proportions, so much so that there’s a social stigma against those with dark skin. These people are sometimes subjected to discrimination at work and in the education sector, not to mention societal attitudes and prejudices which deem them as inferior.

On one hand, you have celebrities like Indian actress and social activist Nandita Das who fuelled the Dark Is Beautiful campaign to educate people on the unjust effects of skin colour bias. On the other, there will always be those such as Bang Bang Bollywood actor, Hrithik Roshan, who have no qualms endorsing lightening products like Emami’s “Fair and Handsome” for hard cash.

While there are many beauty products in the market which actually act as bleaching agents as they literally lighten skin colour, these should be used with extreme caution and are highly not recommended. Often, these may not come with adequate research or medically-approved formulations, and may be harmful to both skin and one’s health.

That being said, there IS a place for brightening products, and these are often a result of years of advanced technological trials and scientific research. These products serve to even out the skin tone, reduce pigmentation and age spots and bring about a more radiant look, but not specifically a lighter skin colour. (Read Star2 p8 for the full story on skin brightening).

When I was a child, I spent quite a bit of time outdoors and swimming. Shopkeepers would often speak to me in Malay or English as they assumed I wasn’t Chinese because of my dark skin tone. My mum used to tease me by calling me ti kuih (which meant nian kao in Hokkien, the sweet sticky rice cake popularly eaten during Chinese New Year) fondly as my skin colour reminded her of that. However, never once did it ever crossed my mind that I should want to be fairer.

The fact is, children grow up with no perception of skin colour or racial bigotry, and if there are any, it’s because adults taught them, or worse, they are merely mirroring the actions of their parents.

Being the ignorant child I was, I never bothered with sun protection. I confess that it took years before I fully understood my own skin; how it reacted to certain ingredients, didn’t take too kindly to some products and was ever-changing (due to the weather, ageing and hormonal shifts).

After years of being shielded in the office (with the occasional trip out in the car), my skin is a few shades lighter than what it used to be. But I’m never going to be porcelain white like those Korean stars as I can’t belie my Nyonya heritage. Neither do I want to be.

But I now see the merit of skin brightening products and use them regularly, as I want to delay pigmentation and skin-ageing. Not because I want fairer skin.

Tyra Banks pushed the envelope further when she took on Canadian Chantelle Brown-Young in cycle 21 of America’s Next Top Model. While she didn’t win, Chantelle has gone on to become a vitiligo spokesperson as well as a respected model in her own right.

When I first caught a glimpse of her in the show, I didn’t know of her skin disorder and innocently asked my kids whether it was part of a challenge to “design” her skin like that. They berated me for discriminating against her skin and judging her. Later they backed down when they realised I had no idea she had vitiligo. But I was secretly proud of them for standing up against skin discrimination.

Really, life is too short to be so preoccupied over the colour of one’s skin, don’t you think?

Patsy feels it’s okay to show some skin, whatever colour that may be, as long as it’s healthy. Send your feedback to

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