Why Some Asians Are Obsessed With White Skin

White, fair skin is skin quite a number of Asians long for and actually go after. With the help of makeup and beauty products, a fair complexion is very much achievable for any of us.

When I was younger, I considered alabaster skin – skin as pale as the typical Westerner’s fair face – the epitome of beauty and explained why in a previous blog post. Today my tune has changed: when I do my makeup, some days I go for a look that is lighter than the natural colour of my face while other days, darker.

Some of us go to great lengths to look fair-skinned | Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare.

Some of us go to great lengths to look fair-skinned | Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare.

We all have our reasons for liking and looking a certain way. For some of us stereotypical Asians, having a light complexion is not only a marker of beauty, but also a marker of pride and status.

During the Qin, Han and Tang dynasties dating back to 221 BC, fair skin was idealised and a symbol of wealth and affluence in Chinese culture. Then, farmers toiled under the blistering sun planting rice, wheat and foxtail millet in fields – tanned skin signified a hard life of hard labour. At the same time, court ladies and concubines in the Imperial Courts were fond of applying hard sought layers of white “pearl powder” on their faces. That is, the status quo tipped in favour of the rich and fair back in the day.

My mum thinks traditionally. Growing up in Malaysia, she constantly yelled at me, “Don’t play under the sun! Or else your skin will become all black like charcoal and like the Bangladeshi factory worker! Go inside and read your book!”. I always shrank back into the cool shaded confines of the house and read the newspaper like a well-off, studious, filial Asian kid instead of playing ball under the sun.

Colonial rule is arguably another reason why many Asians favour fair complexions. European colonisation in the mid-1900s set the foundation for various modern bustling Asian cities. Today, it’s no secret considerable parts of Asia live in poverty and Western countries are seen as first world countries. Countless Western faces appear in all sorts of advertisements in Asia: to loosely put it, there is the conception here that those with fairer skin are more “successful”.

Looking young is esteemed in Asian cultures and the whiter one’s skin, the younger one may look. Glossy and dewy makeup often contain “micron mirrors”, giving the illusion of softer skin. It’s makeup that reflects light away from spots and wrinkles and makes a face look smoother, and makeup that is all the rage in Asia coming in endless porcelain shades. However, that does not necessarily mean fair skin actually wrinkles less.

Some of us might feel more comfortable in a certain skin because of one reason or another.

Some of us might feel more comfortable in a certain skin because of one reason or another.

For as long as I can remember, my mum uses facial whitening products religiously each night. I’ll admit it: she looks good for her age sans blemishes on her face. The other day I received a glitter-infused, radiating moisturiser sample in the mail and wondered how it would look on me. I slapped some on my face and looked in the mirror – my face resembled a disco ball.

Hand in hand with looking young, many things fair are often equated with the notions of simplicity and wholesome-ness. Traditionally in Asian cultures and religions, (sexual) purity is sacred. The whiter our face, the more it may resemble a youthful soul, a youthful innocent face of a child with skin barely touched by the sun in this big bad world.

At times our natural skin tone is hereditary. Or not. A study on DNA published last year found most Europeans and Asians had fair skin over 5,000 years ago. Migration can play a part in how light or dark we look over time. Perhaps gene mutation too. But with makeup and beauty products, we can change the way we look in an instant.

These days darker complexion trends are catching on. Not covering up under-eye bags and dark circles has become fashionable in Asia over the last few years. More Asian Australians like tanning these days. I’m not a fan of either.

The way we look might make heads turn.

The way we look might make heads turn.

I’m also not a fan of putting on a fair complexion every day or a face shades lighter than my natural skin tone with the help of makeup. Sometimes a fair complexion makes us look washed out and ill. The other day I was chatting to my friend Felicia, a whiz at making a face look flawless with makeup, and she plainly described such a look, “It looks yuck.”

She also said that given my medium-toned skin, I can pull off a fair-faced look. Another reason I don’t wear this look much is that I don’t want to look like a dainty fair-faced “Asian doll”, don’t want to look like an accessory beside guys I go out with. But occasionally, I do because I want to look cute and approachable – and guys like that. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that there is more to each face than what we see on the surface. As Marilyn Monroe said on her true self:

“Beneath the makeup and behind the smile I am just a girl who wishes for the world.”

As our identities and personal preferences change over time, the way we choose to look and dress may change too. Beauty is subjective, and it’s a fact those in Asia are more open to experimenting with their appearances and makeup today.

While our face may catch someone’s eye, it is ultimately the way we move that catches their heart. Inner beauty speaks the loudest: the way we carry ourselves and how we make others feel often leaves the biggest impact. And that all starts with us feeling comfortable with ourselves and the way we naturally look. As author Gigi Flower mentioned:

“Beauty is about perception, not about make-up. I think the beginning of all beauty is knowing and liking oneself.”

No matter how we look, it is the way we move that touches others.

No matter how we look, it is the way we move that touches others.

There are days when I feel lazy and can’t be bothered to put on make-up, and I don’t. It’s these days when my under-eye circles and the red, flaky skin patches on my cheeks are on show for the whole world to see, my face far from luminous. It’s these days I look like a broken doll. Or Freddy Krueger. It’s these days I tell myself it’s okay, it’s okay to just be me…even as I hear my mum telling me to walk under the shade when I leave the house bare-faced, sun shining overhead.

Just like how age is just a number, the colour of our skin is just a colour.

Do you wear makeup and/or like the colour of your skin?

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243 thoughts on “Why Some Asians Are Obsessed With White Skin

  1. Hi Mabel, wow, what a great topic to tackle. This is enlightening to understand the Asian culture. Personally, I feel like if we can’t embrace our natural beauty then no amount of make up will correct our feelings. I think you would look beautiful without makeup with all your natural beauty shining out. Whether we have under eye circles or blemishes, sometimes these imperfections can tell a story. I love the images you used in this post, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the kind words, Lisa. Agree with you there. If we don’t love ourselves and our natural beauty, then it would be hard for us to hold our head up high and let our inner beauty shine forth. So true that imperfections can tell a story. A scar on our face might tell a story of courage. Come to think of it, I have a small brown birth mark on my face. One time I scratched it and it disappeared. But it came back a few months later.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my, it seems like the desire to be fair and white skinned is not just a Filipino thing. Skin whiteners and treatments are huuuuggggeeee in the Philippines. When my sister and I were growing up, people would say that my sister was the prettier one except that I was the mestiza looking one while she was the sunog or burnt one. Ah, there were so many pejorative names given to our darker countrymen. In Philippine show business, the more popular personalities are those who are maputi or fair. To this day, many young celebrities have foreign parents. On the other hand, we are starting to appreciate being brown. Me? I am happy with my coloring – I am not too sun sensitive, a trait I am glad to pass on to my kids. 😊😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know fair skin was a big thing in the Philippines. Sometimes I do think Filipons and Chinese think a lot alike. I had no idea young celebrities have foreign parents. But I have heard that many Filipinos (in the Philippines) are into American culture and speak with an American accent – which is another topic altogether 😉

      Good on you for loving your skin as it is, and very nice to hear you don’t burn too easily under the sun. I wish I was like that, but each time I stand under the sun for more than half an hour, my skin turns red 😀


  3. As always, very thought provoking Mabel. Lots of great points, some insight into others, and some marvelous photos to go with it all. I’ve always liked my face to be honest, but I’m not a big fan of what’s happening with it as I age! I’m not a fan of facelifts so that’s not really an option for me. Just trying to “age gracefully” and hope my inner self still shines through!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Tina. Facelifts. That is a great point. With facelifts comes less wrinkles and more taught skin, so that means less shadows hanging over our face – and so our face may seem brighter, and more youthful. It may be for some people, and not for others. I am sure you are aging gracefully, Tina. I will tell you that to your face if we ever do meet 😀


  4. Great shot of that statue Mabel or is it someone pretending to be a statue? Nowadays you can’t be certain. LOL!

    When you get to my age and menopause, you can’t even put on foundation anymore because when you start sweating, everything runs off. hahaha! But as they say, beauty is skin deep. 😀

    Fair skin definitely doesn’t wrinkle less, but I am a sun person and I love swimming and being outside and not to read books. I also keep forgetting to put on my hat. Your mom will scream at me all the time. hahahahah

    Glitter infused radiating moisturiser? Now that is the first time I’ve heard of something like that. Whahahahaha! I can only imagine. I bet you laughed yourself silly! I know I would if I had to put it on my face. 😆

    You said it all with this quote: While our face may catch someone’s eye, it is ultimately the way we move that catches their heart.

    So very, very true and Gigi is also correct. Beauty is about perception and it doesn’t have anything to do with make-up.

    I don’t think you could look like a broken doll, even if you try. LOL @ Freddy Krueger! He is my favorite horror movie star though. Watched all the Nightmare on Elm street movies and there is no way that you can look like him. Maybe with a lot of make-up on. He certainly had a lot of it on his face. 😀

    You’re right. It is okay to be you and it is good to go without make-up every now and then so that your skin can breathe. I also have those under-eye circles and a few skin blotches. Nobody is perfect and I like the natural look, with wrinkles and all.

    Age is a number and the colour of you skin is just a colour. We are who we are and no make-up or tan is going to change that ever. 😀 ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    • That photo of the angel is actually someone pretending to be a statue. That is really a real person and if you drop a coin or two into her donation box, she will pose for you and blow you a kiss. Which she did for me a few days ago 😀

      On a lot of days I wonder why bother put on makeup on my face. It tends to slide off anyway halfway throughout the day, lol. Hahaha, my mum would probably be yelling at you most of the time and remind you that Mr Sun is not always our friend.

      I did laugh at myself when I put that glitter infused moisturiser on my face. I looked out of this world. Then I tried washing it off with make-up remover. And then water. Yet the glitter still stuck to my face and when I woke up the next day, my face was gleaming when I stood under the light 😀 It was a sample product from MAC Cosmetics, lol. I like their powders and concealers, though.

      You are beautifiul, Sonel. Each time I see you conversing with bloggers on your own blog and here, your personality shines through the comments. Kind, selfless and always willing to share and take notice of each blogger and visitor that comes your way. Now that is true beauty ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Now isn’t that sweet! I would stand and watch them all day long. 😀

        I don’t even bother anymore and if I was as beautiful as you are, I wouldn’t wear any make-up. 😀

        hahahah! Yes, she will have a difficult time with me. LOL!

        Whahahah! Wish I could have seen that. Sounds like fun! 😀

        Thanks for the lovely compliment Mabel and I can say the same of you darling. It’s always great chatting with you as well. Now you’re making me blush. LOL! You’re so sweet. ♥

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Mabel ! Long time no see, I hope you are well. I have a very pale skin and I don’t use makeup. But I use a lot of moisturisers and creams. I’ve always been fascinated by how asian people like their skin white 🙂 For most europeans women, they have white skin but they try to get tanned 😀 It’s the opposite, it’s quite weird.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good to hear you are confident in your own skin without makeup, Gin. So admirable, and so is using moisturisers. That is something I do not use enough of. For a long time I struggled to find one that does not make my skin sting. I should follow your example more and maybe my skin will be less flaky 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Mabel, a wonderful post and the topic is so pertinent! It is said beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and, as you’ve said, it’s always subjective. The parameter of beauty changes from one place to another, but I think one thing remains constant; that is, the feeling of being beautiful. I also think that comes from self-love and self-respect. Colour discrimination is a problem in my country as well, and it is a serious problem in some of the states. We are prejudiced of fair complexion and it’s a deep-rooted problem…

    I never wear make-up. I just apply ‘kajal’ (the Indian kohl pencil) and lipstick…I love using different shades of lipsticks… 😀

    The pictures are amazing… great clicks… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hello dear Mabel, I am so glad to at last visit you and goodness, what a wonderful article you’ve written, but then you always do 🙂 An intriguing subject. Ultimately, you conclude (and I absolutely agree) that it is our inner beauty that radiates the truth of our souls, no matter how we look on the outside, whether or not we choose to wear make up. But it is also fun to get all ‘dolled up’ sometimes (while trying to avoid all those sparkles though, ha!! I’m with you on that too, not a good look!).I’m staggered to read that under eye bags and dark circles are becoming trendy in Aisa!! Yikes…what’s with that? To think that I would not go anywhere without my Touch E’Clat under-eye highlighter, lol 😀 It is so interesting to read about the culture of fair skin, genetics and migration over the centuries. I am definitely the fairest skinned in my family, the one who turned bright red and had a face full of freckles lol! So I had to be careful. I like to get the sun on my skin now and I do tan slightly (and I need the Vitamin D!) but in England, we don’t get much of an opportunity to burn…all that rain! When I think of what I used to do to get a tan I am horrified and can only hope I haven’t done any damage! Your mother is very wise in advising you to keep in the shade to preserve your skin! I am just so glad I’ve worn sunscreen every day on my face since my early 20s. I also think of medieval times when Queen Elizabeth I wore white powder laced with lead to look as pale as can be. We’ve come a long way baby! But then, when I read the quote from from Marylin Monroe…heartbreaking in it’s innocence from a woman who relied so heavily on her looks – I have to wonder if we really have come all that far. Wonderful post Mabel, thank you! 🙂 ❤


    • It can certainly be fun getting dolled up. But there are times when I ask myself getting dolled up gives us a good feeling in a moment and perhaps only just for a moment. It is intriguing indeed to hear that dark eye circles are coming into fashion, but like you, I am not really sure about that! Dark circles make me look tired when I really am not 😀

      You are very good yourself to wear sunscreen all the time. From the photos I’ve seen of you, you strike me as someone who has great skin for their age, and I mean that. Queen Elizabeth, yes. She’s certainly an iconic figure and she does have rather fair kin.

      Always wonderful to have you over here. Enjoy your summer and I am sure your Summer House is getting plenty of sun 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ahh…thank you Mabel, that’s such a lovely compliment! I’ll be singing and dancing all day now! 🙂 Always such a pleasure to hang out with you…and although the weather here in England has been rather dismal of late – rain, rain and more rain – the hopes of the sun shining ever remain. But then again, reading such a lovely reply from you brings plenty of sunshine into the Summerhouse year round! I hope you are having a good Autumn, not too cold! Take good care of yourself and see you soon my dear… 🙂 ❤


        • Yes you are and I will say it again – you like amazing for your age and to borrow Roald Dahl’s words, when you look happy it’s like sunbeams shining out of your face 🙂 Sorry to hear about the rain, and hopefully it will pass. Much love to you and take care ❤

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well, dear Mabel, you have truly made my day, now I’m walking on air!! How we feel on the inside really makes all the difference doesn’t it? I need to remember Roald Dahl’s wonderful words on days when dark clouds try their best to blot out the sunshine 🙂 The rain keeps things watered and green so I mustn’t complain. Although for those, including my eldest son going to the outdoors music festival of Glastonbury this weekend camping in a muddy field, he might think differently! Much love you too dear friend, have a wonderful week ahead and keep writing!! 🙂 ❤ 🙂


  8. Can’t say I do wear any makeup, Mabel, but I do always moisturise my face, otherwise it ends up feeling like the bottom of a birds cage.
    Some men do wear makeup. During my brief amateur dramatic spell, I had to have makeup applied to my face for each performance. I don’t think it does the skin any favours and my skin was always quite sore for weeks after. However, the cosmetic industry is worth billions so I’m sure they will do their best to persuade as many of us as possible to use their products.


    • “feeling like the bottom of a birds cage” That is quite the phrase to describe your face if you don’t moisturise it, Hugh. Very creative.

      Men certainly do wear makeup, and I know a few who actually do and are proud of it. Maybe you used makeup products that didn’t agree well with your skin, or perhaps you were too rough in removing it (but really, I think all of us like to be gentle with our skin(.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful post Mabel ! I love this insight ‘While our face may catch someone’s eye, it is ultimately the way we move that catches their heart. Inner beauty speaks the loudest’. I’m with you that some days I can put make up on and others I just don’t bother. I can’t get the luminous stuff to look to work for me either. I have red tones to my skin, not sure if that is the reason ?!! Thank you for another fabulous thoughtful post, it a great read.


    • Thanks, Lita. Ah, I have red tones on my skin too. So many kinds of makeup I’ve tried make my face look way too pink or red! But of late I really cannot be bothered to put on makeup and just had a week at work were I just put a bit of concealer under my eyes and that’s all.


  10. This is so funny. Here in Norway, everyone wants to have tan skin.
    But I noticed as well that Asians like white skin. So does Africans and South Americans.
    Though I would love to be more tan than I am, I have learned to love the withe skin I have, and when I see tan people and I wish I was like them, I try to think about all the people in the world that would have loved to have my colour of the skin…
    But I do love darker skin 🙂


    • From your gravatar and profile pic, it looks like such lovely skin that you have – it goes well with the colour of your hair. I like both a lot. Apart from feeling comfortable in our own skin, the most important thing is feeling healthy and being healthy 🙂


  11. Miss Mabel! How are you my fave little sis? Are you well? Happy? Healthy?
    As always, I really enjoyed your post, I love the way you think. I guess I just don’t think about the colour of peoples skin, it wouldn’t bother me if you were rainbow coloured, its what’s on the inside that counts. BUT… I have a pale skin in the winter and tan up rather nicely in the summer, I tend to use make up in my work world, it is sort of expected of me being in a corporate world. Sigh. But if I was just being daggy old me, Id totally not bother with the stuff. I am fascinated by how asian people like to have lily white skin white, yet many woman I know, they tan up a storm. Total opposite!


    • Miss Anna! I’m always looking up and I’m getting there! Nothing good comes without work and reflection!

      I so understand you. I work in a corporate environment too and work demands that I paint my face. Well, it’s not compulsory but you know, impressions matter sometimes…From what I see in your photos hiking out and about, you really have a good complexion, big sis, looking so healthy. And that is what really matters no matter the colour of our skin, rainbow coloured or plain white or tanned 🙂


  12. Hi Mabel,
    Great post and I completely agree that beauty is quite subjective. As a white guy living in China, all I can say is…wow…things sure are different here and that Chinese men and I do not see eye to eye on what is beautiful. White skin…who wants that?! When you are as white as me, the last thing you want is more white, which is one reason my culture puts a huge beauty premium on a nice, healthy looking tan rather than looking bone white.
    But far harder to accept is looking like a child thing. Just gross. When I see 20 something girls dressing and acting like some kind of ‘sexy’ submissive 12 year old it makes my skin crawl. So strange.
    And what’s up with fake eyes? Man, those things are creepy. It’s like looking at Lt. Data’s little sister or something. I just don’t get it.


    • Thanks, Zhou. Beauty is certainly subjective and each of us have different perceptions of what is attactive to us. Opposites attract, and there is much truth to that – so often we are captivated by the unfamiliar.

      Looking like a child thing is a whole other topic altogether, and a fascinating one too. Perhaps some like to dress young like a child because they want to feel like one. I don’t know either, I’m only speculating.


  13. Being an asian I can relate with the whole fair is beautiful concept! Being an Indian, dusky divas are emerging in the entertainment industry. Guess that counts as something for change in perception? Is it happening, maybe?


    • “dusky divas”. First time I’m hearing this phrase associated with Indians. Bollywood is spreading across the globe, and so I think you’re right. The world is embracing both fair and dark skin. About time.


  14. You know me Mabes and my pasty white skin! My skin does not tan, merely turns lobster red after fifteen minutes of Sun exposure, and I’m vitamin D deficient just to add to the problem 😅 My father’s side of the family are Dutch, who are known for their pasty, sensitive skin, whereas my mother is Maltese, with olive skin that tans nicely in the sun. I got my Dad’s while my brother got my mother’s. Growing up in Australia, having a healthy tan was always considered nice, rather than looking sickly and pale. However, then Twilight became cool and THE PASTY KIDS LIKE ME WERE THE COOL ONES! Fashions are just that, fashions, that come and go. Skin is skin and as long as your happy in it, then it doesn’t matter 🙌


    • I love your pasty white skin! You have very good and nice skin 🙂 That makes two of us then, in that we both burn pretty easily, and we never hang out under the sun *high five* No matter what colour skin we are, we are all cool. Though I must admit Twilight did put the spotlight on pale skin once again.

      You are so right. Skin is skin. If we’re happy, so be it and good for you. It is our choices and how we treat others that define us 🙂


  15. nice post mabel 🙂 I am a Filipino with fair skin but I am not one of those wo want’s to lighten my skin 🙂 I still believe in “what you see is what you get” 🙂 I know some others really love to get whiter skin and put on some make up every day 🙂 for me beauty is always is inside 🙂

    nice photos 🙂 thanks for sharing


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