June 16th, 2015

Time to stop upholding singular standard of beauty

By Zarifah Anuar, Communications Executive, AWARE

11270483_973354422676997_1914455530335340819_oWe refer to the report “HSA raises alert over high mercury levels found in 2 cosmetic products” (June 9).

Even where skin whitening products are not dangerous to one’s health, their popularity and marketing reveal disturbing attitudes toward beauty ideals and skin colour. The idea that “fairer is better” has very exclusionary implications in a multiracial society with women of all shapes, sizes and skin tones.

For instance, recently, a column published in Cosmopolitan Singapore by their senior beauty writer Elizabeth Lee described the “perfect Singapore girl” as one that is “slim and petite with shapely legs”, has a “fair, porcelain complexion”, “big eyes and a small face with a defined jawline with feminine long hair”. This not only excludes many Chinese women, it also completely excludes Malay and Indian women.

When the beauty industry pushes skin whitening products, it implies that one’s natural skin colour is a problem that needs fixing. Disturbingly, the global market for skin-whitening products has been projected to grow to US$19.8 billion (S$26.6 billion) by 2018.

Personally, I love my brown skin and I am sure many other women do, too. However, for many of us it is a common experience, even from childhood, to be told to stay out of the sun so we would not become dark, and to put on a whole variety of clothing and creams in order to protect our skin from becoming too brown. What are the implications of this message for diversity and inclusion in our society?

It is time for us to stop upholding this singular standard of beauty, especially one that is unrealistic in Singapore. We need to include and represent all skin tones in our media. Magazines and other mass media can start by having more diversity by employing more models of non-Chinese and non-Caucasian descent to grace their covers and their pages.

Such moves could even increase readership, since the publications would be appealing to a larger audience.

This letter was first published in TODAY Voices on 16 June 2015.

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