Sunday, January 6, 2013

Beauty in Thailand

I asked our guide, Nina, about beauty in Thailand. She responded that women in Thailand want whiter skin, straighter hair, bigger eyes, and longer noses. This week I want to further explore to what extents women can go in order to obtain "beauty" and what the implications for power result from this supposed beauty.

As I mentioned earlier, Thai people value straight hair as a sign of beauty. While some people are lucky enough to be born with hair as straight as a post, others are not so lucky and are born with what they refer to as “fluffy hair.”
Fortunately for those fluffy haired folks, there are lots of beauty products to fix this problem. I went into a store called Oriental Princess on Tuesday and discovered many hair products to help fix “fluffy hair.” In this store there were also many skin-whitening products, but I’ll talk more about that later.
The most common fluffy hair fix is the salon straightening. In the U.S., something like this would cost between $400-500 (for really long hair like mine). Here, it was 2500 Baht (under $100!). Naturally, I needed to experience this process to fully understand the lengths these women go to in order to search out beauty.
While we were in the Bangkok Red Light District, one of our group members bought a drink for a stripper. She had the beautiful straight hair that so many Thai women seem to desire. I asked her about it, and after a few tries at rephrasing, she understood my question. She responded in her broken English that she had gone to a salon about 5 months ago to get it straightened. This was exactly what I was looking for.
Long story short, on Tuesday, I found a place called Western Hair that would straighten my hair. To summarize: wash, blowdry, goop, saran wrap the goopy hair, heat the goopy saran-wrapped hair, wash, blowdry straight, iron, more goop, sit, wash, blowdry, done. Four hours later, my hair was stick straight. TAH DAH! Can’t get it wet for 3 days, but we’ll see how it is on Friday! I couldn’t imagine doing that twice a year like most women here do (I was incredibly antsy starting about halfway through). I would include pictures of the process, but I’m not too into selfies…

Products from the USA are WAY more expensive.
Just like in the U.S., I found clinics offering various anti-aging treatments (such as botox).

Anti-aging is normal for the USA too, but skin whitening?!

For the most part, women seem to keep a natural-looking dark brown color in their hair, but sometimes you can find women with reddish hair or other colors. Hair dye can be purchased in a lot of different stores and all of the professional hair salons offer hair dying.

So many hair dyes...


My “Thai beauty” exploration through personal experiment ended at hair. I was not ready to whiten my skin (especially after spending so much money on bronzer and trying to tan back in the U.S.).

Skin whitening cream

More skin whitening products!
You can now find contact lenses to "widen" your eyes!

Looks like skinniness is a trait valued in cultures outside of the U.S. too!


What surprised me about cosmetics in Thailand was that they take up a significant portion of most of the stores in the mall! Even the pharmacy seemed to be mostly cosmetics with a small section for oral care, feminine hygiene, first aid, etc.

Girls looking at cosmetics in the pharmacy

A GIANT cosmetics store in the mall
Beauty is power. It's a simple statement, but I see evidence for the power of beauty everywhere. An example? Imelda Marcos from the Philippines. Because of her beauty, she was able to marry the powerful Fernando Marcos, who became the president of the Philippines. Through that marriage, she quickly gained power of her own.
To women in Thailand (as well as in the U.S.), beauty can help women be desirable to men. The more desirable a woman is, the more likely she is to have better prospects for marriage. If a woman can have her pick of men, she can choose the one who is most successful/handsome/intelligent/whatever. Relating this back to Minnesota, one of the most superficial groups on campus is the Greek system. Women spend a week "rushing" houses, getting dressed up to try to impress the girls in each sorority. To make it into a house, beauty is usually one of the requirements (though this goes unstated). Once in a house, the Greek system keeps the sorority women with the fraternity men, almost ensuring that the sorority women will be able to find a good match (if you are one of the people who believes that fraternity men are well-bred and worth marrying...which if you look at the statistics, majority of the most powerful men in history were fraternity men).
So why do women in Thailand want whiter skin, straighter hair, bigger eyes, and longer noses? The very fact that the hair salon in the mall was called "Western Hair" indicated to me that the western look is what is desirable. While back in the U.S., we're all desperately trying to darken our skin, white skin historically has shown a higher class because it was a sign that you did not have to work out in the sun. It seems to me that western media has infiltrated Thailand and other parts of Asia. As women struggle in the U.S. to try to look more like the super models they see on TV and in the magazines, it appears the same is happening in Thailand to some extent.
The last point I would like to touch on is the idea that beauty also gives women an inner-strength and power. I'll try not to drag on too much about this, but it's something I strongly believe in. Maybe I've just been brainwashed by Victoria's Secret (which is likely...I have something very close to an addiction), but I firmly believe that beauty results in self-confidence, which is the most powerful thing any woman can have. I don't just mean with regards to attracting men (because God knows, men love confident women). I mean that women need to feel beautiful in their own skin. Whether that means they need makeup or any number of other beauty products, so be it. Pampering oneself can be an excellent form of therapy (within reason, of course). If you're happy with yourself and love yourself, that lays out a great foundation that allows others to love you as well. (If that makes any sense at all...)
And look at what beautiful women can accomplish: Thailand now has its first woman prime minister, the gorgeous Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck Shinawatra

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