Beyond the Pale
The LA Times has an interesting feature article on Asians' preference for lighter skin, particularly for females. From "The Quest For A Whiter Shade of Pale":
For many Southern Californians, summer is the season for beaches, chaise longues and the quest for the perfect tan.The author hints at the cultural reasons for pale skin in Asian cultures. Later on, it is suggested that racism may be behind this ideal.
Not for Margaret Qiu. She and thousands of other Asian-American women are going to great lengths to avoid the sun--fighting to preserve or enhance their pale complexions with expensive creams, masks, gloves, professional face scrubs and medical procedures.
For them, a porcelain-like white face is the feminine ideal, reflecting a long-held belief that pale skin represents a comfortable life. They also believe it can hide physical imperfections
Whitening products have been a mainstay in Asia for decades, but cosmetics industry officials said they have emerged as a hot seller in the United States only in the past four years. Whitening products now rack up $10 million in sales a year, according to the market research firm Euromonitor.The real reason is less sinister sounding, and actually makes a lot of sense. Throughout Chinese history, the upper classes' privileged status meant that they had a lot of leisure time and could stay indoors during the hot daylight hours. Meanwhile, the lower classes would have to toil in fields to make a living, their darker skin signifying the work hours spent out in the sun.
But their popularity has sparked a debate among Asian-Americans about the politics of whitening. Qui and others say the quest for white skin is an Asian tradition. But others--younger, U.S.-born Asians--question whether the obsession with an ivory complexion has more to do with blending into white American culture, or even a subtle prejudice against those with darker skin.
Of course we now know about the harmful effects of too much exposure to sunlight from premature skin aging to cancer, which is mentioned in the story. But leave it to the guilt-ridden media to bring a racial angle to this age-old story.