Asians have an obsession with women with fair skin, light-coloured eyes, and blonde hair. In the olden days, it was said that a Malay bride would not be allowed to go out in the sun for at least one month before her wedding, so that she would not be too tanned, when sitting on her wedding dais.
A distant relative of a Malay woman, who is married to someone from the West Indies, said: “Your children will be hitam (black). Perhaps, it is better to adopt.”
The colour barrier extends to the super rich. Angeline Francis, daughter of tycoon Khoo Kay Peng, claimed in a Malay Mail article, that her father disapproves of her husband, who is of Caribbean origin.
Then, as now, some of us consider fair skinned people “beautiful”. Why do we have this hang-up when in the west, Europeans desire to have tanned skin. Is it because Asians think that being tanned is associated with people who have toiled under the hot sun?
Today, many Malaysian beauty products contain skin whiteners. The Kelantanese businesswoman, Hasmiza Othman, affectionately called Dr Vida, promotes many skin whitening products from the Qu Puteh range which her cosmetics firm, Vida Beauty Sdn Bhd, produces. Some of them have been banned, because they allegedly contain mercury. Mercury is harmful to health and can cause birth defects.
Recently, Air Asia was reported to have employed two blonde, fair skinned Australians as stewardesses. The two girls are alleged to have enjoyed celebrity status, with passengers requesting selfies with them.
The airline is not doing anything wrong, is it? It is merely exploiting our obsession with blondes, and craftily using this as a business and marketing strategy. Unfair? Perhaps. Racist? Who knows? Girls treated as sex objects? Definitely.
Some people may say it is a personal preference. Blondes over brunettes. Air Asia may wish to test this strategy further by asking their stewardesses to dye their hair blonde (or using blonde wigs) and see if the passengers prefer the new blonde look.
On one hand, we have an unhealthy obsession with fair skin and blonde hair. On the other hand, we have another obsession about being syariah compliant, with Rayani Air stewardesses being covered and tudung-clad.
Are we a nation of two extremes? One hopes that we judge our cabin crew on their efficiency and competence, not by their looks or religiosity.
Sometime in the late 1990s, the Information Minister ruled that TV announcers, with Pan-Asian looks, should not be allowed on television. Two of the announcers were former school friends and they said that the directive came from the top. So was this a politically motivated move?
Advertising is a powerful tool. As a result of Pan-Asian models, Pan-Asian beauty queens and Pan-Asian newscasters, many people, especially foreigners, thought that Malaysians were fair complexioned, and brown haired. Many local girls aspired to be like these Pan-Asian women.
Many Malaysians, and most of the rural folk, are weaned and nurtured by TV3, throughout their childhood and adult lives until they die. They would have found it difficult to identify with the government messages being promoted on TV3, by Pan-Asian looking women, who did not speak manglish, but spoke flawless English, as many were educated overseas. Was this “identity” criterion, one of the reasons Pan-Asian broadcasters were banned from our screens?
Today, the urge to have Pan-Asian looks is as strong as ever. Eurasian actors and models are in great demand and many women from high-society try to look Eurasian. Perhaps, they lack self-confidence and are highly insecure.
Those who do not have European genes to give them fair skin and blonde hair, have a few tricks at their disposal. Peroxides in hair colourants can make them blonde or brown. Skin whiteners will lighten their skin, cosmetic surgery can reshape their eyes, whilst a boob job will give them the Jayne Mansfield figure, and their flaring, wide nostrils, can be “trimmed” with a nose job. Never mind that their children look thoroughly Asian.