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  • Theresa Ngo

The Paler the Skin, the Better?

If you have ever visited Vietnam, one of the first instances you will come across are drivers and pedestrians covered from head-to-toe in scarves, gloves and sunglasses in 90 degrees plus weather!

People are not only fearful of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays or dust-covered roads and air, they typically desire the extra protection for flawless, porcelain skin.

Many Asian countries, including Vietnam, pale skin is preferred over tanned skin. Why? Pale skin is a sign of sophistication and wealth, while tanned skin is a sign of poverty. People with tanned skin are often associated with agricultural workers who are often exposed to the sun.

In Western culture, tanned skin is more common and is considered healthy. Particularly in California, where we purposely expose ourselves to the sun to darken our skin tone and the use of fake spray tans is prevalent.

The different preferences in skin tone and how beauty is perceived can be evident in beauty pageants. In Asian beauty pageants, contestants are considered more beautiful if they have pale, porcelain complexions. Whereas Western beauty contestants spray tan before they compete to appear sexier and more fit.

I witnessed firsthand the different perceptions of beauty when I visited Vietnam last summer. As I landed in Ho Chi Minh City, I was greeted by my aunt and cousin, both of whom immediately noticed my tanned complexion and questioned why I was not pale like them. Not being involved in much outdoor activities at the time, my skin appeared to be the palest I’ve ever been and I was shocked to realize there is a paler standard to achieve!

Despite the widespread influence of Western culture, in Asia pale skin is still popular and desirable for both men and women. Many beauty salons and cosmetic companies thrive from selling skin-whitening products to consumers who are desperate to brighten their complexion.

Here's my perspective. Individuals should not feel pressured into following society’s standards of beauty. Instead, everyone should be encouraged to love the skin they’re in whether they’re pale or tan. Let’s face it, it’s unrealistic to want to achieve pale skin if you are naturally born with golden tan skin. Porcelain skin is beautiful and so is every other skin tone.

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Theresa Ngo


Theresa is currently a biology student at the University of San Francisco. She is interested in fashion and hopes to share her thoughts on the current fashion industry as well as Vietnamese involvement in the industry through her stories. As a Vietnamese-American, Theresa has a strong love for the Vietnamese culture and wants to contribute to its preservation for future generations here and abroad.

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