Thursday, May 1, 2008

Black and white

People in the states want to be tan and dark.  People in Asia want to be as white as possible.  It's quite a conundrum.  As in the states, skin color in Asia takes on a lot of social significance.  People in higher classes tend to have lighter skin.  Historically, this may have been due to the fact that people in higher classes didn't have to toil in the fields all day and could afford to not get tan.  In modern times, it's helped by the use of scary whitening creams.  This is true in Vietnam and India, where in both countries, I have had people either tell me that I have such dark skin or such fair skin.  Two people see the same thing but think different opinions. 

One story I have happened when I went on the mobile clinic visit to the villages in India.  I was playing with this little baby who was being held by her (presumed) grandmother.  The woman holding the baby kept on pointing to the baby, then to me, and saying something in Tamil that I, obviously, didn't understand.  I just smiled and nodded.  The next day, I ran into the postgraduate (like a medical resident) who was on the visit and we were talking about old wives' tales.  It all started because a pregnant woman asked if it was safe to consume large amounts of saffron, with the belief that it would produce a fair skinned baby.  An expensive old wives'  tale at that; a gram of saffron costs as much as half a days' wage.  The medical resident mentioned that what the woman in the village was trying to ask was how to get her grandchild to be as fair skinned as I.  I didn't believe him at first, but I guess that's all she wondered.  Not anything medical, just pure cosmetics.  But maybe it's not pure cosmetics, as it's a matter of perceived beauty and social stature for her. 

People are beautiful as they are... it's so sad to see that ancient stereotypes are perpetuated through the mass media and consumer markets.  Regardless, I am coming back darker than I left - I wonder if people will say that's good or bad. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good, because it means that you are back, and you can tell me all your tall tales.