A few days ago, I had gone to meet up with my lawyer. A lady well over in her 60’s who has grandchildren, who has had a very successful business set up and who has literally done it all. She is a very mature, grounded and wonderful woman. And me and my wife go to meet her once every month, especially since at least me being a foreigner in Thailand, I need to both for my taxes as well as other legal matters. However, today when I went to meet her — I saw both her eyes and her nose swollen.
Her face was black and blue and her eye brows, eyes and nose were double the size .Assuming that someone (maybe her husband or boyfriend) must have beaten her up violently or she must have had an accident, immediately I asked her what happened.
Immediately, she smiled and told me “Oh, this is nothing. I just had plastic surgery.” And since she should see the confusion on my face, she added by saying “Even I want to look beautiful.” And then she laughed.
I smiled. I tried my best to naturally sound ‘happy’ for her complimenting her that I was looking forward to seeing her young. And then once my work was over, me and my wife left the office.
Now, I have no idea if you may find this strange or not so strange, but let me tell you how rampant this phenomenon is in Thailand — at least where I stay on the Island of Koh Samui.
Literally every woman I know on this island has had a plastic surgery, talked about plastic surgery, or shown it to me that she wishes to be anything but what she truly is. In fact, if you go and visit every 7–11 store here, you will see them peppered with
- Skin Bleach Cream,
- Skin Whitening Cream,
- Skin Protection Cream,
- Skin Youthful Cream,
- Anti Aging Cream
- Freshening Cream
- Creaming for making your face glow
- Super vitamins packed cream
And then you also have drinks with beauty based ingredients. I tried to make sense of a few of them and I was told by the lady in the counter that there were drinks that:
- Make your skin glow
- Made you look younger
- Gave you all the vitamins to make you look light become ‘lighter’ and ‘whiter’
- There were even drinks to make you look more attractive!
Added to all this, every model on the face of the bottle or cream was white and light colored and attractive.
It kind of reminded me in India where the products were ‘Fair & Lovely’ & ‘Fair & Handsome’. Apparently, being dark wasn’t Lovely or Handsome.
Now, I am not surprised that women who are dark skinned wish to be lighter or that women who are light skinned wish to be darker (more women than men), but the extremes to which women in Thailand go through to change their apperance is way beyond shocking.
Do you want to be surprised?
Well, let me tell you why I find this shocking and you can tell me if I am justified in bringing up this concern.
The 1st woman whom I found out opted for a nose job was this 23 year old girl who was interested in me. Nothing shocking right? Nah. It’s normal for a 23 year old to want to go for this.
However, if you factor in that she is a single mother of a small child, she is without a job for 3 months and she actually borrowed money from a friend (lying to them that she needed it for a medical surgery) and she got it done may shock you. When I bumped into her, I literally asked her why did opt for this — her response? Well, if I am attractive, maybe I will get a job more easily.
The second woman who shocked me was, well the lady whom I purchase fish & meat from. Yup. A woman who is a fish & meat seller. I used to bump into her twice a week. And then for a few days she wasn’t present. After a month, when I bumped into her again in the morning market, I noticed something was slightly ‘off’. And then she smiled and asked me rather flirtatiously “Don’t I look prettier?”. She had apparently gotten her cheeks, chin, eyes and nose operated on.
And finally — the climax.
You will not believe this but my sweet and pretty wife — whom I find absolutely attractive, literally asked me if she should get a surgery done. To my surprise, I asked her what was wrong with her appearance?
Guess what did she respond?
I want to look more attractive so that you would love me more. And then she proceeded to tell me (since she is 4 months pregnant), that she wanted to look at my face every single day because she wanted our baby to have my nose, my cheeks and my chin and her skin color…..(you get the drift).
I told her explicitly that it wasn’t important how our baby looked as long as our baby was healthy and look ‘normal’. To which she gave me long drawn out childish “nooooo”. And then added — do you know why I always hug Bobo (the white & light brown fluffy dog) and not Shoe-Shee (the black and white skinny dog) — I said, “No, why?”
Because I want our baby to look beautiful like Bobo and not ugly like Shoe-Shee. And she went on to let me know her belief system — that the more she spent time with beautifully attractive people and beautifully attractive animals and yes LOOK at them, the child would also come out to look ‘beautiful’.
And believe me when I say this — my wife was pretty serious about it.
Now, I do not know if this is a one of thing — as in its only my wife who has this belief or it is a belief system that women in her village have or it is a superstition that many women share — but I seriously found this ridiculous.
It baffles me that this concept of looks is so deeply ingrained in people that it impacts and affects not only the young and the old, it also impacts both the rich and the very poor. in fact, you will be surprised to see the not-so-rich laborers who come from Burma to work in Petrol Stations & in farms — they smear their faces with a thick coating of some ‘yellowish’ cream. And when you ask them what is this cream for — they let you know it is to keep their skin ‘fair & white’.
Personally, I know what the problem is:
- The core belief that the lighter your skin is, the more ‘royal’ and beautiful you are perceived to be. They have this theory that the ones who work in the sun or are low class workers, have darker skins because they are lower on the hierarchical ladder. And the more richer you are, the less you work in the sun and that is why you are white
- The media — almost every model, singer, pop-star has light and white skin. While the villains and bad guys and the poor people portrayed in these adverts — have brown or dark skin.
- Families literally take pride in showing off how beautiful and attractive a ‘white’ or light-skinned child is, in comparison to one that is dark.
And these core beliefs are deeply ingrained in each and everyone of the women in Thailand.
It does surprise me to know the extent to which this is becoming a common place here in Thailand. From wearing contact lenses, to getting the skin bleached, to getting a cosmetic surgery done. Everywhere you go, anyone you meet and every place you visit — there is some direct or indirect message related to how your looks matter and how the world judges you for it.
I for one, know how powerful a role this plays in our lives. And what impact is has on one’s personal brand. But when what is on the outside matters more than what is on the inside — I guess that is where I have a problem.
As I left the lawyers office that day, I looked at her office (her office and house are both in one single location). And there I saw the super expensive cars, the super expensive lawn, the super expensive house. And I thought to myself, well she is right, she can afford it and its her life — so what is my problem?
After all, I myself adjusted my appearance to look how I look like right? So why bother right?
However, I can tell you one thing.
My wife and my children (soon-to-come) will be trained, taught and educated to understand one thing — what lies in your head and your heart will matter more than anything else in the world. And I will make sure that I will expose them to a world, a reality and perspective where I will make sure they accept how they look and never wish to surgically alter it for any reason whatsoever.
My wife is beautiful and my children will always be beautiful naturally. I will never want them to get themselves to look ‘artificially’ attractive. And with regards to whichever dog my wife prefers my baby to look like, I would simply reply to her intention with a simple answer “WOOF WOOF!”