White Face (2021)

















“白是美, 黑是丑, 一白遮百丑” (“Fair skin is beautiful. Dark skin is ugly. Fairness covers a hundred blemishes”) is a popularised saying in my heritage culture.


When I became sun-tanned in Singapore, mom was not so thrilled, as if I had lost some sort of badge of honour. Mom's discontent was not unsubstantiated, because since young, she was made to feel that she fell short due to her natural darker skin, and she wanted me to conserve and "cherish" my original skin tone I took after dad. 

It sounds a bit messed up, doesn't it? 

However, the story did not stop there.


The more I am exposed to Asian demographics of various heritages, the more I realise this obsession with fair skin and prejudice against darker skin among Asians ourselves is far more prevalent than one can imagine.


It is almost everywhere. It is in the whitening facial cream at the skincare section, the whitening filter of photo editing applications, the skin whitening pills sold in Japan, the K-pop stars that homogeneously possess fair skin, the concerns of the sun darkening their skin my female schoolmates of Indian heritage hold, the complaints about their own natural skin tone from my Filipino friends, …


How did we get here?


Where is this collective obsession with fair skin among Asians derived from? 

Has rapid urbanisation in Asia played a part because fair skin is traditionally associated with non-working-class and therefore represents a certain status? Or is it also a form of internalised racism, the byproduct of white supremacy in this post-colonial era?


How do such obsession and discrimination shape Asian beauty standards that affect individuals' self-esteem? Why can't we be happy with our natural skin tone, dark, neutral or fair? Who are perpetuating these obsession and prejudice?


Have you experienced a sense of superiority when you encounter someone with darker skin than you? Have you ever heard your parents or grandparents or even yourselves said "Don't get tanned in the sun" "If only you were less tanned"? 

Have you ever secretly wished that you as Asians could look more like Caucasians? Have you ever felt insecure about your skin tone?

What defines beauty really? Does fairness of skin really cover a hundred or even one blemish? 

How far would we go attempting to reach the internalised beauty standards dictated by others? Are we subconsciously discriminating ourselves? 

With all the questions above, that is why I created this performance “White Face” on 13 August 2021.