Models of various skin complexion presenting a collection at a fashion show recently. But, the fact remains that the number of models if colour in fashion is small. Reuters Photo

THE festive spirit can already be felt in the air as Muslims prepare to welcome the new month of Syawal next week.

Hari Raya advertisements are propagating messages of festivity and joyous celebration, driving home the importance of unity and family — or beauty, in the case of one particular ad.

What’s beautiful, according to the ad which has since been rightfully pulled out, is a “creamy” porcelain complexion.

Those with dark skin are “cursed”, it implied.

Outraged Malaysians took to social media to express their indignation on the very day the ad was released, and the company has, to its credit, apologised twice and removed all traces of it online.

The storm has since abated, but it won’t be long before this same issue rears its ugly head again. After all, it has been raised time and again. As long as the barometer for beauty remains alabaster fair skin, those with darker complexion, pigmentation issues, dark spots and uneven skin tone will be considered inferior to their “flawless” sisters.

This skewed perception of what’s beautiful is, sadly, still very much apparent in Malaysia.

How else can we explain those who saw absolutely nothing wrong with the ad, or worse, found it hilarious?

They presumably share the same mindset as those who wonder why a toothpaste company changed its name to Darlie, and applaud the usage of the word gagak hitam for Africans.

There is also a certain hypocrisy in our rants against those who cannot agree to the “black is beautiful” adage.

While many were quick to disparage the ad, some of these rabid critics are also the same people who will go to great lengths to achieve a pallid skin tone, stay out of the sun for fear of getting dark, and wish for spouses, and later babies, “blessed” with fair complexion. We would have all heard this at one time or another — someone dismissing a compliment for their child with an apologetic “but she is dark”.

Sometimes, we are ourselves guilty of such actions and remarks. How many of us are, however, willing to admit this?

Going by this prevailing attitude, it is no surprise that in Malaysia and many other Asian countries, whitening products — now re-branded as “brightening” creams and serums to ensure political correctness — continue to fly off the shelves as consumers attempt to replicate the airbrushed, translucent complexion of celebrities endorsing them.

Many do not even pause to consider whether the contents of these fast-acting products are more toxic than the leaking water from the Fukushima reactor.

This underscores how unhealthy, literally, our preoccupation with fair skin can be.

Our willingness to throw caution to the wind and use products possibly laced with mercury in the name of beauty is just one example of our sad, yet enduring mentality that fairness equals loveliness.

Internationally, dark-skinned models have found a place on runways and magazines, the most recent being “Melanin Goddess” Khoudia Diop, who is based in New York City. Other influential beauties with dusky complexion include Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Waris Dirie and Kimora Lee Simmons.

But, the fact remains that the number of women of colour in fashion is small.

This is very true in Malaysia, with local designers taking it even further — opting for Caucasian models over Asians, no matter what their complexion.

And, it is not just on the runways that Asian models are discriminated against.

On popular local fashion websites, most top-tier designers prefer to use blonde and blue-eyed Caucasian models to wear their collections, even if it is the Hari Raya baju kurung and kebaya. They fail to realise that customers prefer to know how the baju Melayu or jubah will realistically look on them — dusky, exotic Asians — instead of flaxen-skinned, golden-haired Amazons.

No matter how vociferous the public outrage, it is unlikely that attitudes on skin colour will change. Society has been obsessed with fair skin since time immemorial. While this age-old, archaic notion that fair is lovely and dark is ugly is being challenged, we still have a long way to go before we can truly be free of colour bias.

While colour discrimination is a very real and large problem, it is difficult to shift from the present state of affairs when the problem lies with us.

This award-winning columnist takes a light and breezy look at hot, everyday topics. A law graduate-turned-journalist, Chok Suat Ling is now NST associate editor news. She can be reached via sling@nst.com.my

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