Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Impossible Standards of Beauty

"This is my mother," says Amy to whatever Thai friend we are meeting, usually a student at the local university.

The friend looks at me, smiles and does the "wei," pronounced like the letter Y--the traditional praying-hands, slight-head-bow greeting.

A number of times already the friend has then turned to Amy and said something, then Amy turns to me and says, "She says you look young and beautiful."

It is always gratifying, and it always takes me by surprise.

Finally I asked if this is just part of the traditional greeting,  lest I was squeezing too much enjoyment out of the statement.

Amy said no.  This is a sincere compliment.

I think --Hmmm, if I lived here, would it compensate for the heat to hear that all the time?

But the compliment also makes me sad, and this is why: Thai women try to live up to an impossible standard of beauty.

To me, most of the women, especially the college girls, are astonishingly beautiful, with delicate features and dark eyes and clear lightly-browned skin and a fascinating friendliness and grace.

But in their culture, to be beautiful requires the following:
--pale white skin
--round eyes
--a nose bridge that sticks out and isn't flat
--a slender figure

So you can see why I qualify, especially on the first three points, despite crooked teeth and gray hair and other things that are not considered beautiful in America. 
Thai people and Americans at a fun dinner I will write about on another day.

Most of the Thai students have the skinny figure qualification, but not the rest.  So the local supermarket has racks and walls with hundreds of skin-whitening creams, and women ride around the city in hoodies and gloves on the hottest of days to protect their skin from the sun.

I'm told that many women with the means to do so will go to South Korea to have surgery to make their eyes rounder and their nose bridge built up, and to get injections to whiten their skin.

How terribly sad.

And how terribly sad that so many white American women--including ones I know--will obsess about food and exercise to attain a figure they were never meant to have, and will risk skin cancer and premature aging to lie under lamps or out in the sun to get that elusive tan that they were not born with and would never attain through normal activities.

Says the lady who despaired that her legs were still pasty white even after a long hot summer with plenty of garden work and hanging laundry on the line.  And who looked at said legs, which are whole and healthy and functional, and thought, "Ewww."

What would happen if we women saw ourselves as astonishing marvels of creation, designed with care, loved and cherished and treasured, beautiful and whole?

For starters, our husbands and children and everyone else who loves us and already sees us as beautiful would just about faint with joy and say, "At last!"


  1. Amen, Dorcas. Thanks for sharing!

  2. So true! And just for the record, I think you're beautiful, too. :-)

  3. Very, very true. (Says the lady who looked at her own legs and said the very same thing!) Especially the husband about fainting part ;)

  4. HA! So true about the husband part :) :) :) Love your writing

  5. Very true. I wish so much that the Thai people could see themselves as beautiful as they really are, but I guess we do the same thing. It is rather comforting to be told you're beautiful, though, when you feel terribly white after staying inside out of the sun for days on end