This obsession is similar to the tanned skin craze in the West, only a bit more extreme. Spend a day on the streets in almost any city, you will find women covered from head to toe to not be exposed to sunlight (the “street ninja”). If you see any cosmetics ads while strolling, most likely it’s about skin bleaching products. This “white culture” can be traced back to the following reasons:
Street ninja, iconic fashion in our motorbike culture
Social Class Associations
Vietnam is a country built on paddy fields. Just about a century ago, the majority of the commoners are farmers – the poor. While farmers labored under the sun for long hours, the rich possessed the luxury of staying indoors all day every day. When farmers became factory workers, this notion still didn’t change.
Therefore, pale skin is affiliated with wealth, and dark skin is a sign of poverty. Naturally, that’s the sole reason why Vietnamese love white skin.
We Are Told to Worship White Since Pre-school!
Apart from money, white is also associated with physical attraction. From Western fairy tales to our own folklore, the female protagonist is always a legendary beauty with skin white-as-snow. The most famous story, Tam Cam, has a scene where a character died trying to achieve white skin by bathing in boiling water. This story is memorized by kids since they learn how to speak and is formally taught in our 10th-grade literature textbooks.
Foreign Influences at Play
In our colony days, this influence came from the West. Nowadays, Korean and Japanese culture waves are partly why Vietnamese love white skin. Vietnamese women love their dramas and music, so they sought after their favorite celebrities white-washed images, and the majority hasn’t been able to stop.
The usual concept of a whitening commercial
But Doesn’t That Lead to Racism in Vietnam?
There may or may not be discrimination against dark-skinned people, but nobody actually shows direct aggressive behavior towards anybody that is not light. We don’t really have any problem with skin tone associated with races, we just prefer white because of its supposed aesthetics.
Final Thoughts on Why Vietnamese Love White Skin
Unlike in the Western world, “white” in Vietnam does not represent ethnicity, it represents beauty and social standards, rooted in our culture and is not going away anytime soon. If you still have frustrations about our obsessions with white skin, let us know in the comments. If not, learn to prevent culture shock when visiting our country!