The idea of ‘white supremacy’ does not only contain supremacy within a racial context, it can also correspond to a melanin reference, especially in Indonesia, where I was born and raised. Traditionally in East and Southeast Asia, having light skin was referred to nobility as the superior didn’t have to work under the harsh sunlight on the field. In contrast, brown-skinned girls were deemed poor and filthy. Indonesians have always looked positively on having ‘white’ skin. Having a darker colored skin is considered less attractive, which is ironic considering the majority of Indonesians genetically owning the extra melanin. People would stay away from the sunlight as much as they could, in fear of getting ‘blacker’.
Until today, Indonesian television still shows a significant preference to ‘white’ actresses. Privilege is shown upon actors with a slight Caucasian descent, and finding a brown beauty is rare. With the rise of social media and the acknowledged Hollywood influence dominated by Caucasians, it is not surprising that the Indonesian beauty standards have been deeply influenced. While browsing audition tapes, the first big requirement was usually addressed in bold, large letters: “White and beautiful”. Let’s not forget about the whitening lotion business. It is worth over a multi-billion and is projected to rise by $19.8 billion in 2018, thanks to the continuous desire for light skin, both in men and women, generally from Asian, African and Middle East regions. Young beautiful brown Indonesians who fed on the media and societal regiments have grown with the fact that their skin is not good enough and that they should glorify a color in which they aren’t born with.
These too had similar impacts to me. After browsing the media, I would constantly look in the mirror and see a physically challenged individual. Neither do I have the ‘white’ skin and straight hair, or that my nose is highly arched. I know I can do nothing about it. I sat down, confused and angry.
What was the matter with my skin color? Does changing it will make me fulfill the standards and be considered beautiful?
I wondered why I’m physically far from the boundaries that were set and additionally surrounded by friends who meet the criteria. Then, I thought of the things I would have been if I did have the desired looks: light skin and straight, silky hair. I would probably be the first choice in a local casting call and have tons of amassed attention garnered to me. I might feel good about myself, but then, that is not who I am. I cleared away the thought.
My perception of the ‘white skin glory’ was argued during a recent trip to Europe. A small lady came to me out of nowhere and spoke out, “I really love your skin,” full of awe. Slightly shocked and caught up by the moment, I blurted out, “But why is it so?” She meaningfully answered, “You look so healthy. Here people love the darker skin and would go on and about to have one like yours.” I smiled. “Oh, but I wish people back home would feel the same way about their skin.” This made me realized that European beauty standards, especially with skin color, are very different to the one’s back in Indonesia, or Asia for the matter. The grass really is greener on the other side. But which side do you supposedly agree with and follow? Which society? This is proof that you can never satisfy everyone, and that standards very much lies in the eye of the society we were raised in. The one person you can and must truly be content with is yourself.
To all Indonesians out there and to all struggling for self-acceptance, please listen to me: You should never feel that way again. It’s 2017. Labels should not define us; no one should set an exact standard of beauty. Your skin is just a part of what makes you. Society is a man-made construction based on the hands of those in power. It may influence you, but it should never decide who you should be and what you should look like. People weren’t made the same way. Why does anyone think they have the right to define beauty in a homogenous definition? You were made this way. You were chosen to be you. Please go through the process of self-love and acceptance, no matter how hard it is. It may be hard, but with time, love heals and grows immeasurably. In all honestly, I’m still learning to love the shade I’m in and to fully accept myself as me, and that’s okay. One final message: be happy in your own skin (no pun intended)!