Episode 4 : Price of Thai beauty

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Join Mia and Lani as they discuss the hot topic of plastic surgery, and the latest death of a Thailand “pretty” because of an illegal procedure. Buddhism’s “middle way” does not seem to apply to some Thai women’s obsession with looking “pretty”.


No time to listen? download  MP3  file and listen to it offline here

Prompted by the news of Athitiya “Kratae” Eiamyai’s death after a plastic surgery operation gone wrong, I wanted to talk to Mia about Thailand’s crazy obsession to be white and pretty.

Thailand is a country where appearances count, (see episode 3) where “saving and losing face” can take on a new meaning in the case of plastic surgery craziness.  Some women here want to remain as youthful as baby, and are willing to go to great lengths to look “perfect”.

This idea is not lost on US citizens, as we’ve seen the botched plastic surgery pictures, the gossip magazines showcasing the latest celebrity makeover and of course, Michael Jackson’s bizarre transformation throughout his career. But perhaps the most interesting one for me has been Jennifer Grey’s nose job, where she went from unique and recognizable to ordinary and forgettable.

Thailand’s “pretties” however, are paid or reimbursed handsomely for their youthful appearances as well as their ability to persuade and present the products they are selling. The case of Kratae just globally highlighted what most Thais are already aware of: it pays to look pretty.

What is disturbing to me is how desirable Anglo features are to Thai women. And I understand, I used to feel that way too growing up in America. You could say, Thais want white skin like the Koreans or Japanese, and while that is true, they also desire a more pronounced nose bridge, more curves in the form of bigger breasts and hips and an oval face.

Once you take away the roundness of an Asian face, the flatter nose and the slim or petite frame, you are creating a different race. Maybe this is what men want. I don’t know. I just find it sad that girls want to change features that are “ethnically theirs”, features, that quite frankly, I have.

- Blog post written by Lani. For more on her life in Thailand visit Life, the Universe and Lani

12 thoughts on “Episode 4 : Price of Thai beauty

  1. Well, this is the way I look at it. Asians look the way they do due to a combination of aesthetics/culture, environment, and available genetics. Yes, so yo olde Asians liked those types of facial features and people with them had more success breeding and thereby passed those traits on. This went on for thousands of years.

    Prior to modern times, Thais would never have ever seen a white person, but now that we live in societies where we see all sorts of different features from people all the time I think it natural to be attracted to those other types of people. Attraction in terms of partner selection and in terms of emulation. Basically, some people want to be more like the mix that they see around them. I’m not sure there is anything wrong with that as I think it is a two way street. Remember all of the white girls who liked to emulate local girls growing up in Hawaii? I can also tell you from first hand experience that there are plenty of girls from different races that like Asian guys. Lots.

    Example. One day I was getting my haircut in North Carolina. The female African American hairdresser took a look at me and said “Everyone is trying to get like you.” I looked at her puzzled and said “huh?” She said “white people are trying to get darker and black people are trying to get lighter.”

    Why people get plastic surgery to begin with is another topic for another time.

    • Good point Larry. I totally agree. I don’t think anyone is lacking compassion or understanding re: why girls want to look a particular way, but I find it tragic nonetheless. Variety is not only genetically rewarded, it is also beautiful!

  2. The fact that these surgeries, or visiting the beauty/skin clinic has become so commonplace is a sad sign.
    I think caring about appearance has become so ingrained in our entertainment-obsessed/image-obsessed culture (Western/Eastern and everywhere between,) that we don’t even realize the extent that we’re stuck in it. It’s almost like the “inner beauty” concept has been forgotten.
    As an American living in Thailand now for years, I’m really shocked by the number of times a Thai person has commented directly on my appearance: “you look so tired / you’re fat now / before you were beautiful / you’re skinny / you’re so pretty / your skin is dark / you look old today / today you are beautiful” It’s shocking, and sadly I can’t help feeling that it’s negatively affected me. My “self-esteem” has gone down and my “beauty-consciousness” has gone way up. I constantly feel like people are looking at me and judging me here, cause they tell me about it! These days, I find myself looking at people and instantly judging their “beauty,” which is something I don’t remember doing quite so frequently before I lived here. Watching Thai TV at night is one whitening/beauty product after another. I wonder how this gets handled in the education system – is anyone taught to recognize and respect “inner-beauty?” Or is that a concept that has just been buried and lost under all this pretty stuff?

    • Mia says: This is a difficult one to answer , I will give you my Thai opinion, as best as I can…
      Thai culture is based a lot on first impressions either well-dressed, uniform wearing, including physical appearance.In Thai culture it’s considered normal to be asked about age, career, marital status or even income. This information will help us to determine the social level of others, in order to be correctly address the other person as pii (older), nong (younger), or whether to wai or not.

      Physical appearance critiques varies on the relationship between the person, sometimes it just means they have notice the change and remember what it was before. This doesn’t mean it’s ok to do so especially if the comment is negative. Thais would rather to keep it to themselves. The Thai education system, the teaching of inner beauty has always been look at especially in the Buddhism aspect. Unfortunately, the media has a huge impact on all walks of life. In everyday life we have been exposed to this kind of publicity all the time.

      Lani says: As a luuk krung or half Thai raised in the United States, I completely understand your frustrations and feelings. I wrote about my experiences here: http://tellthaiheart.com/the-other-side-of-thai/

      I can also echo what Mia is trying to say by also adding, this is the Thai way of being conversational. They love to talk, and talking about the way you look to them is just their way of “connecting” with you. It’s like the American, “You look tired, did you get much sleep last night?” But with the language barrier, perhaps you don’t/can’t dive too deeply into these things? You could try to explain, that in Western culture, a remark about “looking tired” can be considered insulting!

      I think we forget that this is a cultural exchange. I know I want to let my Thai friends and students know when they say something “not appropriate” but I forget and just swallow the remark, wondering what the hell was that all about? You and me should make a pact, to try to speak up more often when something is bothering us. I think our Thai friends will appreciate us letting them know they’ve made a social faux pas. Because I certainly don’t think that is their intent. And by the way, you look fabulous :)

  3. Hello,

    Happy to hear that Mia has more curve than the average Thai girl, real connoisseur expect a little more meat on the bone… 5555 ( please, I’m not rude here ) and that she reject until now the botox… Woman do need to understand that there are still real men able to see the inner beauty of a woman, to appreciate her soul. As a western European guy I always smile with this obsession for white, personally I never wake up in the middle of the night to run in front of the mirror to admire my white skin.
    โชคดีครับ มิเชิล

  4. Very illuminating to hear this from your perspective. I knew about the skin whitening and how dangerous it can be.

    I like what Mia said .. “love you as you are”.


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