The message written in the harshly lit isles of the hygienic section is that to be beautiful is to be white. Brands like Snail White, White Allure, and BeauOxi White have the shelves loaded with intravenous whitening injectables, whitening pills, whitening creams and body washes. All this paired with images of super pale and laughing "Thai" people. Attempting to manifest this message, many employees at the store have layered their faces with white make-up. They look like specters of themselves. I feel like a jerk. I’m part of the genus responsible for exporting this ideal.
Call me a genius, but I suspect that it is because of this ideal that I am treated like a celebrity in Thailand. Though I've done nothing to deserve it, countless people run up from behind to snap selfies with me. I am told I’m beautiful by more random people than feels normal. Why can't they just call me weird looking? At school, the administration delightedly carts me around like an exotic pet. Under the command of, "It is uurrrgent that you come," I am required to be at notable events so that I can be in the pictures. The events with the important people holding gold plaques for the important thing that they have achieved which I still don’t know what it is (can’t speak Thai yet). There’s just something about me that makes their achievement look more special to the world.
I traverse these white washed isles with my critical eye, delving too deep into the social injustices that these smug sunscreens are championing. I maintain a rolling boil as I both reflect on and represent this ghastly form of globalization. I sourly shuffle, surly and shame faced to the check out with my armful of toilet paper.
But outside, I can't escape the curse of the White Allure. Dear reader, please walk with me. Come with me through the sliding doors and wait while I find my moped. If you look up and right, you will see a house sized bill-board with a young girl on it, lips slightly parted in a sexy sigh. She is white, clearly Caucasian, and there are little arrows tracing the smooth, youthful contours of her face, like the ones you see on the weather channel to indicate wind patterns. This teenager is telling you and all the Thais down on the street, selling sausage kebabs for a living, to get some botox and white injected into their faces to look right.
If you were with me as I walk through the night market searching for dinner, I’d tell you that I have a suspicious and dreadful feeling. What if my appearance is planting this seed of desired whiteness deeper into the local’s minds? When they take selfies with me, I know it is because of my whiteness and green eyes. Again, it’d be better if they thought I looked funny, but they singularly call me beautiful. Do they really want to look like me? What if I am fueling feelings of lack in my students? It is a scary feeling, but I think that it is not far off.
What do I do? A few simple things I think...When my girls at school tell me I’m beautiful, I always make sure to tell them that they are, too. They ask me a lot if I like Thailand, and I always make sure that I pause to tell them all the things I like about it. Everyone is better for it when they decide to be themselves.
...Also, from hereon out, I will stick to the street markets, keeping my gaze below the billboards.