Street Ninjas – Vietnam’s obsession for fair skin

A gentle breeze meanders through Đà Nẵng in Central Vietnam. Although the annual heatwave has just passed its peak, yet the coastal city’s most exquisite beaches remain almost abandoned throughout the day. Only a few Western tourists dare to defy the shade and mingle outdoors, mainly to collect melanin pigments. With comparatively more rainy, foggy, or snowy days per year, it’s nothing short of a must-do to stalk as many sunbeams as possible. Returning home from vacation with a bronze tan is per se considered one of the most desirable souvenirs, despite all warnings of sunburn and skin cancer – a somewhat questionable behavior, if you’d ask the Vietnamese.

From Tokyo to Jakarta, hardly anyone in Asia fancies exposure to UV rays, because a brownish tan does neither imply grace nor aesthetics, but poverty. Evading this social stigma partnered with a maniacal obsession for fair skin has a long tradition in the Orient, which dates back to antique times. Back in the days, a pale complexion was considered noble and aristocratic – only the riches could afford to stay indoors, while farmers working the rice paddies toasted inevitably under a glaring sun. The privilege of a noble pallor continues strong and even influences the chances of getting married to a better-off family. Ms. ThùyLinh Nguyễn, an accredited historian of modern Vietnam, states that a woman’s look reflects not only her beauty but also her social class. Beautiful females in Vietnamese literature and history were often upper-class women who did not have to work in the field, and therefore they were expected to possess small, bamboo-shoot shaped hands tay búp măng, small feet, and also a fair skin. A light skin for a man didn’t always evoke an image of beauty, but it did genuinely indicate his status as an intellectual. Bạch diện thư sinh– the white-faced student look is often a reference for educated men who spent most of their time studying the classics rather than working outdoors as a peasant or manual laborer…

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