Dear Malaysia, it’s me – Hannah. Are you listening?
Even though we’ve gone through hoops and hurdles in an attempt to destroy the internalized hate against those (and those of us) who have darker skin tones, we still have ads like this. Didn’t click the link? Let me summarize it for you:
Video makers Kokom shot a campaign for Slimme White, a small bottle that promises to make you both slimmer and paler. According to the video, Slimme White works miracles: rework your face and body, make your b*stard of an ex-husband miss you, despite him being an abusive a**hole that you should’ve left much earlier. Astounding. Does it work? I don’t know. Try it at your own risk.
That being said, the overused trope of ‘physically/emotionally abused wife is thrown out by her husband, who repeatedly tells her that she’s not good enough or pretty enough, etcetera ad nauseum, is used in this video. Of course, the she goes to stay with an older, wiser friend who decides that shoving Slimme White at this poor woman is a far better choice than helping bolster her self-worth. Eventually (read: a month later), Sya (the ex-wife) walks by and her ex-husband goes chasing after her – desperate to win her back.
So, I’ve got a bone to pick with this ad: the branding exec that approved this really should take into account that applying Eurocentric standards of beauty to Malaysians is not only detrimental, via internalizing attitudes that white = pure/better, but utilizing this plotline of abusive husbands only serves to victimize women even further. Women are not objects for men to project their desires upon, and to be honest? I was so upset watching this ad.
What startled me was how relatable this ad was – the act of declaring ‘talak tiga’, the verbal abuse he heaps on his wife, the way she begged and pleaded: these are not stories that are out of the norm in Malaysia. Even in urban Kuala Lumpur, these things are not unheard of. That’s for a different article though.
Eurocentric beauty standards – that being a focus on Caucasian features and idealizing them as something to aspire to – should not be applied to all. Beauty should be inclusive, and yet – you see women going through unnecessary procedures such as double eyelid surgery, nose jobs and drastic or dangerous measures such as skin bleaching creams and the like. We erase our own cultural, natural beauty in order to measure up to white beauty standards. Manufacturers pitch their product by preying on their consumers’ insecurities, encouraging the belief that fairer skin will improve their quality of lives – whether it’s a better paying job, or finding The One. Much like this ad.
Of course, there has been backlash – women who are fed up of being unrepresented in the modern beauty narrative or are downright told that they are unattractive due to their darker skin. There are creams to whiten everything – including armpit hair and female genitals. Campaigns such as #UnfairandLovely were launched in retaliation, embracing darker skin as beautiful. Are these social campaigns enough, though? Even with campaigns like this in place, we still get advertisements like the one mentioned above.
Each ethnic group in Malaysia has their own standard for beauty, sure. They do prioritize fairer skin, as it’s considered ‘pure’ or beautiful. Well, more beautiful than darker skin tones. Combined with the pressure to have large eyes, a slim waist, to have that perfect hourglass – we’re all confused people at the end of it. There’s no line between dressing for yourself and dressing to conform to what society thinks of as ‘beautiful’, which is why you find a lot of cookie cutter girls on Instagram. We need to put an end to this, and embrace our cultural beauty.
One way to do it? Stop making ads like this.
Why do we keep creating advertisements like this? Like the infamous Watson’s LagendaCun ad which promoted the idea that black is bad, you’d think that Kokom and Slimme White would’ve gotten the memo. Well, they’re not telling us that darker is bad per se. They’re just implying that it’s not great, and your quality of life would be improved if you were fairer.
The Facebook response is mind-boggling as well – between the men exclaiming ‘Not All Men’ and claiming that not all women are saints, and the people opting to criticize the quality of the video instead of the messaging; I might very well be disappointed in Malaysians. This is so sad, that this sort of internalized self-hatred has become the norm.
Wake up, Malaysia. We can’t keep doing this.