Thai beauty company Seoul Secret came under heavy backlash last week for its commercial that featured a model in blackface while claiming that having white skin helps you “win”. The ad featured the skin lightening cream Snowz insinuating that the model’s success is based on her whiteness.
“If I stop taking care of myself, everything I have worked for, the whiteness I have invested in, may be lost,” said actress and social media star Cris Horwang in the 50-second spot.
After the ad appeared, the company received multiple complaints of racism. Eventually, they pulled the ad and released an apology. “Our company did not have any intention to convey discriminatory or racist messages. What we intended to covey that self-improvement in terms of personality, skills, and professionality is crucial.”
The concept of skin whitening and the pale skin beauty ideal is not new. The practice of recoloring one’s skin is directly related to the desire to achieve higher social status. Historically, a person’s skin color has been a clear indicator of economic and social status. As early as pre-Qin China, there has been an association between one’s wealth and one’s skin color. Farm laborers who made a living by working in the sun were easily distinguishable from the Chinese upper class by their skin tone: farm laborers were darkened by the sun while the nobility were able to stay indoors and avoid sun damage. The same skin-whitening phenomenon occurred in the west during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Aristocrats at the time used a dangerous bleaching product, lead oxide, in order to differentiate themselves from the lower class laborers. The historic correlation between economic status and skin color naturally lead to the development of a variety of treatments in order to correct an “undesirable” dark skin tone.