What’s the Deal With Pale Skin as a Beauty Standard?

During my first experience in China’s Sephora makeup store, I had a bit of trouble finding the right powder for my tanned skin tone. When I asked one of the workers for a bronzed look, she stared at me in total confusion. Quickly, I realized that Chinese women have a distinct perspective on beauty—pale and unblemished skin.

This simple yet intriguing preference can be traced back to the Han Dynasty. Darker or tanned skin was usually associated with lower-class labor workers, exposed to the harsh rays of the sun. Achieving a pale complexion reflected higher social status, as it indicated that you had the luxury of staying indoors. Ultimately, fair skin was the equivalent of wealth, marital prospects and status.

In today’s age, the impact of pale skin beauty standards is still undeniable. From predominantly Caucasian models and white-skinned influencers in the Asian beauty industry, it is no wonder that Chinese women feel pressured to look the same. Just take a look at celebrities Fan Bingbing and Sunli—two perfect examples of China’s white-skinned beauty standard.

For the younger generation, it comes from their admiration and aspiration towards K-pop culture. In order to look like their  favorite K-pop idol, many fans choose to brighten and lighten their appearances. However—known to few—many K-pop idols have undergone skin surgeries and bleaching to meet Korean beauty standards.

For businesses, consumer trends have tipped positively towards skin-whitening makeup products. Hence, in pharmacies and makeup stores, women can always find a hefty stock of skin-whitening foundation cream and makeup powders lining up the shelves.

As for Western culture, their beauty standards are quite the opposite. Considering the amount of time that Westerners sunbathe—contrary to Chinese women hiding behind their umbrellas and limiting exposed skin on a bright summer day—it is evident that they prefer tanned skin. In their opinion, a bronzed skin tone indicates good health.

What are your thoughts on Chinese beauty standards?