I was faced with an interesting lineup of facial products in the supermarket today: out of dozens of choices, at least eighty percent or more were products described as “whitening”, “lightening”, or “brightening”.

While people in the United States are all busy trying to get tanned like french toasts, using UV tanning beds, tanning creams, spray tan, the people–and mostly women–of Indonesia are all trying to bleach their skin. Turn on your TV here, and at least once you would come across a 30-second advertisement featuring a woman with slightly tanned skin (slightly! In real life, you would consider her light-skinned) who feels ugly, and after n weeks of using this-and-that cream–insert a sequence of animation featuring skin turning light–men double over at her sight, crashing their bikes into newspaper stands as they turned to watch her. Probably a bit blinded by the artificial neon-like shine of her digitally-edited skin.

You think that sounds ridiculous? At least every other skin product ad is a variation of that scenario. Occasionally an “expert” or “dermatologist” with pristine white lab coat would explain, in his/her dubbed voice, how a particular product is a marvel of scientific innovation.


I’m not sure why we’re so fixated with white skin. Probably you just want what you don’t have. Probably we see white people as an idol we need to imitate, a standard of beauty, and thus we try to also be white. We widen our eyes using many cosmetic techniques, including cellotape on our eyelids or outright surgery. We bleach our hair into hues of golden, red, brown, blond. We wear colored contacts to avoid being yet another Indonesian with dark brown/black iris. Probably, we just want what we don’t have. I don’t know.

What I know is that there’s an unhealthy obsession on trying to be so artificially different that even finding a product that does not try to convince me to whiten my skin is a struggle, because Lord Almighty I think my skin tone is fine. I just need something to stop pimples from erupting on my face.