Why Are S’poreans Still So Narrow-minded About Beauty Standards?

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As a fashion and beauty writer, I’ve observed and written about a ton of trends that have come and gone.

But 2017’s “trends” have been an especially progressive for the international and local beauty scene, reaching admirable milestones in diversity and inclusion.

Take Fenty Beauty’s 40 shades of foundation or Laniege Singapore’s choice to cast an Indian talent as the female lead in their K-drama- inspired short film for instance.

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This got me wondering, with all the good that’s going around, is there still a discussion to be had about how we as “diverse and cosmopolitan” Singaporeans view beauty? And are we’re as open to embracing diversity as we say we are?

The best way to understand how Singaporeans view our Asian beauty ideals is, of course, to ask the people themselves.

Like any self-respecting millennial, I took to social media to ask the masses for their opinions on the matter and before I knew it I was flooded with responses.

Beauty In the Media

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A friend of mine who used to write for female-centric publications, Anne, popped up on my Facebook Message notifications, and I urged her to be candid about her opinions.

To be honest, I feel like Asian beauty standards are so diluted, it’s almost becoming Westernised. But we still adore the skinny girls and Korean face trends,” she says.

“When it comes to facial features per se, it may be a mixture, but it also depends on what the media puts out there.”

Someone else pops up – an old classmate of mine, Zack, who is no stranger to the media industry (yes, he models) chimes in on the subject. “I think the prevalence of K-Pop and what is advertised in general has introduced a new standard of beauty, predominantly Pan Asian features.”

“Like an Asian with Caucasian features; sharp nose, jawlines, double eyelids, slightly brown eyes,” he describes.

“It happens on a large scale, and it has come to a point where it affects our livelihood.”

Having worked in the modelling industry for a few years, I knew exactly what he meant.

“Imagine trying to get casting jobs,” he laments. “Most jobs are catered to models with Pan Asian features unless you’re working for government-related gigs where ‘local’ Asian features would be more readily accepted because it’s just more representative.”

“So from a personal perspective, it feels like we are second-class in any sense of the word. As long as we don’t fit that ‘mould’.

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I take a moment to browse the Facebook pages of a few popular beauty and fashion brands, just to validate some of the opinions I’d received.

And though I’d say I’m not surprised, it’s still funny how much we as consumers of media brush over the blatant lack of representation within our own media.

Beauty In Singaporean Society

The scandal that was Night Owl Cinematic’s (NOC) ignorant and later termed “casually racist” viral beauty video dropped in April.

For the Singaporeans who hadn’t seen the hordes of posts on social media, the girls of NOC had challenged each other to put together a Coachella festival look when things took a turn for the worse.

One girl claimed she looked “Indian” disdainfully while another told her she “looked like shit”.

To add salt to the wound, the girl said: “She looked like she’s attending Deepavali!” All of them laugh.

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Though this is technically “old news” I call an old schoolmate, Elizabeth, to get an opinion from someone of said, minority race.

She laughs when I bring this up, “I’m not angry right now, I wouldn’t really say I was angry then,” she ponders “but it’s not because it doesn’t bother me, I’m just used to it I guess?”

She recalls,

“There are moments where it’s in your face – people tell me I’m not as pretty as my Chinese friends, make fun of the colour of my skin or say that I don’t bathe because I’m Indian. It may have been a childish thing when we were in Primary school, but of course it’s not nice.” 

I ask her how she feels about people defending their right to “joke” about these things the way NOC did to which she responded, “it’s stupid.”

“It’s stupid because they think the fact that it’s casual makes it better, when it really just makes it worse because they’re not addressing how they make these other girls feel about themselves.”

“I’m old enough now to know that this is how I’m seen, I’m mature enough to not let it make me sad or otherwise, but what about other girls who aren’t mature enough to deal with that yet? Are you just gonna say it’s too bad they think they’re ugly because they’re too sensitive?”

I think back to conversations with friends who’d say things like: “But it must be harder for her to find a boyfriend because she’s, y’know Indian.”

Not that they’d meant to insult anyone per se, but that general accuracy of that reflection is in itself, disturbing.

Beauty Is Just Subjective

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Of course, there’s the simple argument that beauty is subjective after all, the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

“This might sound very textbook and politically correct, but I feel like everyone has their own definition of beauty standards” Anne adds.

“So people might say Asians like skinny girls, but a lot of other people like skinny girls too, and skinny is perceived to be beautiful in Western/European countries.”

“Some Asians may also like busty girls right? So as long as you fit that ‘perfect package’ you are 10/10.”

While we can’t argue with that sentiment, it’s pretty convenient to ignore that our tastes and preferences are largely influenced by what we are exposed to.

Beauty Diversity In Singapore

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I find that when commenting about things as sensitive and subjective as “beauty”, often times writers struggle to find a balance when conveying their opinions; you can’t be one-sided, or too neutral.

To ignore or belittle the developments we’ve made as a society in a local and global context would be too harsh on one hand, but I’d argue that calling our beauty scene “diverse” would be quite a leap.

With all that said, having a racially inclusive makeup line isn’t gonna change the world overnight – or over a year.

“Representing different faces is really important” Elizabeth states.

“It can be hard to feel confident because we’re surrounded by this idea of predominantly Chinese or North-Eastern Asians like Koreans and Japanese girls – and I can’t look like that even if I go for plastic surgery.”

While we may support the campaigns that’ll ensure that diversity and inclusion isn’t just another fad that gets lost after 2017, we can’t assume that’s all there is to it.

*All names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identities.