Hair & Beauty

Published on September 28th, 2013 | by thevyne


A Traveler’s Beauty Tip: Apply at Home or Abroad

Travel BeautyBy Allison Brooke Gordon 

 ***Check Out Other Travel Articles by Allison Brooke Gordon Like This One, “Finding the Right Conversation Piece” ****

On a recent trip to Southeast Asia, my mission was to eat, explore and people watch.  Mission accomplished.

I ate, explored and people watched in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore and can undoubtedly report that the food is wonderful, the sites are breathtaking and above all… the people are kind and beautiful.  Each person was unique and different. All varying heights, shapes, colors, fashions and facial features. But something not so beautiful stood out to me in Vietnam. Most of the Vietnamese women – beautiful and diverse in appearance, both whom I met and observed from a distance – aspire to be “white” or fair-skinned.

A majority of the women that I saw were covered from head to toe: large wide-brimmed or conical hats; wide sunglasses; nose and mouth masks; long-sleeved sweatshirts or jackets; long denim pants; pale nude gloves and stockings.  It surprised me that women living so near the equator – where it is hot, humid and the sun is prominent – go to extremes to prevent themselves from becoming tanned, a very natural indicator and response to melanin plus sun. It’s true that some light layers will keep the body cool and serves as protection from over exposure to harmful UV rays, however the women do not dress this way for preventative purposes, religious reasons or necessarily for modest conventional beliefs. They are dressed this way to maintain their idea of beauty.

“We must stop in the shade to stay white,” one local playing tour guide exclaimed while stopped at a red light on our bikes.  Both amused and irritated, I understandingly nodded and followed her lead. We repositioned ourselves awkwardly in the random patches of shade on the road. This was the kind of friendly “just-so-you-know” small talk that I encountered. The Vietnamese women were absolutely kind to me and accepted me and how I look – after all I am expected to look differently. I’m not Asian. And so as they innocently yet blatantly mentioned how to be “white” (as they pointed at their arms) is beautiful, I thanked them for their candor and “girlie” beauty tips… and silently acknowledged the centuries of cultural and political misinformation that feeds this mindset.

My experience is certainly not a new finding or discovery and I certainly don’t mean to single out Vietnam or judge the women. It has been long known, debated and politicized that some cultures in some regions of the world idealize fairer skin.  This antiquated, highly sensitive and deeply rooted cultural belief and opinion –  implied and played out in day-to-day conversations, preferential treatment and favoritism, media and in some cases still the workforce – is not unfamiliar to many women of color, myself included. However, this was the first time that I observed this firsthand outside of the U.S. in such an outward way in regards to beauty.

Certainly every culture has the right to create or sustain traditions of “beauty” and every individual should have the freedom to express their own personal belief of beauty. I for one have set my own personal beauty dos and don’ts. I adopted tactics that conflict with my natural beauty, ethnicity and genetics. For example, most of my life I straightened my kinky curly hair with chemicals because I was exposed to messages that it wasn’t beautiful and rather ethnic. I overlooked heels with 2.5+ inches because with my tall stature I didn’t care to be even taller than mostly everyone. I still don’t.

I respect the Vietnamese women and all women for doing what they want, expressing themselves and their opinions and dressing however they want to dress. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the woman who wants to stay shaded and maintain a sun-free look; and nothing wrong with the woman who wants a suntan for the extra glow. There is nothing wrong with the naturally kinky/curly woman who straightens her hair; nor nothing wrong with the 6’+ tall woman who chooses flats over stilettos. However, a twinge inside me is signaling that there is still something precious to be learned and encouraged in regards to beauty, self-love and empowerment. That is, an aspiration and an admiration that “beautiful” should accentuate what is natural and healthy for the individual. And if that beauty tactic naturally or deliberately reveals or highlights a feature that is symbolic of race, ethnicity or heritage…well then, voila!

So, how did I feel among the melanin shy women? Well, being just one color on a wide spectrum of women of color among my family and friends, I felt unapologetically lucky and beautiful. And now that I’ve returned home, I feel blessed that I belong to a community of women that recognize and celebrate their individual shade of beauty and the beauty of other women of color. My travels reminded me to aspire to self-love and health in beauty – whether for the ideal hair, height, or complexion – and to encourage self-love for my sisters of all colors around the world.

Beauty tip takeaway: Celebrate your shade of beauty!

Wearing: British Racing Green nail color by Butter

Watching: TedxTalks- Nina Jablonski Debunking Skin Pigmentation Myths.

Eating: Pho (pronounced Fuh), a savory slightly sweet Vietnamese soup with loads of long noodles, veggies and other vitamin-packed goodies. 

 ***Check Out Other Travel Articles by Allison Brooke Gordon Like This One, “Finding the Right Conversation Piece” ****

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3 Responses to A Traveler’s Beauty Tip: Apply at Home or Abroad

  1. Yasmine says:

    Great article Allison! and a very keen observation. It seems that this ideal for fairer skin is more prevalent in developing or under-developed countries while in so-called developed countries, some women pay beaucoup money to get spray-tanned or sit on a tanning bed. I was listening to a discussion on beauty on NPR a while back and one of the guest made an observation tying beauty to a society’s economic status: a few centuries ago, being fair was the epitome of skin beauty in the West because it meant you didn’t work in the fields (i.e. you were not a laborer or a slave -folks in the European courts put powder on their face, so did the geishas in Japan)…with industrialization, lower-paying jobs moved indoors and now, if you had $$$, you had time to sit by the pool or go on vacay in the tropics. This is what happened in the West…looks like folks in developing countries are going through this mad beauty evolution now…not sure where things will land there thought. Deep stuff! Thanks Allison:-)

  2. Jacqueline Evette says:

    This article is a brilliant example of how we as women are on a long journey of self-love, awareness, and acceptance. Great job Allison!

  3. Allison says:

    Thank you! More on Vietnam’s true and natural beauty here:

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