Brighter Butts, Darker Futures

Tuptim Malakul Lane

Walk into any high-end department store in Bangkok and find an immense display of cosmetic brands from Avon to Yves Saint Laurent. Whatever their primary purpose, they all share one prominent feature – making parts of your body whiter.

There are whitening lotions, creams and deodorants. There’s even whitening sunblock to get whatever the opposite of a tan is.

In exclusive clinics and expensive spas around the city, remake a whiter you with injections, lasers, bleaches, peels, sand-jobs and more.

Scratching your head yet?

Now comes one of the most delicate offerings imaginable: Bleaching the “backdoor” to look bright and glowing in the farthest reaches.

This whole whispered-not-spoken treatment can be had by trendy women or intrepid gents for a few thousand baht. It intrigued me – but not enough to try.  So out came the questions when a new friend mumbled quietly that she does bleach her undercarriage.

In the end, her burning tale was a window into the lengths someone would go to increase their stock in the infidelity game.

Why do Thai women want to be white? White skin means status. It means coming from another class. It means they are the ones who can afford to pay for those dark-skinned people (farmers) to work for them. The trend started off with facial whitening slowly moved down from the face into the armpits only to now find its way further south to encompass even an area seen as little as the butt?

Racism is evident in Thai society. Men prefer light-skinned women. Their darker sisters, usually from lower economic rungs, are teased.  Constantly reminded of their misfortune; their inferiority complex digs deeper when validated by being at the tail-end of the pickings.

Thailand’s monogamous society turns a blind eye. Encouraged by wealth, women have happily opted to be mistresses to prominent men.

As for the friend who lightens the end of her tunnel, the arrangement comes happily without the responsibilities of being wife or mother. Her duty is only to make sure she is beautiful, well-groomed and available at a moment’s notice. So the reasoning behind these painful weekly whitening rituals, simply put, is assuring herself of a higher bank balance.

The idea wasn’t her’s.

During an early encounter, while watching porn together, he suggested she should have the attributes of a favorite porn star and persuaded her to look into such services in the city. So to secure her position as the preferred mistress, she sought professional help in the name of a spa. This educated, modern Thai lady passes the activity off as part of her grooming.

It becomes part of her routine of hair, manicure, pedicure, hair removal and acne treatment. By week’s end, she becomes the fantasy.

So what happens at these clinics? Are doctors present?  How dangerous are these procedures? These and more were my questions. According to her: Painful, yes, and it takes a few days to heal – perfect for when he’s with the wife – but she’s getting used to it.

Hydroquinone, a benzene derivative known as kojic acid, is used for the whitening. No doctors are present, but specialists dressed in white medical uniforms create the image of medical professionalism.

As it requires a contortionist’s flexibility to actually admire the bleached area, how do you know the spa did a good job? By his constant reminders, she says, that it’s time for the next appointment when the naturally dark skin color begins to return.

The downsides: scarred tissue, infection and pain.

The upsides: a pristine feel-good factor and cleanliness.

In the future, will society be judged as having gone off the rails when we became slaves to dollar signs or when porn stars became role models?