Making my way from Hong Kong to Bangkok, I came across a colorful reminder of differing values - built on common anxieties. A sun deck crowned the top of my hotel: a number of chaises longues aligned to enable maximum roasting effect, taking in as much of the sun as possible, no matter what time of day. Meanwhile, at the airport, it was difficult to avoid slick displays of what seems like an endless supply of rather expensive cosmetic products designed to make Asian women's (and men's) skin whiter.
In the West, bronze is gold: perfectly tanned women are used to advertise a wide range of products formulated to give our skin a caramel glow. How ironic that in these parts of the world where I am now, the same global cosmetics companies sell products designed to do the exact opposite, promoting in the process ideals of beauty that keep reinforcing the alleged supremacy of Western looks and standards (whiter is better because white is right).
What strikes me though is how those polar opposites have been converging. The sun deck looked almost abandoned, as if it had not been used for a long time. On the cover of the latest New York Times T Magazine, Emily Blunt's skin was made to look ghostly white, almost like a geisha. As we become more and more aware of the damage that the sun can inflict on our skin, could it be that in the West we are going back to the time in the middle ages when pale skin was a sign of superior social standing? What will become of countless hotel rooftops, architectural remnants of yesterday's stereotypes?