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From Vietnamese cover up to get coveted whiter shade of pale, by Ben Stocking, Dec. 2002, The Chicago Tribune:

"I am very afraid of the sun," Luu Thi Hang Nga said as she pulled long blue gloves up to her shoulders and mounted her Bianco motorbike. "I want my skin to be fair."

The association of whiteness and beauty is widespread in many Asian countries, where "skin-whitening" creams are hot products at cosmetics stores.

But the masks and long gloves have become especially common in Vietnam, where notions of beauty have collided with a motorbike culture and a sunny climate to produce an unusual fashion statement.

Neil Jamieson, an anthropologist who has written extensively about Vietnamese culture, said contemporary notions of beauty are probably rooted in long-standing ideas about class--ideas that persist despite a communist revolution intended to obliterate class distinctions.

For centuries, Jamieson said, Vietnamese have associated dark skin with toiling in the rice fields and other forms of manual labor. Mandarins and other high-class people had no need to stoop in the sun, so their skin was generally lighter.

"This use of skin shade as a marker of class or social status has influenced people's ideas of what is attractive and desirable," Jamieson said.

As far as Nga is concerned, sociological explanations are beside the point. She just wants to look good. And good to her means light.(ha2889)

© David J. L'Hoste. All rights reserved.