Tibetan Girls, We are in the Process of Losing ‘Plateau Redness’
June 29, 2016 1:50 PM   Subscribe

藏族姑娘,我们正在消失的那抹高原红

ok, fine:
Tricia Kehoe:Plateau Redness and the Politics of Beauty in Contemporary Tibet (Part 1):
In the first of a two-part series, I translate an essay that was first published in February, 2016 on a popular Tibetan platform on Wechat. The essay, written by a young Tibetan woman currently studying at a prestigious university in interior China, discusses the perceived loss of “plateau redness” (高原红), a reference to rouge cheeks commonly associated with those who dwell at high-altitudes.

As part two (coming up in the next few days!) will examine, this essay’s exploration of the loss of plateau redness forms part of a wider discussion that has been ongoing for years. The piece generated a very complex array of responses, many of which situate the loss of plateau redness within a wider landscape of globalisation, cultural assimilation, climate change, identity, gender, inland schooling, as well as resettlement and migration.
Plateau Redness and the Politics of Beauty in Contemporary Tibet (Part 2)
In part one I shared a translated essay from Wechat penned by a young Tibetan woman on the perceived loss of Plateau Redness. In her essay she raised concerns about the rapid growth of the cosmetics industry in Lhasa over the past few years. She criticises the advent of a singular beauty standard revolving exclusively around whiteness as well as the ensuing loss of plateau redness, a distinguishing feature, she argues of Tibetan identity.

The essay garnered a great deal of attention on Wechat, generating a wide array of reactions and provocative commentary on the politics of beauty in contemporary Tibet. This blog starts off by trying to contextualize the essay and responses within the broader socio-cultural milieu within which they take place. To do so, I provide a brief overview of how the issue of plateau redness has been treated in Chinese media. I then move on to looking at some of the main responses the essay generated, before finally looking at a recent example of Han appropriation of plateau redness.
via TNI
posted by the man of twists and turns (21 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm fascinated by the idea that Plateau Redness is both an exoticized national trait (for example the pop song about it and sense that Tibetan women are "losing" it) and also apparently isn't seen as an attractive feature.

Body image is so weird.
posted by Sara C. at 2:42 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


With respect, there's more going on here than body image.
posted by naju at 3:30 PM on June 29, 2016 [19 favorites]


What a fascinating essay.

There's a lot of layers in it.

There's the culture lash between traditional Tibetan conceptions of beauty and those of the Han ethnic majority of China.

There's the complexity of white = beautiful, a common and awful beauty trope in South East Asia (and elsewhere), and a complex tangle of issues in itself, wrapped up in power, colonialism, race and class. I was recently reminded of this aspect by a couple of articles about selfies and how they differ in China than in the West.

And there's the aspect of China's long-standing and ongoing oppression of Tibet, and how the suppression of culture is a go to for sustained occupations. What I find particularly interesting about this essay is how Tibetan girls (through no fault of their own) can become complicit in the erasure of their own culture.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:13 PM on June 29, 2016 [13 favorites]


As an aside, my Tibetan friend referred to what we call white people as red-men. I had not considered the role altitude played in that expression...
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 4:29 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


To head any misunderstandings off at the pass, "whiteness" here refers to "paleness", not "Caucasian-ness".
posted by Bugbread at 4:46 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


In addition to the controversial whitening/brightening skincare treatments, the rise of pale skin in China (also Japan & South Korea IIRC) has come with a heavy emphasis on sunscreen use and otherwise avoiding UV damage. It would be interesting to see what the skin cancer rates have been among Tibetans and to see whether there is any connection or effect from plateau redness.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:51 PM on June 29, 2016


All of the Nivia whitening adverts I saw while living in Singapore made my jaw drop. They were, uh, not subtle.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:09 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why is whitening/brightening controversial but not tanning? Chinese/Koreans/Japanese have valued pale unblemished sun-free skin for thousands of years. If there's been a rise of pale skin in China, then it's due to the growing middle class. Not because the ideals are new. It's an ancient beauty standard.
posted by driedmango at 5:26 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


oh well if it's an ~ ancient beauty standard ~
posted by Krom Tatman at 5:33 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


Tanning is controversial.
posted by Sara C. at 5:34 PM on June 29, 2016


oh well if it's an ~ ancient beauty standard ~

This, and it's not directed at you specifically at all but at discussion about this in general, seems to come off as one of those "white feminism can't decide which horse to back" sort of things.

And... Ugh. It's ok to not have an informed opinion and just listen.
posted by emptythought at 5:51 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Being pale is controversial, and not being pale is controversial.

Or, rather, to be less flippant, "wanting a skin color other than which ever one you have, and doing things specifically to alter that skin color (i.e. using whitening cream, laying out in the sun specifically in order to get tan, etc.)" is controversial. Just plain being pale or being dark skinned is not controversial.

That said, if you're dead-set on picking a beauty standard other than "just whatever color my skin happens to be right now," the one that avoids skin cancer is still a better choice than the one that promotes it.
posted by Bugbread at 5:51 PM on June 29, 2016


What struck me about this (particularly some of the responses from Tibetan women in the second essay) was the way any feature that marks one as part of an oppressed minority becomes a flash point, a focus, something to rally around or reject, a source of either pride or shame. If you celebrate it, you're necessarily snubbing and excluding those who don't exhibit it. There's not a lot of room for nuance, because the dominant culture has reduced you to that feature (speaking of which, damn. That Chinese photoset. I didn't know what "plateau redness" was an hour ago but racist makeup looks the same everywhere I guess).
posted by sunset in snow country at 5:56 PM on June 29, 2016 [15 favorites]


This, and it's not directed at you specifically at all but at discussion about this in general, seems to come off as one of those "white feminism can't decide which horse to back" sort of things.

Neither I nor the person I was responding to is white.
posted by Krom Tatman at 8:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just plain being pale or being dark skinned is not controversial.

Uh, except where you have an entire cultural, media and pharmaceutical apparatus that says that it is. The Tibetan girls trying to shed their plateau redness aren't doing so in a vacuum. It identifies them, variously, as outsiders, as members of an oppressed minority, and out of step with fashion. They have a lot of motivators to leave it behind, something they formerly took as a given or even a marker of cultural belonging.

Skin whitening and the promotion of paleness does indeed have a long and storied history in China. Crudely put, in developing economies, pale skin is a signifier of class and wealth; ie, if you don't have to work all day in the fields, then you be can afford to be pale. That's common, and it isn't new. You get the mirror effect in western developed economies, where being tan signifies that you can afford to lie around on a beach all damn day instead of being cooped up in an office or factory, or even that you can afford to travel to warm climes where you can actually get tanned.

But what makes this essay and the follow up piece interesting for me where Tibetan beauty standards - which apparently don't elevate paleness - meet the Han Chinese standards, and lose. The Chinese standards aren't just driven by class and wealth signifiers any more; in a globalised, media heavy world, they are reinforced and mutated by media presentations (only pale people on TV and in movies) and cynical ad campaigns (like those for the skin whitening products). Pale = wealth = beauty eventually becomes just pale = beauty and no one questions why they think that any more. It just becomes a given, embedded. It's not necessarily about racism in the colonial sense; Chinese people aren't trying to look Caucasian. They are trying to look like pale Chinese people. And Tibetan women seem to adopt the same attitudes when they go to the interior.

You can see the same mechanic at play elsewhere in Asia. For example, India. But in India, its colonialist past arguably plays a much bigger role in driving the white = beauty standard. The same outcome via different paths.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:00 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts: "Uh, except where you have an entire cultural, media and pharmaceutical apparatus that says that it is."

Huh? I am under the impression Driedmango is talking about whitening being controversial here at MeFi. It's certainly what I was talking about in my comment.
posted by Bugbread at 10:29 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


From the second essay:
"Since 1985, as part of its ‘intellectual aid scheme’ (zhili yuanzang), the Chinese government has been sending large numbers of Tibetan primary school graduates to inland secondary schools outside Tibetan regions. The cultural impact of inland schooling continues to be a very contentious subject of discussion among Tibetan netizens, and was also reflected in the comments on the loss of plateau redness."
Repeat--it's not about pink cheeks.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:26 AM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's about history repeating itself expecting a different result.
posted by clavdivs at 5:40 AM on June 30, 2016


Huh? I am under the impression Driedmango is talking about whitening being controversial here at MeFi. It's certainly what I was talking about in my comment.

So red thoughts misconstrued that part of your comment. But the rest of his comment is a good and nuanced take on the subject of the FPP. Maybe this thread about a particular Tibetan cultural marker doesn't need to become Do Mefites Feel East Asian Beauty Standards Are Good Or Bad The Redux? It seems like there's a lot more to the subject.
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:30 AM on June 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


Thanks for the post! Interesting stuff.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:20 PM on June 30, 2016


sunset in snow country: "Maybe this thread about a particular Tibetan cultural marker doesn't need to become Do Mefites Feel East Asian Beauty Standards Are Good Or Bad The Redux?"

No "maybe" about it.
posted by Bugbread at 1:23 PM on June 30, 2016


« Older Memories of Butter   |   Present Shock Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments