Why The "Glass Skin" Trend Feels Problematic To Me As A Tan Asian Woman

Ad failed to load

I recall a recent instance where my friend noticed and asked me why my foundation shade was lighter than my natural skin tone. I wasn't sure how to answer. I knew that this friend, a non-Asian male who was completely unfamiliar with the cultural and beauty standards that Asian-American women subconsciously feel compelled to live up to, meant no harm when asking this question, but it incidentally provoked a lot thought and feelings from me nonetheless.

There was no simple way to explain. What was I supposed to say? "Actually I chose a lighter foundation shade because my insecurities stem from my personal experiences in colorism, a form of discrimination in which people are treated differently due to the social meanings attached to their skin color"?

For so long, I had believed the lie that a lighter complexion was more worthy and signified greater beauty for most of my adolescence. As someone who grew up as a darker-skinned Asian girl, I knew I did not fall into that category.

Ad failed to load

This is a depressing but unsurprising reality for me as an Asian American. For centuries, skin tone preferences have been linked to and used to identify social class across Asia. Darker skin was associated with being in a lower class, because it usually meant that they spent more time outside working, while those of higher class had lighter skin. By contrast, in modern Western culture, having a tan is perceived as trendy, healthy, and sporty. Americans spend millions of dollars on tanning products. According to Gizmodo, approximately 30 million people in the United States use a tanning device each year. America's standards for having tan skin and Asia's standards of desiring light skin made me feel conflicted — it was something many people in the U.S. strived for but something that gave me shame at home, in my Asian American suburb of Diamond Bar, California.


When I would visit Asia or see my Asian relatives, my darker skin was the first thing that anybody would ever point out whenever they saw me. I remember very clearly, on a family vacation to Hong Kong, a stranger saw my mom and me and stopped us. “Hi little girl, are you Native American?” he asked me, smiling. His voice was condescending. “Why is your mom so pale and why are you so dark?”

Ad failed to load

He asked my mom in Cantonese, unaware that I speak the language fluently, if I was adopted and that he couldn’t fathom how different we looked. I remember running to the bathroom and sobbing in a stall because I did not want anybody to know and also because I couldn’t hold the tears in. I was only seven years old and the memory is still clear as day to me now.

Western beauty ideals aren't only displayed as questionable comments from strangers — they exist disguised as "trends" as well. The recent K-beauty trend “Glass skin,” or having poreless snow-white skin just like glass, has been a beauty ideal in Asia for ages, but has recently become a popular topic of conversation due to a viral Instagram thread by Ellie Choi, an aspiring makeup artist.

Ad failed to load

In this thread, Choi reveals the specific skin care routine she undergoes to achieve and maintain her "flawless" fair skin. Her post garnered over 10,000 likes on Instagram in the span of less than a week and, at the time of publication, has over 35,000. While it is true that Choi has beautiful skin, her routine is specific to her skin type, stated as combination, so the routine may not guarantee the same result for others. More concerning, however, is the fact that Choi was obviously born with fair, near porcelain skin, something that cannot be changed by using the products she suggests. The trend of promoting "glass skin" is problematic, but the name "glass skin" was coined by other people on the internet to describe this skin, while Choi herself called it "clear skin."

Despite this fact, this thread, which features the products she uses and tips for using them, has been reposted over and over by other accounts, blowing up Instagram's Explore page as well as major lifestyle and beauty websites all over the internet. Since then, beauty websites have published articles to help readers achieve this smooth, snow-white look that Koreans idolize.

Ad failed to load

While these articles appeal to those who want this look, there have not been any voices speaking out about how promoting "glass skin" is problematic to Asian Americans and people who do not naturally meet Western beauty standards.

Whenever some of my friends suggest to go to the beach to go tanning, I think about the times I go back to Taiwan to visit my grandparents, and how they would encourage me to stay the shade I currently am so I don’t get too “dark.” I have realized that, as an Asian American, I will never be completely homogenous to the beauty standards of both of the worlds that I am from.

Over the years, my skin has lightened naturally, possibly due to the fact that I hate playing sports and prefer indoor activities. However, there are still parts of my body that are darker than others, and I still tan extremely easily, especially in the summer.

Ad failed to load

Sometimes it still bothers me, but most of the time, I try my best to take it with a grain of salt. I think of my younger self, the one who thought that drinking milk or bathing in lemons to make her lighter would make herself feel less worthless and more beautiful. I think of the one who cried in the bathroom stall all by herself. I don't want any other young girl to hate herself because she is bombarded with these standards of beauty that she can’t live up to.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

It also helps to have role models who have had the same experiences as me. I was extremely happy to read Constance Wu’s recent interview with Allure, where she shared her personal experience of being pushed lightening products by saleswomen while she was filming Crazy Rich Asians in Singapore. She said that she would reject them because she was proud of her natural skin and working-class roots.

Ad failed to load

“I’m not a white translucent tulip. I’m the granddaughter of Chinese bamboo farmers, the daughter of immigrants, the sister of an ultramarathoner (who runs for hours...in the sun!), and an American. I like my freckles and my natural skin color. It’s who I am,” she told Allure.

Perhaps it is through Asian American influencers such as Constance Wu who bring exposure to both cultures, that we will slowly be able to change the narrative on what it looks like to be “beautiful.” Being beautiful and being light-skinned are not mutually exclusive, and we can all work towards shattering this belief by viewing and treating every person of every hue equally and calling out other people who promote colorism.

Ad failed to load

It’s too late to go back and change where these beauty ideals began, but it’s not too late to change the way we view them and respond to them. The solution is not only limited to practicing self-acceptance and love, but also with diverse representation in media and acceptance within our own community.‌

Ad failed to load

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Bustle's Editors On K-Beauty + McDonald's

If you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you're probably rejoicing over the fact that the week's more than halfway over. And if not, keep your chin up. I've got some insane Fashion Week and McDonald's news to hold you over. So, without further ado…
By Melissa Mills

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper