The Singaporean Standard of Beauty: Why I hate it

I look like this.

Fathin Ungku| September 27, 12:55 PM

Being dark and having a near afro can give me a hard time in Singapore.

For a country that takes pride in diversity, the standards (or should I more aptly say standard) of beauty is rather homogeneous. Cookie cutter. Uninteresting. Bland. Very unrepresentative of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society Singapore is.

I am pissed.

Beyonce thinks I'm beautiful because her songs Flawless, That’s Why You’re Beautiful and God Made You Beautiful are empowering tunes and reminders.

But according to Singaporean standards, I'm not.

Fair skin? Big eyes (aided by the Holy Oriental Girl Trinity of eyeliner, fake lashes and rimmed contact lenses)? Long flowy hair that is soft and smooth with minimal frizz? Waif-like figure? And the most bizarre one I've come across: A slim V-shaped face?

Congratulations! You look like another one of those Korean pop star wannabes are beautiful!


Pet peeves

The number one pet peeve I have with the Singaporean Standard of Beauty (SSB)? That idea that fair skin is preferable to darker skin tones.

This ideal probably comes from a deep seated colonial hangover where the closer one resembles an Ang Moh the better-looking he or she is. Or perhaps the fact that having darker skin showcases one's economic standing.

After all, in the past, the working class were darker as they got tanned while engaging in manual labour under the hot sun. But it’s 2014 now, darker skin tones do not indicate your socio-economic status. It just means that you have South Indian ancestry or are Malay or used to play some outdoor sport in secondary school.

Of course, like all standards, the SSB has "anomalies" too. Except, when the darker skinned are being called "pretty" or seen as attractive, they are usually backhanded compliments such as: "Siti is very pretty for a dark Malay girl ah!"

"Yeah cos she got sharp nose and her eyes damn big and eyelashes so nice sia!"

You basically need some features that resemble that of a Caucasian to compensate your dark ugly skin. In Malay, we have a term called "hitam manis" which means "sweet-looking dark person" because you know, most dark people don't look very nice.

No one calls a fair person "sweet-looking fair person", you are just "sweet looking". Ah, the double standards!

Photo from Sham(@bitterarab) on Twitter

How M.I.A. looks like on Singapore’s edition of Nylon magazine vs How rapper MIA looks like.


Beauty products

Let's not forget the plethora of skin whitening products available here. It is sickening. You have whitening products for a fairer face, fairer body, fairer nipples and fairer BUTTHOLES! I kid you not.

I will break into Lady Gaga's Born This Way the next time a sales assistant tells me product X will make my skin better because it will make my skin whiter. Do you not understand that I have tanned skin because I was born like this? That this is not a defect? That nothing is wrong with my tanned skin?

Picture adapted from Amazon and Alibaba


Having very, very, very, curly hair and being teased about it because it doesn't fit into the SSB hurt my self-esteem quite a bit as a kid. My schoolmates back in school would ask me what was "wrong" with my hair or whether I combed or washed it regularly.

Some with good intentions even told me my hair’s the way it is because I haven’t experienced the magic of a conditioner: "You know, that thing that you use after shampoo? It makes my hair soft!", exclaimed the straight, glossy haired Sarah.

I shampoo, condition and use a leave-in conditioner (for the unenlightened, it is the conditioner post-shampoo and the usual in-shower conditioner). My hair is still as big and as frizzy.

I don’t blame them for coming to such conclusions, because firstly, you don’t see many people with naturally big hair like I do on the streets of Singapore, and secondly, we have been conditioned (pun intended) to believe through advertising and pop stars (with hairstylists on hand) that frizz is bad and "straight and silky" is good hair.

As a result, Singaporeans become ignorant to the physical features of those who look different and deem their features as "bad" or "wrong". I have curly hair but there is nothing inherently "wrong" with it. I do not need it to be "fixed".


Other SSBs I find infuriating:

1. Contact lenses to make your pupils bigger

Photo from



2. Creams to achieve a “V-shaped” face

Photo from Amazon

Really? Do women actually BUY these things thinking their entire bone structure would change "in six weeks"?


3. Eyebrow tattoos

Photo by Circe Denyer on Public Domain Pictures

Does this mean that you won’t be able to change your expression... forever?

The products and services available for people to conform to the SSB does not stop there. There are double eyelid surgery, chemical hair straightening and even rollers to make your cute flat Asian button nose to that of a Caucasians.

So I’ve managed to sound like an angry, very affected, dark skinned, frizz ball. While I understand that standards of beauty are not exclusive to Singapore, I just wished Singaporeans, as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic nation, celebrate diversity instead of pressurising people to conform into a single mould.

Come on, we have enough of that from the government already.

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Top image from Fathin Ungku

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