This ad promoting a skin-whitening pill has received a considerable amount of backlash form viewers. It includes lines from a Thai model who claims her white skin has led to her success. (Photo: The Washington Post)
A televised commercial in Thailand for a skin-whitening product stirred controversy and was eventually withdrawn after a backlash against its perceived racism.
The commercial for Thai cosmetics firm Seoul Secret featured a popular model and singer talking about the merits of having light-colored skin.
"Before I got to this point, the competition was very high," says Cris Horwang, who is also an Instagram celebrity with some 2 million followers. "If I stop taking care of myself, everything I have worked for, the whiteness I have invested in, may be lost," she says, according to a translation published by the Guardian.
"The new kids will replace me, will make me a faded star," says the actress, standing alongside another light-skinned woman. Her own skin then steadily turns darker.
"White makes you win," intones the video's narrator, adding that the product, "Snowz," has special compounds that will help "you not return to black."
The commercial precipitated a heated response on Thai social media and online forums. The BBC cites one commenter on the Thai-language forum Pantip.com: "I'm perfectly fine being dark-skinned, and now you're saying I've lost? Hello? What?"
"Suggesting people with dark skin are losers is definitely racist," concludes another.
What's particularly striking about the commercial is the starkness of its message: "White makes you win."
Across Asia, from India to Japan, skin-whitening products are huge business. In spite of the diversity of the continent -- where a majority of the world's population lives -- anachronistic attitudes surrounding the virtues of fair skin still prevail. Myriad Asian celebrities, including some who otherwise cast themselves as sometimes progressive figures, appear in ads for these skin-whitening products.
A few years back, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan attracted opprobrium in India for continuing to be the face of a product known as "Fair and Lovely."
"Such irresponsible advertising propagates discrimination among men, women and even children," read an online petition at the time.
In a Facebook post that followed the outrage, Seoul Secret offered this somewhat bewildering apology for its crass white vs. black advertisement: "Our company did not have any intention to convey discriminatory or racist messages. What we intended to convey was that self-improvement in terms of personality, appearance, skills and professionality is crucial."
© 2016 The Washington Post