The Perfect Thai
What do you imagine when I say ‘think of the perfect Thai person’? Do you imagine the smiling airhostess waving at you? Do you imagine a Thai model you find to be unbelievingly pretty? Do you imagine an educated young student? Well, that depends on who you're asking. Of course, I could talk for hours about what expectations foreigners have of Thai people, but I personally feel that their perceptions of Thai people are almost exactly the same as those of Thai people themselves.
So, let’s discuss Thai stereotypes.
Firstly, pale skin. Pale skin is one of the most common Thai beauty standards, especially for women. Some might say that this stereotype is just an idea from the past that no longer exists but if you take a closer look at Thai media and society’s behaviour, you’ll notice that traces of the idea still remain evident – perhaps not explicitly so, but definitely present. For example, take a look at a Thai drama on LineTV or click on an entertainment industry’s social media page. Tell me what you see. Multiple pale-skinned young Thai models, right? Maybe 1 or 2 tanner models will appear but in the end, all you see are pale-skinned models. Or notice how almost all maids, nannies, housesitters, etc., who work for rich Thai families are almost always portrayed as poor, dirty and unattractive. Or notice how almost every beauty advertisement you see is almost always for brightening and whitening the skin. If you’re not convinced, take a look when you ride the BTS Skytrain next time or when you next take the car to school: I guarantee there will be a reminder of how ‘pale skin equals beauty’. I’m not saying that there’s been absolutely no improvement since the 19th century, but if you just take a look around, you’ll notice the issue hasn’t been completely fixed.
Secondly, being skinny (for females) or muscular (for males). This is a stereotype that’s common all around the world and recently the issue of body-shaming has been a spotlight topic. For Thai society, it’s no different. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say ‘she got fatter over the summer’ or ‘I gained so much weight over the summer, what about you?’. These comments might seem harmless at first, but it’s actually much deeper than you might think. The Thai standard for beauty has almost always been a skinny girl or muscular man. Although some progress has been made in breaking the ‘buff muscular man’ stereotype, the ‘skinny thin girl’ stereotype still remains unchanged. As a female Thai student myself, I’ve been told countless times to weigh myself during family gatherings or I’ll hear a family member comment on how much weight I’ve lost or gained. I don’t take these things to heart, but hearing these words everyday, so frequently, I almost feel as if this stereotype has been normalized. And the Thai media doesn’t help either. Chubbier girls are often portrayed as the pitiful, hopeless romantic in Thai dramas, while skinnier girls are seen as the main character that attracts a perfect social life. But of course, too skinny means you’re bony and therefore, unattractive. Even Thai society can’t seem to make up its mind on what the perfect Thai girl is. So… is there really a ‘perfect Thai’ in the first place?
We simply cannot speak about Thai stereotypes without mentioning acceptable behaviour as a Thai. No swearing, no drinking, no smoking, no tattoos, no sneaking out, no dropping out of highschool, no being rebellious. The list goes on. If you do one or more of these things, you are automatically deemed as irresponsible, untrustworthy, and a bad influence. But what confuses me is whether these expectations are realistic. Alcohol is sold in almost every 7-eleven and you’ll surely hear a Thai swear word at least once a day. So, how are young, impressionable students able to live up to the picture perfect standard of how a Thai student should act when there are so many influences around them that contradict that idea?
Religion. The common religion in Thailand is predominantly Buddhist with small percentages of the population believing in other faiths. There leaves almost no room for atheists to exist in Thai society without feeling heavily judged based on a minor fact about their beliefs. Atheists are deemed as people with no morals and don’t care about what happens in the afterlife. For example, imagine this. Your Buddhist mother meets your girlfriend/boyfriend who is an atheist. She’s already hesitant about letting you date someone and the fact that they are an atheist makes her even more doubtful about your relationship. Why? Why does religion matter in this context? Because what if your significant other violates you physically? What if your significant other cheats? What if your significant other smokes? What if? All these presumptuous thoughts stem from the stereotypes that come with religion. Just because one is religious, doesn’t mean they don’t have morals. In fact, one could argue that some monks are even less morally correct than some atheists.
Lastly, over the past few years, career paths and education have become one of the most reinforced stereotypes that teenagers experience. The more competitive college application processes become, the more pressure is put on us to ‘be the best’. Where you are accepted to or rejected from almost becomes associated with self worth, as it is now a way of validating that you are good enough; disregarding every other achievement, experience and moment that has made you the person you are today. Prestigious schools such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT are now not only places where you go to get high standards of education but also a place for parents to boast about their child’s achievements. Of course, being proud of your child is completely normal, but it's less acceptable when parents must bring down others to make their child look better, or are unable to be happy for someone else’s child. This not only encourages negative thinking in teenagers but also creates high expectations of which colleges and majors are considered ‘good’ and ‘bad’. For example, someone graduating as a doctor will be seen as more successful than someone graduating as an architect, even though this is not necessarily true.
Ultimately, most of these stereotypes are unrealistic and impossible to follow (unless you’re not human). Of course, Thai society will disagree and say that there is a standard of how you should act – but as the world progresses to be a more accepting place, Thai beliefs simply must follow.
“Thai Mail Order Brides.” Getmailorderbrides.com, 26 Jan. 2021, getmailorderbrides.com/thai-brides/. Accessed 1 Jan. 2022.