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Once You Go White

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By Andrew Biggs

Deadlines can be merciless things.

I have a weekly deadline for this column to which I strictly adhere, and just writing that sentence makes me peer ominously out the window for fear of a lightning bolt splitting me asunder.

Like all journalists, your favorite columnist must send this column in at a specific time and day, and if I am a little late, then my editor turns into a monster.

I am telling you this because a news story dropped literally hours after I’d sent last week’s well-honed and polished column. It was a story so outrageous I almost prostrated myself before my editor, asking her for another day to churn out another twelve hundred words on it. Alas deadlines, like editors, are merciless.

I am talking about the story that did the rounds of the world media about Thailand becoming the hub for penis lightening.

Yes, the world media. In fact the only two Thai news stories that made CNN and BBC last week were penile bleaching and the Prime Minister telling reporters to ask questions to a cardboard cut-out of himself – two separate cases of white-washing for the world to see.

Before we begin let me get two things off my chest. First, owing to the sexual nature of this topic, I will not bow to cheap journalism and litter this column with double-entendres. I noticed one news agency snuck one in, reporting that social networks had been “aroused” by the story. Good one, ha ha, I get it, but you won’t find any such verbal ejaculations in this column.

Second, there is a strong reason for my bringing up a news story from seven days ago, which in the journalistic world is an eternity.

Back in 2015 I reported on an ad on Thai TV for a roll-on deodorant whose express purpose was to whiten your armpits. I thought I’d seen everything until that ad.

In it, a Thai teenage girl is in a terrible quandary. On the skytrain an allegedly handsome Thai teenage guy walks past her and notices her armpits are dark. She may as well have had buck teeth and a bung eye. The cute guy throws her a disapproving scowl. You can see it in his face: “No sex with her tonight … looks like it’s just me and the smart phone again.”

Then she undergoes a radical transformation. After she has used the roll-on deodorant, we see her raging away at some concert, flinging those arms about, revealing lily-white armpits, proof that indeed all you need is to be light underneath your arms to be beautiful. And look! There’s the cute guy, raging away next to her. Exactly how did he manage to hook up with her at the concert? And since when have Thai girls favored stalker boys with underarm fetishes?

It has always been a personal mission of mine when teaching English to erase the commonly-held notion that light skin is good and black skin is bad. My mission has been an abject failure; I may as well stand on the beach and tell a tsunami to stop.

What is “suncream” in my home country of Australia is touted as skin whitener or lightener in Thailand, despite being the same product. Ads for these products bombard Thai TV sets with the clear message that good things happen in your life when you are “white”.

The ads are akin to Before and After shots for weight loss centers. Dark-skinned pretty girl sits at home alone listening to Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” on endless loop. Thank goodness for Ponds! Praise you, Revlon! The girl is now white and happy, frolicking in Siam Square with Thai guys whose hormones are raging for white.

In 2015 I hypothesized that the armpit was the last nook and cranny left on the body for skin cream companies to exploit. It looks like I was wrong. Again.

Thailand is now the “hub” for men who wish to lighten their penises. At least that is how the world media reported it last week, and it begs the questions — who are these men and what’s gotten into them?

Call me ignorant, but I had absolutely no idea there was an industry devoted to such a thing. The same week, CNN did a report on Venezuela being the new world hub for “butt-lifts”. As ludicrous as that is, I do get that one. Everybody sees your butt. Who sees your white penis?

I did a google search and indeed, “penile bleaching” as it is known is out there. I can’t imagine the pain of rubbing bleach on one’s nether regions. It reminds me of that one time I chopped up chilies before answering the call of nature, and the searing pain of the ensuing hour.

Actually it’s not bleach as in peroxide. It’s a laser treatment. “We use small lasers,” the female doctor who administers the treatment explained in a media interview with AFP. Sorry, lady, small or big, it’s a laser on my private parts, and that still makes me cross my legs while typing this.

How is a dark member a bad thing, especially for the younger guys who are taking advantage of the service? I was told millennials make love in the dark, the only exception being while filming the act on their smartphone for their Twitter followers.

And yet, dark-membered Thais are allegedly rushing to have it done. Or so says the place performing this service, Lelux Hospital, a skin care clinic with three branches in Nonthaburi and Bangkok. The treatment costs 20,000 Baht and requires five trips to the clinic before one starts to really look opaque. The clinic claims 100 men have done it. And this is what we call a “world hub”?

What are the possible positive benefits of a light-colored member?

This question forced me to do some painstaking research on the internet. This being a family newspaper, I will not want to dwell on the details, suffice to say not once, in the hundreds of pages I researched and videos I watched, was there a single mention or desire for a “light penis”. In fact if anything, there seemed an inordinate demand for phalluses of an opposite color, the very color Lelux is trying to eradicate, but we are getting off topic.

This is not the first time the genitalia of Thai men has hit in the media. A Thai doctor friend once regaled a group of us over a pad thai dinner about another curious trend from five years ago that again made me cross my legs under the rickety restaurant table.

Apparently there are quacks who dress in white gowns and visit rural villages offering to enhance the size of men’s organs through the injection of silicone. This has been reported in the media from time to time. The problem is that silicone sets hard, and often not in the desired shape. As he graphically explained over pad thai, he has seen young men with disfigured members as the silicone shifted awkwardly to the right, or ended up like the petals of a flower, rendering the penis unusable.

Still we can’t leave the thing alone. Penis lightening feels like nothing more than a manufactured attempt to strike at the very insecurity of so many men over the size and shape of their members, thanks to marketers and businesses who remind us, out of the blue, of the perils of dark underarms for girls and dark appendages for boys. And we wonder why we’re all screwed up these days. Excuse the cheap, and dark, double-entendre.


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