See the Beauty Ad Under Fire for Claiming ‘White Makes You Win’

A 35-year-old actor in blackface proclaims that she knows she can be eternally successful as long as she’s white.
Thai actress Cris Horwang. (Photo: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
Jan 8, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

From Cover Girl’s “Easy, breezy, beautiful” to Maybelline’s “Maybe she’s born with it,” beauty and skin care lines employ slogans to help make their products unforgettable. But one Thai beauty company may need to rethink its newest tagline: “White makes you win.”

After an onslaught of online criticism, Seoul Secret quickly pulled an ad posted on Thursday that promoted light skin and featured Thai celebrity Cris Horwang in blackface.

In the commercial, Horwang, a 35-year-old actor and model, explains that as she ages she needs to take care of her body. “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 from The Guardian.

As she sits beside a younger, pale-faced woman, Cris’ skin and hair quickly darken as a narrator says, “White makes you win” and promotes a pill called Snowz. Cris declares, “Eternally white, I am confident.”

The desire for lighter skin isn’t unique to Thailand. Skin-lightening products are a $10 billion industry. Whitening creams, supplements, and injections are especially popular among women in China, Nigeria, and India, according to the World Health Organization. Most skin-bleaching products are banned from U.S. and European markets because they contain harmful ingredients, such as mercury.

Thanks to the legacy of slavery and colonialism, people of color around the globe may experience discrimination based on their complexion. From employment opportunities to wage disparity, lighter-skinned individuals are more likely to benefit from color-based racial privilege. The preference for light skin can be seen throughout American media too. In 2014, a casting call for the blockbuster biopic Straight Outta Compton listed pale women as the “hottest” and dark women as “not in good shape.”

Similarly, many Thai celebrities are fair-skinned. Pale skin is linked to high social status, and tan skin is associated with rural field workers, Reuters reports. But that didn’t stop users on Thai-language forum Pantip from calling the ad racist or noting that they are happy to have tan complexions.

Seoul Secret pulled the ad from its social media channels and posted an apology on Facebook.

“Our company did not have any intention to convey discriminatory or racist messages,” the company explained in the post. “What we intended to convey was that self-improvement in terms of personality, appearance, skills, and professionalism is crucial.”

While the video is the most blatant example of the divide between light and dark skin, Seoul Secret reinforces the message that lighter skin is preferred within its apology. The brand continues to link the skin-lightening product to opportunity and social status, much like other skin care companies. Citra, another Thai beauty company owned by Unilever, came under fire in 2013 for an ad campaign that suggested its skin-whitening cream would help students get into college.