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Beauty doesn't have a colour code

Nonthawan 'Maeya' Thongleng has been crowned Miss Thailand World; women everywhere should take note

The media, mainstream and social alike, have given Thailand's new beauty queen, Nonthawan "Maeya" Thongleng, a warm welcome. Her charm, wit and wonderful singing voice won over the judges and the public. She has everything a Miss Thailand World needs. One of her attributes, however, has threatened to "overshadow" her all-round appeal: the colour of her skin. Maeya's alluring dark complexion is in sharp contrast to Asia's porcelain-white stereotype of beauty.

Dubbed "the Southern beauty", the 22-year-old student from SuratThani is one of only a few darker-skinned women crowned at any of the country's many beauty pageants. So it was refreshing to see that old cliché - that "a white complexion equals beauty" - ignored in the latest contest on Saturday.

Netizens took to the social networks to compliment the newly crowned Maeya on her "genuine" Thai looks, and praised the judges for departing from their traditional choice of pale skin and Eurasian characteristics. Her "honey-coloured" skin reminded many Thais of Pocahontas, the Native American princess, as depicted in a Disney animated film.

There were suggestions as well that her victory would slow the market in skin-whitening products.

The whitening fad has dominated the beauty industry in Thailand for years. Women are bombarded with adverts for cosmetics that promise to lighten their complexion. Helping drive this "ideal" here is South Korean culture, whose stars invariably sport flawless eggshell complexions. Whitening products make up half of Thailand's Bt1-billion skincare market. Darker-skinned Thai women and their counterparts across Asia long for lighter skin.

Meanwhile, in the West, Caucasian women hold out a tanned

complexion as their ideal. It seems the grass is always greener on the other side.

The crowning of a darker-skinned Thai serves as a timely reminder that beauty is both universal and diverse - represented in all races and skin colours.

Maeya should be held up as an example: feel confident about your natural beauty rather than reaching for a foreign ideal. The Thai public seems to be behind her, believing she stands a great chance of becoming a Miss World whose looks are "authentically Asian".

It is not that darker skin has never been valued aesthetically. Maeya is not the first Miss Thailand World contestant without that porcelain-white complexion. In 2004 NikulayaDulaya won the title and was chosen by pundits as one of the favourites to win the Miss World title. Like Maeya, Nikulya attracted judges with her tanned and "typically Thai" look. Another thing the two beauties have in common is confidence in their appearance.

Beauty is in the eye of beholder, many will say. But the concept of beauty is not a scientific formula. The Roman goddess Venus was always depicted as voluptuous and curvy, while supermodel Kate Moss is stick-thin. The Mona Lisa's mysterious smile is carried on wispy lips, while Angelina Jolie's protrude in a shapely pout. The concept of beauty changes constantly and should never be taken as sacred and singular.

Now, our latest Miss Thailand World could well launch a new trend - for duskier skin. But we must try to ensure that this refreshing development doesn't become yet another beauty cliche. Women should rely on the old rule of thumb - that each individual looks their best when they come to terms and are content with their "natural" look. And this is exactly what Maeya has shown everyone.


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