By DAPHNE LEE
From Tots to Teens, StarMag
I'M late with this, but it's an issue I'd like to raise (again) - the whitewashing of book covers. What's whitewashing? Well, in this case, it's when a white model is chosen to grace the cover of a book that is about a character of colour.
I wrote about this some months ago when Bloomsbury were forced to nix the cover they had chosen for Justine Larbalestier's Liar. You would think the publisher had learnt its lesson but no, early this year, they were "caught" wielding the white-out brush again. This time the book was Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore.The heroine of this book is dark-skinned but the model on the jacket is not. Bloomsbury eventually withdrew the book with its offensive cover and has promised to design a new one. However, if you go to Amazon, you'll still see the book, with its original cover, listed.
Meanwhile, someone's pointed out that a character of colour in The Mysterious Benedict Society series was also being "whited" on the books' covers. What makes this even more outrageous is that the illustrations inside the book show the character with dark skin! In this case, the publisher was Little, Brown.
How do Malaysian readers feel about the whitewashing of book covers? Considering how, for years, most of us seemed to quite happily accept "pan-Asian" models (the term is supposed to apply to those whose looks are not specific to any one Asian race, but what it really means is "Asians who look white thanks to a caucasian forebear) selling us stuff in commercials, I can't imagine that we would be terribly concerned about foreign publishers putting a white model on the cover in order to boost sales.
In June 2007, the Malaysian Local Broadcasting Act called for the ban of the use of pan-Asian models in commercials and print ads. This move was viewed as discriminatory, and so it was. In anycase, it did not address the root of the problem - the fact that pan-Asian models are preferred by all parties involved. By the way, the models used in ads these days are Asian, but they're Asians who have large, double-lidded eyes and high nose bridges!The majority of Malaysians have been brainwashed into believing that white features are more attractive. The double eyelid and the high nose bridge are marks of beauty. If you are "blessed" with both these features, but have the "misfortune" of being dark-skinned, you must plaster yourself with whitening products and wear long-sleeved clothing when out in the sun. We have Hollywood to thank for this. And although Korean movies and music are now hot, hip and happening in Malaysia, Korean celebrities aren't exactly role models when it comes to championing truly Asian features. I believe the plastic surgery industry is booming there, as it is in Japan.
If you look at the covers of Malay YA novels you will notice that Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston and other white actresses have obviously modeled for them. The female characters might be depicted dressed in baju kurung, or even veiled, but they all resemble brunette versions of white celebrities.
The message to our kids is that it's preferable to look white. Even the little girl in my picture book One Red Flower is depicted with brown hair. And I admit that I didn't even notice her hair colour until it was too late to change it - the illustrator and I have since decided to re-do the illustrations.The truth is that we are just not sufficiently conscious of our Asian identity. Nevermind being whitewashed by a third party, we're whitewashing ourselves or else not being aware when it happens.
It's no use just shrugging and saying "Well, what to do, I really do think white looks are more attractive that Asian looks". We have to ask why we feel that way and we have to make conscious efforts to re-educate ourselves. We have to learn to appreciate typical Asian faces - broad, flat noses, single-lidded eyes and all. We have to start celebrating these faces, in our ilustrations, our print ads and our TV commercials, rather than denying they exist - which is what never showing them amounts to. If we don't start aknowledging and embracing our looks, then our children will never be able to view their appearance without rancour.