“Fair, Porcelain Complexion”: Cosmopolitan Singapore Writer’s Narrow Definition Of Beauty

Magazine Cosmopolitan Singapore garnered flak on Facebook in recent days when Angel Mangkai posted a photo of a page in the magazine containing comments from Cosmopolitan writers globally about defining beauty in the context of the writer’s country.

Cosmopolitan Singapore’s senior beauty writer Elizabeth Lee had this to say:

“Looking flawless and well-groomed is a Singaporean woman’s aim. We look a lot to South Korea and Japan for products and trends.

Also, we stay out of the sun due to our fair, porcelain complexion. Our hot, humid weather can cause oily skin so the most popular beauty treatments here reflect that.

The ‘perfect’ Singapore girl has big eyes and a small face with a defined jawline and feminine long hair. She’s slim and petite with shapely legs. Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi and South Korean actress Song Hye-Kyo would be considered classically beautiful here.”

As of press time, over 190 shares and 70 comments were logged on this Facebook post, most of them calling Elizabeth out for her narrow definition of beauty and prescribing it to fair-skinned women, as opposed to the other skin colours other Singaporeans are genetically born with.


Loretta Marie Perera called out Elizabeth’s “shallowness” in one of the comments. Loretta said that she loves “being in the sun, and my non-porcelain complexion is fine with that”. She adds:

“My eyes are big, my face of a regular size, my hair is chopped short and manages to be messy all the time. I’m curvy and awesome and I reject absolutely everything you have to say about the ‘perfect’ Singapore woman.”

Pooja Nansi cautioned how “besides bordering on gross generalisation, racism and ignorance, statements like these that are passed off as ‘beauty standards’ are the cause of low self-esteem for so many young girls and women.”

Jes Sica (that’s her Facebook name) pointed to a larger epidemic in the Singapore magazine industry that has been featuring ‘only Chinese or pan-Asian models’, surmising that such specific portrayals of beauty attract readers who ‘make up a certain demographic in the first place’.

Jireh Tan called for a boycott of the magazine:

“Let this be a magazine for the fair-skinned, by the fair-skinned. By the small-minded, for the small-minded.”

Editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Singapore Jo Upcraft has apologised for the ‘offence caused’. Her full statement is below:

“Hi Angel, I apologise for the offence caused. We agree with you that beauty takes many forms and varies among ethnicities.

As you can see from the entire piece, this was a collaborative article with our global editions where we were asked to express one view. Elizabeth Lee was expressing an opinion based on Cosmo’s beauty surveys, reader feedback and after a discussion with our very multi-racial team.

Beauty is such a subjective subject, views and opinions varies (sic) from one to another. This one view does not represent the stand of the magazine, and hopefully you’ll have seen from the rest of the publication that we work hard to embrace and cover all cultures, from Singapore and worldwide.”

However, Jo’s clarification did not go well, with Facebook users criticising her stance seen as distancing herself from the magazine she is in charge of, and picking her “multi-racial team” comment. Sangeetha Thanapal addressed Jo directly:

“What (Elizabeth) said was racist, colourist, transphobic, ableist, and body shaming. Your comment was laughable. There can’t be a lot of diversity in your magazine when this got past everyone.”

A check on Cosmopolitan Singapore’s covers showed that it has ran those featuring women in colour: Beyonce in April 2013 are Zoe Saldana in June 2013 were some examples. The only cover the magazine ran that featured a Singapore figure was with actress Michelle Chia in September 2011.

Featured photo: Cosmopolitan Singapore/Facebook, magazine page photo: Angel Mangkai/Facebook

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