White Skin is a project about the “cover-up style” worn by the scooter drivers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I was very interested in the original colorful, modern, individuality of each driver. Vietnamese love to keep their white skin and even in the humid tropical heat, they wear many layers to keep out the sun. In order to not expose an inch of skin to the sun, girls especially, cover their entire body with all sorts of materials: masks, scarves, fashion sunglasses, long sleeves, gloves, tight trousers, socks with flip flops and even hats under their helmets as they drive their scooters around in the heat of the day and the pollution of the streets, which are mostly congested by scooters.
Here, like in most of South East Asia, to be white denotes the social status and class of a person. In fact, people in Asian countries look down on dark skin not because of racism, but because they don’t want to be perceived as poor. TV, Bollywood stars and models are traditionally only white and this cult lately is grown more and more with the proliferation of electronic media. Today, more than ever, advertisements for white skin as a social ideal have powerful influence, to the point that all the new lotions, creams, body and baby soaps, even deodorants contain whitening agents to help lighten the skin.
This cult of whiteness for the youngest generations has given rise to exciting, colorful, and modern expressions of scooter fashion – “cover-up style”: a mix of Japanese Hello Kitty accessories, hipster western jeans and sweatshirts on which any logo is welcome. In this communist country the recent access and attraction to western globalized consumerism of new products, especially in big cities, are completely changing the culture and the traditional Vietnamese dress style.