Anna Munter, contestant #7 “Miss, why are all the girls grey?”


We are receiving entries for our contest from all over the globe, and I am delighted to introduce you to Fulbright scholar and world traveler, American Anna Munter. I have discovered we have much in common, both having an affinity for at least two other countries that, for a time, we each called home: Malaysia and Germany. We each have taught writing to younger members of the planet, and, in that capacity, she discovered why Bitcoin might be a more prudent investment than tanning salons in Southeast Asia. And apparently we each prefer the English spelling for “grey.”

Miss, Why Are All the Girls Grey?

By: Anna Munter

“Miss, why are all the girls grey?”

This was the question that a 17-year old male Malay student asked one of my colleagues during break time at the public Malaysian school where we both taught. I wasn’t there when he actually asked her this, but she told me about it afterwards and she thought it was absolutely hysterical. “Obviously,” she said laughing, “this is because of the whitening powder that the young girls use on their faces. However, since they are brown, apparently, it just makes them look grey.”

On the one hand, a teenage boys’ innocent mystification about why teenage girls do whatever it is that they do is kind of funny. Mostly because as a grown woman I cannot help to think of some of the decisions I made as a teenage girl and roll my eyes at the misled worldview I held back then.

On the other hand, this question was asked in the fall of 2015 and it still seems to haunt me as much now, as it did back then. In Malaysia, as in much of Southeast Asia, whitening creams and pills are commonly sold in drugstores and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t benefit from this. This is what white privilege looks like at its most overt. For the first time in my life, someone other than my grandmother was calling me “beautiful” because of my white, white skin. Random people would smile at me on the street and ask if they could take their pictures with me. I once got out of a parking ticket for being so “pretty.” Suddenly, the vocabulary used to describe me changed from “pasty” and “tired” to “beautiful” and “gorgeous.” I felt like a Victoria’s Secret model, but oddly, I still had my clothes on. In movies, this is the kind of attention the “hot girl” gets, so A++ to me because in Malaysia, I am officially a “hot girl”. Woohoo. Except not.

Because what this came with was my 13-year-old female students coming up to me after class and asking me with bated breath and wide eyes if I would please, please tell them what kind of whitening cream I used because, they too, want to be “white like me.” I tried to tell them that I didn’t use any and that they didn’t need to either because they were beautiful just they way they were. They nodded and turned away, not believing me. How was it that this white privilege of mine, which had given me so many advantages in life up until then, was the very same thing that was, at that moment, breaking my heart? How was I supposed to convince a teenage girl that she’s beautiful, if she (with the help of the beauty counter) has already convinced herself that she’s not? As I teacher, I felt like I knew a lot stuff, but I still don’t really know how to explain why all the girls were grey.


Editor’s note: (that would be me) When I lived in Singapore, which is at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, the city-state experienced the upheaval of having Darkie Toothpaste transform itself into Darlie Toothpaste.  There is soooo much I could say about this…but why should I interfere with your own thoughts?










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4 thoughts on “Anna Munter, contestant #7 “Miss, why are all the girls grey?”

  1. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    As a daughter of an MD, grey complexion is a sign of lack of oxygen, possible COPD & pulmonary crisis approaching. This story, however, is about wishing priviledge, unearned, undeserved, yet prevalent & pervasive all the same. We are all beautiful naturally as we are & of equal worth no matter our appearance. This body which I occupy turned 65 before my spirit inherited it in February. While my spirit is a lime green with terra-cotta brown spotted 10 month old with wings; I am proud of my ever greying hair along with my age marks & wrinkles. Each aspect expresses who I am without apology, deception or insecurity.

  2. shawnasbasement says:

    Thank you for your story and the information that details the social pressure for young people to conform to “the standard” of beauty. it is indeed the challenge of all teachers to teach self-esteem, and that just doesn’t come over the counter.

    Entitlement is sometimes a legacy we inherit, even if we do not wish it.

  3. Anna says:

    Thank you both very much for your comments. I see that this essay reads differently for each of you and I am pleased that you are speaking your mind about that. If you would like to read more about my adventures in Malaysia, (including the inspiration for this piece) feel free to check out my personal blog about my time there:

  4. Miryam says:

    I have seen this behavior. The covering of all skin as not to allow any tanning from the sunshine. White skin is greatly revered …. Me, being an ex beach bum definitely flunked this skin test….
    Great story Anna… Thanks for sharing.

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