Mingalabar everyone! I had the privilege of spending a week in Yangon, Myanmar for work. It’s a bustling, growing city with a lot of charm and idiosyncrasy (both left-hand and right-hand drive cars sharing the same road makes for terribly confusing drives), and I thought I’d share a couple of beauty-related observations I picked up on while I was there.
Throughout the week, I noticed that Myanmar women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities seemed to share a singular trait: they wore a yellowish, chalky paste on their faces on a daily basis, like so.
This paste is called thanakha, and it has apparently been used by Myanmar women for over 2,000 years. It is made from ground bark of certain types of trees (principally Murraya spp., the “thanakha tree”, or Limonia acidissima, the “theethee” or wood apple tree). Thanakha can be found in three forms: natural (i.e. little logs or bundles of logs), paste, or powder. The logs are ground on a stone slab called a kyauk pyin to produce powder or paste, as per below:
The resulting Thankha paste or powder is mixed with a little bit of water before being spread onto the face. It can be used as a masque, but is more commonly worn just as it is, and women carry out all their daily activities with thanakha on their faces.
Ask any Myanmar local and they will tell you that thanakha has a host of beautifying properties: lightening, brightening, whitening, acne-reducing, scar-fading, sun-protecting (is it starting to remind you of SK-II yet?)- you name it, this magical product does it. Intriguing, no? Last I heard, some international cosmetics companies have started incorporating thanakha essence into their products as well – we’re looking at you, Bio-Essence!
Commercially-made thanakha pastes are sold in Singapore, usually at small mom-and-pop or sundry stores run by Myanmar nationals, or at shops within Peninsula Plaza, widely known as the definitive hub for all things Myanmarese in Singapore. I purchased a small tub of thanakha paste for myself and will be trialing it out soon. Updates to come!
Most of us don’t wear our traditional costume on a daily basis, but it seems that Myanmar people do. Their national costume is the longyi, a long swathe of cloth over 2 metres long that is stitched into a cylindrical shape and worn around the waist. The longyi is very much similar to the sarongs that the entire Southeast Asian region is so familiar with and well-known for.
Both men and women wear longyis, but their patterns, colours, designs and knotting methods differ greatly between the sexes. Men’s longyi are referred to as paso, while women’s are called htamein. Different ethnic groups across Myanmar showcase their uniqueness through patterning, colours, and stitching of their respective groups’ longyi.
Women wear their longyi with a variety of tops – sometimes they match the longyi and sometimes they don’t, depending on occasion. For example, on a daily basis, most women wear longyi with a simple t-shirt. For special occasions, however, all manner of embellishments make vivid appearances: think sequins, studs, myriad bright and cheerful colours, lace, elaborately embroidered bodices.
As a general rule, most tops worn with longyi are high-necked and don’t cling to every curve, but longyi have modernised somewhat over the last couple of decades, and tighter, more figure-hugging longyi are growing in popularity.
This trend is particularly noticeable among the younger ladies. I even saw some ladies pair their longyi with tops that had dangerously plunging necklines, tops that were made out of super-sheer chiffon-like material, and tops that fit as snugly as a laced-up corset would. The longyi themselves are also being stitched to resemble extremely long pencil skirts, skimming the body very closely and cutting a beautiful, elegant, quite sexy form.
All in all, Myanmar was an invaluable experience. I cannot wait to return in the coming months! Hopefully then I’ll have more experiences to share on the blog. 🙂
PS: Update on my “One of Each” Vow coming up soon.