Why I started Y-roon Thai?

All images © Nichakarn Kuphirun.

“Do you have makeup on right now?” asked a boy from the audience.

Laughter and whispered speculations were heard before the speaker could wrap her head around the question. Cultural theorist Jean Kilbourne had come to talk to Middlesex School about the toxic and narrow representation of women in media that influences the accepted beauty standards of girls and boys today. I thought Kilbourne was pointing out an obvious flaw of a teen advertising strategy, but comments like “mentally unstable” and “crazy bitch” followed the talk. I was disheartened by the boy’s reaction to such an empowering speech. After all, body image is an emotional and relevant topic for me and my community of teenage girls.

Now that I’m back in Thailand, I see that these issues are neither discussed nor incorporated into our education system. Gender stereotypes are still deeply entrenched in our society. I want to solve this problem by debunking prejudices and encouraging leadership in men to stand up against the inappropriate comments.

Armed with the powerful platform of social media to inspire change and encourage participation, I took action by starting the organization, Y-roon Thai, with my friend. Y stands for “Generation Y” and teenager in Thai is Wai Roon. Using Facebook as my megaphone, I posted videos, photos, and conversations from street interviews with Thai youths.

When the project first started, I was terrified of approaching strangers, and struggled to communicate my ideas and message.

“Ummm…” Voice shaking and standing a little too close: “Does social media increase self consciousness? What roles do men play in setting the standard of beauty for women?”

“No thanks”

“Sorry, in a rush right now”

“It’s not my thing”

Why wasn’t I getting proper responses? I stopped to reflect, and realized I was asking questions through my owns lens; I prioritized self-reflective answers that may have been as exclusive as the gender stereotypes themselves.

Setting my opinions aside, I tried again:

“Hi.” Big smile, assuring them that I’m not a threat.I know this is random, and you’re in a rush right now, but I’m very interested in hearing from Thai teens. Our voice is very important. Have you ever thought about feminism or discussed it in school?

I began to approach my interviews less deliberately, asking open-ended questions that didn’t set blocks to their thoughts.

Sam, a Thai teen transgender: “I think the biggest issue facing young people today is acceptance from adults. Most adults are still close-minded and not willing to listen to us.”

JayJay, teen singer: “it must be a collective effort rather than just the effort of one person or a social group; gender equality is a men’s issue too.”

After a few successful interviews, it was eye-opening and comforting to know that there are Thai youths who are conscious of these issues, but just aren’t talking about them. My vision for Y-roon Thai started to change as I realized my initial goal to break gender stereotypes had been overly ambitious. Change is hard and Thai’s lack of education, exposure, and “it’s not my business” attitude remain barriers. By continuing existing dialogues and starting new ones, I hope to trigger change on small problems that intertwine into bigger ones; I now see Y-roon Thai more as a platform for discussion.Allowing people to see little pieces of themselves through other people’s story one at a time will hopefully motivate them to introspect and ultimately come to their own realizations. In the end, it’s the things I don’t know that push me to pursue my goals and bring me closer to addressing these social issues.