Programming beauty and the absence of Na Lao: popular Thai TV and identity formation among youth in Northeast Thailand
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of International, Cultural and Community Studies
People living in the northeast of Thailand interchangeably label themselves and are labelled by others as Isan, Thai Isan, Lao Isan, Thai or Lao, depending on the ethnic, political, social or familial nuances of any given situation. I use the term Lao Isan to refer specifically to Isan people of Lao origin or ethnicity. Lao Isan are subject to complex and often competing notions of Isan-ness, Lao-ness and Thai-ness by insiders and outsiders. Using data derived from an ethnographic study of popular Thai television and Lao Isan youth (aged 17–25) living in the city of Khon Kaen and the town of Mahasarakham in northeast Thailand in 2002, this paper explores contemporary and co-existing interpretations of Isan identity or Khwampenisan among Lao Isan youth in relation to self-image and connections with national understandings of physical beauty as they are perpetuated in Thai-produced television programs.