After a long pause, Wah Wah Nwe Oo told us straight—"wearing Thanaka gives me self confidence because I want to comply with the traditional culture." Like teenagers anywhere, Wah Wah wants to fit in with the world she knows best. In Myanmar, wearing Thanaka is one of the most visible ways to achieve this.
A tradition for over 2,000 years, Thanaka is passed on to each successive generation from mother to child. The mom first applies the paste to her infant until he or she is old enough to do it independently. For Wah Wah, taking on this responsibility came much earlier than most. At age three she had to start putting Thanaka on by herself because, growing up in a poor household, her mom was too busy working just so they could scrape by. She now works as a waitress at a busy restaurant to help support her family. As Wah Wah was quickly thrust into this position of responsibility, Thanaka became an integral part of her identity as a confident Burmese woman.