Why should I enhance and accentuate my “natural” beauty? On “almond-shaped” eyes

by Chelsea Mochizuki

I’m sure you’ve seen them at one point in time, displayed along the aisle shelves of drugstores in cultural and “racial” melting pots like the United States—makeup and hair products marketed to “enhance” and “accentuate” the “natural” features of certain races. However, there is no one physical trait that all members of a racial group share; all “Blacks” do not have x amount of melanin in their skin, all “Asians” do not have almond-shaped eyes with a curvature of y, and all “Japanese” do not have hair with a diameter of z. So how is it we learn to associate, define, and read physical traits and racial categories?

Let’s see this process in action. Try to imagine a “Black” person. Next, imagine a “White” person. Okay, now imagine a “Japanese” person. How did you draw them? What features do they have? How did you know what features to give each “race”? We learn to expect the way people look like based on our encounters in the social world- through interactions in our daily lives and through popular media representations of “races”. Through this cultural learning process, we internalize how to code race and categorize individuals based on what we think they should and should not look like compared to other “races”.

Terry Kawashima illustrated this social phenomenon using the racial “ambiguity” of characters from Japanese shojo manga. Will a manga character with a small mouth, straight tall but small nose, large “saucer” eyes, and blond hair be recognized as “Japanese” or “White”? According to Kawashima, American audiences tended to view this character as “White” because it had blond hair, while Japanese audiences tended to view this same character as “Japanese” because of its small mouth and nose. Americans were surprised that this character is also thought of as “Japanese” because Americans tend to learn that blond hair is a central indicator of “Whiteness”, while Japanese audiences tend to learn that blond hair does not necessarily indicate being “White” in combination with other telling features of “Japanese-ness”. Different cultures and societies have their own set of rules and criteria for defining and categorizing “races”, which accounts for the differences in the way American and Japanese audiences code the character. We are taught what traits define which races, and what races should or shouldn’t have which traits.

I remember when I was a child growing up the United States, and children would mock Chinese people (this term was all-encompassing to mean anyone of East-Asian “descent”), by pulling the outer corners of their eyes towards their ears to form a more almond-looking shape, and yell “ching-chong” to imitate the “Asian” language. While both my parents and I identify as “White” and are viewed by society as “White”, I remember thinking that both my mother and many other of my “white” acquaintances also had smaller, almond-shaped eyes, so I did not understand why “almond eyes” were a trait associated with “Asian-ness”. As I entered high school and became more aware of and interested in Japanese popular culture, I began to notice differences in the way “Asian-ness” or “Japanese-ness” were represented in the media. When I showed pictures of the Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki to my peers, they said her “orange” hair was weird and here eyes were too “big”; in other words, they came to the conclusion she was trying to be “White”, when she should otherwise be accentuating her “Asian” features because she is racially perceived as “Asian”.

Famous Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki

In comparing Japanese media representations of Ayumi Hamasaki to images of Lucy Liu, who was embraced by American popular media and described by Kawashima, there are noticeable differences in the appearances of these women. Ayumi Hamasaki’s makeup gives her eyes a large and rounded appearance, while Lucy Liu’s makeup leaves her eyes in an “almond” shape- just as “Asians” are expected to look by American audiences. You may speculate that Ayumi Hamasaki enlarges and thus in-authenticates her eyes using  makeup techniques or has undergone plastic surgery, but in arguing so, you are giving in to socialization processes and assuming that “natural” Asian eyes are almond-shaped, and therefore cannot “naturally” be “saucer shaped”.

Lucy Liu, who was generally embraced by American popular media

This blog is not attempting to define or identify any defining physical characteristics of each race; race is in the eye of the beholder- what is authentic, what is natural. Women are often told they should accentuate their natural features—follow the natural curves of your face when contouring, play up your lips if they are naturally plump, and so forth, but this becomes a problem when “naturalness” and “authenticity” are racially coded. If you are “White”, makeup leaving you with deep-set eyes and medium-high cheek bones is viewed “authentic”; if you are “Asian”, any makeup that does not render your eyes in an “almond” shape is “inauthentic”. If there are many physical variations of the same features among members of the same “race”, why does “natural” makeup for each race only portray one set of variation of physical features?

I will be sure to think of Kawashima’s work, the next time I hear someone say “It’s such a waste that he/she is hiding his/her “natural White/Asian/Black/Brown” features”. There are no physical traits “natural” or essential to any one race, so why should one race have just one “natural” or “authentic” form of makeup and beauty alteration? We must re-examine the innate racialization of “natural” beauty.


Kawashima, Terry. 2002. “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference in Japan.” Meridians 3(1):161-190.

“Whitening” manga figures?

by Lyu Dian

mangaIt is easy to recognize Japanese Manga characters from their exaggerated round eyes, small nose, spindly legs and colorful hair. These features that are generally common for most Japanese readers confuse Western readers sometimes because in their eyes Manga characters look like Caucasians but Japanese. In Kawashima’s article, many Westerners consider stylized Manga figure as an expression of “trying to be white” and the idea of “becoming white” is a product of cultural imperialism since the white people were historically dominant in the world. They even express their sympathy to “Asian people” who try to become white by stating that their should stay who they are but not constrained to racial hierarchy thinking. In fact, the thought of regarding Manga figures as white or trying to be white is a symptom of visual production of race and racial privilege thinking.

Different from Western viewers, Japanese readers naturally regard Manga figures as Japanese, blonde hair and round eyes are nothing more than exaggerated factors of Manga, as well as spindly arms and legs. In addition, colorful hair and round eyes are widely used for highlighting distinct personalities and showing emotional performance in artistic works, same as characters in Disney cartoon who usually have oversized head (eyes too) and disproportioned body. As a Chinese reader, it never occurs to me that these characters look more Caucasians since they do not even look like man in reality with their unbelievable shape of hair and limbs thin as stick. The reason why Western viewers especially tend to think Manga characters as white, as Kawashima pointed out, is that they usually hold stereotype of “Asian look” in their mind. In their and mass media’s views, Asian look should be flat face, small and slanted eyes, yellow skin and straight black hair which are actually not correct (see the Disney movie Mulan as a example). In the American drama, The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon’s mother carved a smiling face on a pancake she said “his eyes are little thin but pretend him to be Chinese”. It is really common to see stereotype of “Asian looking” face in mass media, thus it would not be surprise to understand why Westerner viewers cannot accept Asian face with round eye and lighten hair naturally because that against their typical expectation of Asian people. Exactly as Kawashima discussed, the idea of “Asian looking face” or “what Asian people should look like” is a process of picking and ignoring certain features as standards to create and evaluate race. This fixed mind-set is artificially and socially constructed, rigid characters in films, cartoons, dramas are outcome of it and also reinforced it. Even though, mass media are far less racial than in the past but stereotype still exists.


Terry Kawashima. 2002. Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference. Meridians 3(1):161-190.

Matt Thorn. The Face of the Other.  http://www.matt-thorn.com/mangagaku/faceoftheother.html

How come Japanese cartoon do not look like Japanese people. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-77407.html

The Portrayal of Black People in Manga and Anime

by Allan Kastiro

UntitledI have been a big fan of Manga and Anime for as long as I can remember. I always admired how the Japanese style of drawing cartoon characters was different from that of popular western comics and animations. The characters in Manga and Anime have always stood out because they are unique. That is, many of them have exaggerated and flamboyant features and this always stood out for me and many other fans alike. Never did it ever occur to me that the way the Japanese creators illustrate their artistic work had significance on how race and ethnicity is viewed or construed in Japan.

As I began to read and watch more Manga and Anime, I began to notice how non-Japanese characters (people of color, specifically of African origin) were drawn and represented and many of them had very stereotypical characteristics. This can be seen in their dressing style, behavior, speech patterns and activities they are engaged in.  One such character is ChocoLove McDonell (pictured above) from the manga and Anime ‘Shaman King’. Where do I even start with this … His name is CHOCOLOVE!!! The character is an African American who has his hair in an afro, has exaggerated lips and wears an African wrap on the lower half of his body. Ohh and his animal spirit is a Jaguar! Many other non-Japanese characters are as controversial for example Mr. Popo from Dragon Ball and Jynx from pokemon who both appear to be in black face, Staff Officer Black and Killa from Dragon Ball, Bugnug or ‘dark eyes’ from Crying freeman et cetera. The characters mentioned are all African American with the exception of Bugnug  (which means Ant-Eater pokemonapparently) who is the leader of the Askari (Swahili word to mean soldier) which is an African revolutionary organization.  Bugnug is first introduced to Crying Freeman manga readers when she launches a surprise attack on Yō Hinomura who is the main character.  She is illustrated to look ‘exotic’. She is beautiful with long curly hair but is muscular and masculine in her behavior. It is  impossible to compare her to the other Japanese females in the same manga as they seem more fragile and feminine.

bugnugDuring the battle with Yō Hinomura (Crying Freeman), Bugnug is completely naked and only carries a blade. When she is finally defeated by Yō Hinomura, the two become allies and she later on gets his assistance to defeat a coup d’état in her organization. It seems as though the creators of this manga and anime went all out to display Bugnug’s supposed ‘Africanness’ by naming the character Bugnug which they go on to translate as Ant-Eater, having her fight naked, which I believe represents a kind of primitiveness and then including a coup d’état in her storyline which occurs within her revolutionary organization. So this leaves me to question why some characters of African ancestry are represented in this manner in manga and anime.  Do all the people of African ancestry have these characteristics and why have these stereotypes been continuously perpetuated?

When trying to answer these questions, it is important to note that Japan has always been a homogeneous nation and this has created a kind of distance between them and other cultures from many parts of the world. Thus, a lot of what Japanese people know and perceive has been spread through western media which is dominated by America through entertainment, news, music et cetera.  In the article ‘What does “American” Mean in Postwar Japan?’ by Yoshimi Shunya (2008) he writes that,

From the late1950’s onward, “America” was distilled as a uniform image with even greater power than before to gain people’s hearts. ..Until the early 1950’s the word “America” was simply invoked as a model to be emulated… “America” also came to be associated with the “pop-culture” of Japanese youth. As “America” became less direct, more mediated, and increasingly confined to images, it conversely became more interiorized and its effect on people’s consciousness became deep. (Yoshimi Shunya, 2008)

slamdunkThis exposure has been both positive and negative in that it has opened up Japan to other cultures and has made the Japanese people more aware of the differences between their cultures, traditions and those of people from other parts of the world but has also promoted the adoption of negative stereotypes thus most of what the Japanese know are imagined racial distinctions that have been created and promoted by the western media.

As I come to the end of this blog post, I would like to point out that not all black people are represented stereotypically in some of the Manga and Anime works and some Japanese characters have even been made to have darker skin tones or even display several characteristics that one would categorize as being black. An example that comes to mind is  Takenori Akagi from Slam Dunk!

In conclusion, I believe that as Manga and Anime continue to spread and attain wider audiences, their popularity will help raise awareness on how race and ethnicity is viewed in different parts of the world and this will in turn create a better understanding of these different cultures and ethnicities.


Shunya Y. (2008). “What Does ‘American’ Mean in Postwar Japan?” Nanzan Review of American Studies 30:83-87

Constructing the Standard of Beauty

by Wang Yang

In the section “Does Sailor Moon ‘look white’?” of Terry Kawashima’s article “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference”, Kawashima argues that facial features and skin color commonly found in the Shojo Manga characters should be understood as “an assertion of a certain kind of aesthetic promoted in contemporary Japan”. Whiteness, as well as those body features (like smallish noses, mouths, and round faces), is read as a standard of beauty. Those elements are not necessarily characteristics of the white. The process of “Japanizing” of “white” figures and “whitening” of Japanese figures occurs simultaneously. The white or the westerners spread their value

One of the contemporary results for a western-dominated world setting up the standard of beauty is just as what Terry mentioned in the next part of her article, “self-alteration” of Japanese. Japanese consumers purchase products to make themselves look white. Seeking whiteness became a fashion and more economic value was created through the idea of being whiter. However, this is definitely not just a contemporary phenomenon. Historically, there are more serious issues which shares similarities with the spreading aesthetic of seeking whiteness.

The example of the “Hadairo” (Skin Color) crayons, which the color of the “Hadairo” crayons selling in Japanese market is actually whiter than the color of Japanese. Japanese children also tend to paint the skin of Japanese with a brighter color, which reminds me of the famous Clark doll experiment conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark and his wife. The experiment was conducted under the social context of racial segregation in 1954. During the period of racial segregation, whites were separated from African Americans in terms of various social facilities or services such as education, transportation, etc. As segregation and discrimination against African Americans went on, the social image of African Americans was constructed as inferior to whites. Under the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” admitted by the U.S Supreme Court, the segregation was justified. The experiment was a key evidence to show the negative influence of segregation to the children.

Clark Doll Experiment

The construction of the image of a certain race might be through segregation. In the experiment, Dr. Clark showed one white doll and one black doll to African American children and asked them the following questions in such order:

“Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,”

“Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,”

“Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a white child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a colored child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like you.”

As a result, most of the black children regarded the black doll as bad one and surprisingly 44 percent of the African American children said that the white doll looked like them. This is indeed similar as the Hadairo crayon case. Both Japanese and black children’s mindset of beauty are influenced and set by the dominant white race.

It is natural for a race with dominant power over other races to create a better self-image and set up the standard of beauty in any historic period. This might be achieved through different methods. In case of the Clark doll experiment, this was achieved through racial segregation. In the modern version, it was through globalization and mass media. Personally I feel that the phenomenon may lead to one possible conclusion: The standard of beauty changes all the time according to the global power balance and there are always new methods to spread those values. I strongly believe that this is an ever-lasting phenomenon.

For more information about the racial segregation and Clark Doll Experiment, I would like to recommend the movie, Separate But Equal.




Stereotypes and the Clark Doll Test by Clark & Clark (2012). Retrieved from Web site: https://explorable.com/stereotypes


Stevens, G. (Producer), & Margulies.S (Director). (1991). Separate But Equal [Motion picture]. United States: New Liberty Films & Republic Pictures

Do manga characters seem white to you?

by Agathe Schwaar

1337781095390Manga are a topic that has been well-researched in  Japanese Studies. However, when it comes to racial identity, we can see strong wonders about the racial identity found in the manga characters. On the one hand, if you search on the internet the question in English “Do Manga look like white people”, you have 14,000,000 results. On the other hand, if we do the same search in Japanese “漫画キャラクターは白人っぽい“, you only get 736,000 results and it is mainly a translation on the question asked by foreigners.

18289p74nf2ixjpgTerry Kawashima (2002), in her essay “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference,” argues that the manga characters are mainly based on whiteness’ particularities and they influence the young women when it comes to the concept of beauty. According to her, the manga readers had been “culturally conditioned to read visual images in specific racialized ways that privilege certain cues at the expense of others and lead to an over determined conclusion” and highlight the issues on how “race” is a social constructed category.

It is true that media and films had been marking differences between characters from different countries or social background through racial and social features that had left stigmas in our observation of the World. However, Manga’s drawing is less likely to be considered as a description of “whiteness” characteristics. One the manga’s particularity is the notion of 無国籍 or literally “a country-neutral quality” (Iwabuchi, 2002) which defines manga characters having no any race attributed to them. Koichi Iwabuchi (2002) in his researches calls this particularity as “odorless”: It has not specific features and it is one of the reasons why manga are successful abroad. The most common examples are Hello Kitty and Mario in the Nintendo’s video games.

cc_future_130610_wmainSo why do we see specific racial features in these “odorless” characters? It is mainly because of our personal representation of racial differences. These differences are called “markedness” by Matt Thorn (2004), we used our own culture and features of our own personal experiences to identify the character’s race. For example, look at a manga character with blond hair and blue eyes who is eating a bowl of rice with chopsticks. Where a French person will see a French personage because of its physical features and because he is himself French, the Japanese will see a Japanese person because this he/she is eating a bowl of rice with chopsticks.

It is undeniable that we mark manga characters with racial features which we encountered in our personal life. In this context, it is less likely that Japanese people also see white people in the manga they read. What they must see is a typical Japanese person. It is then difficult to confirm Terry Kawashima’s argument on the “white privileging” perception we may see in manga. Thinking that Japanese readers see white people in manga would imply a sentiment of inferiority of the Japanese community toward the “white race”. If we follow this idea, we fall into a generalization of the supremacy of whiteness in our current society and destroy the main principle of manga’s ideology neutral racial or “無国籍”. However, when it comes to racial stereotypes in manga characters, we actually reach another important issue on racial representations in Mass Media and we should put more attention on this subject.


Iwabuchi, K. (2002). Recentering globalization: Popular culture and Japanese transnationalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kawashima, T. (2002). Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference. Meridians, (1), pp.161-190.

Thorn, M. (2004). Do Manga Characters Look “White”? Retrieved from http://www.matt-thorn.com/mangagaku/faceoftheother.html

Skin tone and Self-esteem among African Americans

Malcolm X

Malcolm X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hiroyuki Matsuyama

As Verna Keith says, skin tone is one of central features for determining one’s self image, and it happens a lot that your occupation or income are decided by looking at your skin tone. It is so sad, but it is the fact that we are facing today. From this point of view, mulattos distanced themselves from the larger African American community by excluding darker blacks from their social organizations. Moreover, they were avoiding intermarriage with people with darker skin so as to pass their advantages on to their children. In this way, even within black communities, there was hierarchy and discrimination against other people.

It is truly difficult to eliminate this injurious racism completely, and it would probably not happen that people would evaluate others and give jobs equally, but prejudicially. In spite of this unfairness, I hope people who are discriminated against to keep having self-esteem, at least to a certain extent. Thus, Malcolm X was really great person because he tried to make people have confidence. He claimed a notion “black is beautiful” in order to fight against racism.

Nonetheless, it is not for criticizing or discriminating against white people, but for attempting to undo black-on-black racism. The reason is because black people were brainwashed by white power, so he thought that he needed to remove this structure as a priority concern. By stating this concept, he tried black people to have self-esteem.

In addition to this, there is a famous speech ‘Who taught you to hate yourself’ by Malcolm X. In the speech, even though his words were sometimes inappropriate, he encouraged audiences well by saying features that are supposed to be words for insulting black people, such as lips, hair texture and so forth. This speech was really helpful for those who were struggling, and they started to have Afro hairstyle to show their self-esteem. This hairstyle enabled black people to express their culture and historical identity.

In conclusion, cruel racism is still going on in today’s modern world unfortunately. Even though people have started to think more about it, racism is still harsh and out of control. However, people who are racially discriminated against should try to stand up and claim your opinion without any fear. Every single person should be oneself, not like others. Being another person by imitating others or dissimulating yourself is not the way you are. In my opinion, that is the end of your life when you have lost your self-worth.


Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

How African Women See Themselves

by Yutaro Nishioka

The term colorism is defined in the work of Verna M. Keith, “A Colorstruck World: Skin tone, Achievement, and Self-Estimation Among African American Women,” as “the privileging of light skin tone over dark skin tone” (Keith, 2009). In other words, people with dark skin are seen as inferior to those with light skin. This view was somewhat hard for me, as a Japanese, to perceive in Japan, especially before I went to Atlanta at the age of 16 as an exchange student. Before I went to Atlanta, I had never known a black person; I had not seen a black person at school, supermarkets, stations, parks, libraries, or any other public places. Hence it is natural that I could not really perceive or feel colorism in Japan.

According to Keith (2009), black women (and even girls) are encouraged or even told to “marry light,” that is, marry a husband of lighter skin tone, so that they can at least “save” their children from having to go through the hardship and pain of being discriminated against for having dark skin, even if they had to suffer it themselves. Young black girls are even told not to play outside in the sunlight because that would make their skin even darker, which would make them “less attractive (often not spoken aloud)” (Keith, 2009).

While white or European features, such as “blue, grey or green eyes, straight hair texture, thin lips, and a narrow nose” are seen as “higher status,” more attractive, and intelligent, black or African features, such as “broad nose, kinky hair, full lips, and brown eyes” are devalued both inside and outside of the black community (Keith, 2009). This phenomenon, in my opinion, is horrible because not only do young black children get discouraged from playing outside—young children naturally like to play outside—but also the reason or excuse that the adults, or society, use for this phenomenon is extremely lame: having dark skin is somehow less attractive, and any attempt to avoid darkening the skin tone is thus justified. This can even affect who black American women will “date and marry” and the kinds of jobs they end up having (Keith, 2009).

To my surprise, these advices are given “out of love, and a deep historical understanding” of the discrimination against those with dark skin tone (Keith, 2009). This may imply that many black American women would rather “suck it up” and teach their children not to darken their skin any further to avoid undergoing the hardship, than fight the society and discrimination. It might be that the power of the discrimination against people with dark skin is so overwhelmingly strong and influential that they do not have a choice but to suck it up and do what the society tells them to do, that is, to avoid darkening their skin tone and marry a light skinned husband to make sure at least their children’s skin tone turns out lighter.


Keith, V. (2009). A Colorstruck world skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Colorism within the black community in the U.S.

by Nami Irikuchi

When I first read “A Colorstruck World” by Verna Keith, I could not believe that there was/is a discrimination against black people by black people. As most of us know, white people have discriminated against dark-skinned people, African-Americans in the U.S. People have thought that white people are superior to black people. The lighter skin black people have, the better life they can have.

What I want to say is that the differences of their skin color occurred because of genetics. The activation level of melanocyte is different between blacks and whites, and its activation level is decided by their genes. Even dark-skinned people who did not do wrong things to others have been discriminated against.

In the reading, Keith writes that dark-skinned mothers try to protect their daughters from sunlight not to have darker skin. I thought that if I were a dark-skinned women and had a dark-skinned daughter, what advice would I give to my daughter? If it is now, then I would not, but I would have advised if it was the past, when there was more discrimination against blacks. When I advise my daughter, I would not tell why I would try to protect her from the sunlight. They do not need to know the fact that dark-skinned women would not be preferred, and also black people did not do anything that was worth discriminated. Just because they have the darker skin, they would get discriminated against.

Some black males now also think that black females are less attractive, though they have the almost same color. I think that it is related to not only racism or colorism, but also gender issues. I found an internet article which said that black men try to date light-skinned women because they find them more beautiful than darker-skinned women. Furthermore, if they got married and had children with those light-skinned women, there is a possibility that they could have children who have “favorable features,” such as lighter skin and eye color. Those children might face less discrimination.

However, in that article, there is no statement about women’s preferences. As we can see, women are distinguished by their appearance at first, and if the appearance did not match to the preference, then men do not try to have a relationship with them. Somehow most people have the prejudice for dark-skinned people, and women still get hurt not only in the white community but also within the dark-skinned community.

Slavery is over. Colonialism is over. But there are still or more discrimination against black people. I think that the situation is very similar to the Japanese people’s attitudes toward Korean or Chinese people. Those people were colonized by Japanese government in the past, and although that period has ended, there are still some Japanese people who think that Korean or Chinese people are bad and they have to get out of Japan. I think that they have stereotyped thinking, and maybe do not know the facts. I also do not know the reality both in the U.S. and Japan, so I really want to research about those problems when I go to the U.S., or encounter some demonstrations for Korean and Chinese in Japan.

When I hear the word “discrimination”, I came up with “against black people” at first. Unconsciously, people tend not to be an attacker and that is why Japanese people try to think about “discrimination against black people”, but not “against Korean or Chinese people.”


Garrell, M. Colorism in black community still prevalent, unacceptable. The University Star. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from http://star.txstate.edu/node/1047

Huff Post. (January 13th, 2014).  Retrieved July 3, 2014 from http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4588825

Keith, V.M. (2009). “A Colorstruck world skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Skin tone and self-esteem: Impacts of colorism

by Keisuke Yamada

In “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women”, Verna M. Keith examines the relationships between skin tone, social and economic achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. Keith briefly mentions the history of slavery and how lighter-skinned blacks were more accepted than darker-skinned blacks because they had similarities with white people. As history clearly shows, colourism existed in the past when the skin tones you were categorised in decided what you can do and how you are treated. Even after the period of slavery, colourism continued to affect education, occupation, and income of African American women. The graphs the authour provides clearly show differences in education, occupation, and income among groups of people with different skin tones.

Then, Keith moves on to look at the relationship between skin tone and self-esteem, which I personally thought very interesting. Keith provides two graphs which show the relationships between the level of self-esteem and skin tones in adolescents and adulthood. There is not a huge difference in the level of self-esteem in adolescents. However, as they become adults, self-esteem of very dark brown people drops, although the author says that the results may have been different depending on when you were born. More interestingly, Keith mentions how skin tone is not related or ignored in predominantly white environments. One suggestion was that in predominantly white environments, there is only a distinction between black and white. I had a discussion in the class whether this can be applied to other cases. For example, in a country like US where Asian people are the minority, it is often ignored which part of Asia they come from. However, from the perspectives of those Asian people, it is of course a big of deal where they originated.

As we discuss the issue, I heard that the ratio of ‘black’ and ‘white’ people is changing in some parts of the US, and I guess that some parts of the world may be experiencing similar shifts as well. So my last question was whether colorism would still matter for some people, considering this shift may occur in the future. I personally think that it would have less influence on one’s self-esteem and career achievements, but at the same time, it is also possible that there would always be some kind of distinction or differentiation beside the idea of colorism.


Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Double Consciousness at Miss Bronze Contests

by Miyu Fujihara

In “The Color of an Ideal Beauty Queen,” Maxine Craig talks about how Miss Bronze or beauty contests clearly show “systems of representation”, which makes contests such as Miss Bronze significantly different from beauty contests mostly for white women. System of representation can be simply explained as differences of perspective. Specifically skin color is one of the elements that decide representation, as well as other factors like body features. For example, blond hair represents white race and a dark-skinned person evokes the image of low social status, and so on. However, since systems of representation are different depending on the racial group, features can represent anything. Thus the definition of beauty differs a lot among groups, thus making different impressions. What black people and white people think is beautiful can differ.

As Craig mentions in her chapter, at the Miss Bronze Contest, black contestants try to walk carefully so they can show their well-educated behavior, which reminds people of middle class manners or the social representation of whites, and some straighten their hair to be “white” in order to achieve beauty acknowledged by the majority.

However, at the same time, since it is Miss Bronze, the contest which decides the symbol of the race, contestants want to keep their blackness or authenticity in their appearance. This is why some get their hair short in order not to be too white (long hair is regarded as element of being white). The one that meets the both expectations wins the contest, in other words, the one that is regarded as beautiful from both whites and blacks can win. This whole process to be the winner is said to be based on the one’s double consciousness.

From what I’ve mentioned above, this can be applied to Asian American women in the United States. Keeping racial identity and achieving the majority’s standard of beauty for them is to have black hair or Asian hair, but to keep it long like other white people do. Thus this shows how they have double consciousness.

In my opinion, this is something very considerable and profound in a way it shows that there’s more than one standard of beauty exists. Cherishing her race and natural appearance will build self-confidence and stop people from rushing to get plastic surgery whenever they want to change their race. As for the day a black woman won the beauty contest, it’s proved that the one that’s beautiful is not always white, but black or Asian and any other race. However, even recently it seems that  colorism still exists in a form of social hierarchy. This explains how the concept of multiple standards of beauty was established with color-based social hierarchy coming from colonialism. It sounds difficult to change this issue. Nonetheless, people at least are secured to have their own racial identity and are given the environment where they can be respected from each other in disregard of racism.


Craig, Maxine L. 2009. “The Color of an Ideal Beauty Queen” in Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Still Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.