Why do people prefer whiter skin?

By Ye Tiantian

I chose this topic because I myself am a part of the skin whitening market, as I have been consuming skin lightening products since I don’t even remember when. But for all that time, I never asked myself the question of why do I want to whiten my skin? Well, go to any drug store or large mall and ask those purchasing the skin whitening products this question, I am pretty sure that most, if not all, of them will tell you, because they want to be beautiful. But why is white beautiful? That’s the point.

Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s research introduced the skin whitening markets in different regions and among different consuming groups. Glenn used the word “colorism” to explain the growing and even illegal skin whitening markets in African nations which is related to colonialism and the so-called “white privilege”. I don’t know much about the skin whitening market of Africa, African America, India, Southeast Asia or Latin America. Actually, I didn’t even know that there exist such huge skin whitening markets outside Asia until I had read Glenn’s research, since I had always assumed that it is the traditional Asian aesthetic that lead to the practice of using those products. But I do know the whitening market of East Asia or more specifically China.

It is true that I cannot represent all of the consumers in the skin whitening market, but I am pretty sure that I and most of the people I know buying those products are not trying to make ourselves look like white people. We don’t want to be white, we want to be what in Chinese we called “白里透红”, white with rosy touches, like the skin of a newborn baby—an Asian baby, not necessarily a white baby.

As we have discussed before, race is a socially constructed category. It is not like only white people have the biological gene to have white skin. Compare the skin color of a newborn Asian baby with a white person, they are not that different. I cannot tell you for sure that it has nothing to do with white privilege that people like me buy skin whitening products. But at least, I believe this is not the whole story behind the growing skin whitening market in at least China.

If it is all about the white privilege, how can we explain that the practice of skin whitening in China could date back to Qin Dynasty (221-206BC)? Women in China at that time already learnt to make their face white using lead powders, changing their diets and consuming certain kinds of herbals. If you know a little bit about Chinese history, you will know that China used to be one of the most powerful nations of the world; it was even more powerful than Western European nations. If it was only about white supremacy, as it was believed for the African market, it won’t make any sense because there was no such thing as white supremacy in ancient China.

There is one explanation which I highly doubt, but might be true, that the first ruling class of China as a nation, though not united, is white Indo-Europeans. Thus, white skin is linked with the ruling class. But this cannot be entirely proved and for most time of the Chinese history, the rulers were not white people.

My guess is that Chinese want to be white because whiter skin (not pure white skin like white people) is linked with higher social classes inside the Chinese society. From the Qin dynasty, there is this a social ranking in which scholars and officers were always on the top of the social class. What’s the characteristic of scholars or officers? They work indoors, not outdoors. Thus, they are not exposed to sunshine as other farmers, workers, merchants are, and as a result they must have skin more like that  of newborn babies. We even have a word for it in Chinese, “白面书生”. Thus, in the traditional stereotype of Chinese society, whiter skin is linked with higher social class.

This is even true for contemporary Chinese society. We may be educated to treat all kinds of jobs equally and be taught that there is no such thing as better jobs and worse jobs. But the unconscious bias of our mind still to some extent controls our behaviors. And from my observation, there must be such bias and sometimes even conscious ones.

Sometimes, this kind of discrimination is even institutionalized. In the Chinese hukou system, people possessing a rural hukou receive a lower standard of social welfare compared with people with an urban hukou. Those people with rural hukou are normally those working as agriculture farmers or construction workers and other labor intensive jobs. People working in the offices normally have higher social status compared with people working outdoors in construction sites or agricultural fields. A typical image of a successful person working a decent job would be like this, while “migrant workers” or farmers are usually associated with this kind of image and are usually considered as poor, not well-educated and with bad manners.

So my argument is that the preference of white skin may be linked with power and privilege, but it doesn’t need to be privilege of other races and ethnic groups. While white privilege might be an explanation for the skin whitening market in some parts of the world, some times it could because of the privilege of social classes inside the same race and ethnic group. Being whiter doesn’t need to be imitating white people.

The Faces of Race in Anime

Untitledby Belle Pancharoen

There is a joke that my friend once told. “How do you blind an Asian?” she asked, to which we gave her a confused look. She grinned and answered, “With dental floss!” All of us got the joke right away and I’m guessing you did too. Almond shape eyes that almost appear to be tiny slits on the face when smiling is one of the stereotypical facial characteristics plastered on Asians. We use these visual characteristics to label people into different racial category at a glance, thus it can be said that race is not only socially constructed like many scholars say but race is also visually constructed.

In her article “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference”, Terry Kawashima mentions that Sailor Moon looks “white” to some viewers and “Japanese” to others. She concludes that the reason why this is the case is because “we are culturally conditioned to read visual images in specific racialized ways” (Kawashima 2002, p.161). In other words, Sailor Moon looks just as “white” as she does “Japanese” and how we interpret her is based on our own cultural context.

Though, the fact that some people read Sailor Moon as white is understandable considering that her character design consists of the Western trademark blonde hair and blue eyes. Even in an anime where the hair and eye colors of the characters ranges from one end of the color spectrum to the other, when a Western character is put on the screen more than half the time he or she will have that exact hair and eye color combination. Take for example, the Western characters from Free! Eternal Summer. The Japanese characters have hair colors ranging from yellow to black, but all the Western character hair colors are limited to different shades of yellow and brown. How about comparing the facial features of Alex Louis Armstrong to Ling Yao from Fullmetal Alchemist? Isn’t it clear that Armstrong is drawn to represent your typical Western face and Ling as Asian? Why are we so fixated on these stereotypical appearances that they are also reflected in art and media?

Kawashima says that “certain features are highlighted and others suppressed or ignored to ensure a coherent result” (2002, p.164). Perhaps this highlighting of specific facial features and simplifying them is true. Perhaps this is the reason why we tend to say “they all look alike” when we talk about people from different races. I have lost count of the number of times when my friends look at a Korean idol group and say that they can’t tell the members apart. “The other race affect” says that we can recognize diversity in our own race but not with others. Daniel Levin, a cognitive psychologist at Kent State University, says that “the problem is not that we can’t code the details of cross-race faces—it’s that we don’t.”

Let’s face it, despite the fact that we know that these stereotypes exists some of us, for example, don’t like being told that all East Asians look the same. So just because “we don’t” doesn’t meant that we can’t try.

References:

Kawashima, Terry. 2002. “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference.” Meridians 3(1): 161-90.

Pomeroy, Steven Ross. “‘They All Look Alike': The Other-Race Effect.” Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/rosspomeroy/2014/01/28/think-they-all-look-alike-thats-just-the-other-race-effect/

‘Ideal Asian Beauty’ in Skin Care Marketing

by Kiho Kozaki

In modern societies, we can observe that there are countless advertisements by mass media, companies, etc., in our daily life. It is almost impossible to not get influenced by them. Whether one recognizes it or not, one’s thought, common sense, standard of behavior, or actions are established based on these influences. Especially in the field of skin-lightening, mass media is playing an important role in idealizing the standard of beauty, according to which those who have lighter skin are more attractive and beautiful.

The global market for skin lighteners is projected to reach US$19.8 billion by 2018, based on sales growth primarily in Asia, Africa and the Middle East (McDougall, 2013). In most advertisements of skin products in Asia, we can see the appearance of Caucasian and half-Asian models. As Japanese person, I was always wondering why even Asian companies use Caucasian or half-Asian models in order to promote their products in Asia. For skin care products, I assume that is to give an impression of light-skin beauty, according to which white is more attractive and superior to dark skin. An Asian ideal image of beauty is almost created and controlled as something really hard to achieve in order to create profit, and Asian women are following those images unconsciously.

There is an argument about whether Asian women use skin-lightning products to become like Europeans. Joanne Rondilla, the author of “Filipinos and the Color Complex,” gave a different perspective, writing that many Asian women are satisfied with being Asian or having Asian features. However, they are looking to “clean up” or become “better” versions of themselves. The author repeatedly used the word “uniqueness” and “delicate” to describe Asian skin. These words can be seen in many skin care products’ advertisements in my daily life. It triggers a question for me, what does uniqueness mean in this context? I feel like there is a contradiction between the Asian women’s desire of whiteness, which is the image of beauty companies are trying to sell, and their insistence on Asian beauty and the uniqueness of their skin.

The assumption is the power. Many Asian women, including myself, have not thought about what they really want to be and what beauty means to them before purchasing the products. This is the natural consequence of every single person having a different skin tone, however, the models in skin care advertisements all seem to have the same white skin tone. The widespread phenomenon of the white standard has already become a huge pressure for Asian and other non-white women. I argue that every single person has their own way of beauty, regardless of race and skin color.

References

McDougall, A. 2013. Skin lightening trend in Asia boosts global market. Retrieved from http://www.cosmeticsdesign-asia.com/Market-Trends/Skin-lightening-trend-in-Asia-boosts-global-market

Rondilla, L. J. 2009. Fillipinos and the Color Complex. Pp. 63-80 in Shades of difference: Why skin color matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn.Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Mixed-race and Asian Ideal Beauty

by Rena Shoji

In “Filipinos and the Color Complex,” the author Joanne Rondilla (2009) discusses the global skin-lightening market and how those products demonstrate the connection between skin color and beauty. She especially focuses on the Philippines, which has gone through multiple colonization by white people, and racial and skin hierarchy have been constructed.

Rondilla argues that even though the standard of beauty in the Philippines is now inspired more by East Asian countries rather than Caucasians, the definition of beauty is still in accordance with white standards. On the one hand, non-white people tend to claim their uniqueness and originality in terms of their aesthetic values. That is, they have their own beauty standards compared to that of other parts of the world. On the other hand, in the era of globalization, it is practically impossible to ignore the influence of the global capitalism, products and ideas. There are so many products that are sold worldwide, and that implies the producers’ one message, such as, “lighter skin is better”.

Even if the message is the same, the strategies can vary depending on the time and trends. Today, it seems that using images of mixed-race Asians is becoming an effective way of marketing in the Philippines and other Asian countries. Rondilla (2009) analyzes that mixed-race people are a “relatable ideal” (p. 71). That is, they can be identified as Asian, yet they have particular features that consumers might seek or wish to have. Thus, mixed-race people can share sameness and avoid Eurocentric aesthetic values while their features are “better” than others. Their commercial values lay on the Caucasian-like features and relatable aspects as Asians.

This mixed-race popularity can be seen in Japan as well. The term hāfu (half) refers to half-Japanese. In most cases, especially in the beauty industry, hāfu refers to people who are half-Caucasian. For example, some beauty magazines feature articles on “how to look like hāfu with makeup”. It always means how to look like someone who is half-Caucasian.

What is different from the case of the Philippines is that half-Japanese models are not featured in advertisements of skin care products, while they are often in advertisements of makeup products. This could be because of the fact that Japanese people tend to think that they have their own skin color (Ashikari, 2005). This gap can stem from the colonization. The Philippines’ multiple experience of colonization makes the Philippines’ standard of beauty unique, and the so-called “color complex” there has been strongly constructed.

With regard to the preference of lighter skin, Japan and the Philippines shared different historical backgrounds. However, in the era of globalization, it seems that these two countries are  influenced by the white standard, although both claim their “uniqueness” and “Asian-ness”.

References

Ashikari, M. 2005. Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity. Journal of Material Culture 10:73-91

Rondilla, J, L. 2009. Filipinos and the color complex. Pp. 63-80 in Shades of difference: Why skin color matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano GlennStanford, CA: Stanford University Press

The Links between Skin Tone and Self-Esteem

Gordon Parks' American Gothic. Portrait of gov...

Gordon Parks’ American Gothic. Portrait of government cleaning woman Ella Watson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mikaella Hahn

As I was reading Verna Keith’s “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement, and Self-Esteem among African American Women,” I started to wonder if myself as a Korean American being able to distinguish amongst Asians is similar to what was mentioned regarding African Americans being more sensitive to different shades of among African Americans—a distinction that is not significant to the dominant majority.

Well frankly, a Korean person would be insulted if they were asked whether they were Chinese. To the dominant majority in America (which is white), these distinctions probably do not matter, because the main distinction to the majority is whether the person is White or Asian. In general the dominant group doesn’t realize the importance of intra-differentiation is to the minority groups. They don’t have to be able to differentiate, so they don’t learn to, and this contributes to the continued frustration of minority groups in America.

My initial thought after reading the first paragraph was that, self-esteem of African Americans would be low when living in white dominant society due to the discrimination against them, however as opposed to my first thought, the reading revealed that African Americans rather tend to have lower self-esteem when they are living in black dominant society than living in white predominant society. The evidence from this paper provides that the light skin African Americans get better education with better job prospects with higher income.

According to the way I was educated about racism, the inherited, unacknowledged racism in a white dominant society is what I thought would lead to lower self-esteem for African Americans. To live in a society where the color black is associated with something negative, and to be portrayed as harmful to the society by media, it seems to me that people colloquially called “black” would evaluate themselves more poorly. Watching a number of videos about both white and black children favoring white dolls only reinforced my belief.

However the author says this is not the case because after the 1960s’ and 1970s’ racial activism inspired young African Americans to appreciate their natural beauty, which led them to have higher self-esteem.

On the other hand, after the hardships that African Americans have faced, it is hard for me to believe that this movement would do such widespread affect in such a short term. Compounding my disbelief is the number of empirically unproven theories presented by the author. Thus, while this chapter provided stimulating claims, it should be read with other evidence-based papers.

Consent To Plastic Surgery?

by Lin, Tzu-Chun

The demand for plastic surgery is growing. The number of clients in the US experienced a three percent growth from 2012 to 2013, and 15.1 million people in America received plastic surgery in 2013 (ASPS, 2014). The growing number of people getting plastic surgery in a way represents a public approval of plastic surgery, however that is not necessarily the truth.

In “Saving Face: More Asian American opting for plastic surgery,” Jennifer Bagalawis-Simes  connects plastic surgery and looking natural (Simes 2010). Bagalawis-Simes states that plastic surgery has been seen as mimicry of being more “white”, and thus she wrote that “Many have procedures that enhance natural look instead of altering their ethnic appearance”.

This is similar to people using skin-lightening products to “naturally” obtain the skin they had when they were babies. How could it be “natural” for an adult to have baby skin?

On the topic of plastic surgery, how could people look more “natural” after having artificial surgery, compared to how they looked before the surgery? However, there is another link, that people seem to be consenting to having these baby skin cosmetics appear in the Japanese marketplace, and it may be a similar mental activity as they may give plastic surgery the consent to appear.

Certainly, the influences from aesthetics and other factors should not be ignored. In “The poor have the right to be beautiful,” Alexander Edmonds notices that plastic surgery has been a tool to obtain body capital, where the representation of good looks or aesthetics is influenced by national cultures (Edmonds 2007). Edmonds helped develop the thinking of the possibility that one region’s aesthetics may have its own roots beside the western-dominant “white is right” ideology. The sense that plastic surgery may turn a person more like its own belonging instead of white or Caucasian may also be a reason for the suggested consent from receiver and public to plastic surgery.

However, the consent to baby skin cosmetic and plastic surgery may also be just the illusion as the result of ignorance. In the arguments regarding race and ethnicity, the term “dominant group” refers to the people who are the majority of their society, the advantage of dominant leads to a less concerning to the racial and ethnic issues, which create an ignorance to the issues.

Suppose that men do not use baby skin cosmetics (where some may), and not all women use it, and in addition these baby skin cosmetics are mainly spread in Japan. These facts lead to the suggestion that it is the people who do not use baby skin cosmetics being the dominant group, thus they may had never give consent to it but did not notice it.

This suggestion is valid for me personally, that months before I had never thought about the paradox between natural looking and baby skin cosmetics. Applying this suggestion to plastic surgery, it makes sense that the majority of people are those who do not receive plastic surgery, thus it become possible that they did not give consent to its existing but due to unnoticed on the issue.

References

ASPS. (2014, Feburary 26). Plastic Surgery Procedures Continue Steady Growth in U.S. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from American Society of Plastic Surgeons: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/past-press-releases/2014-archives/plastic-surgery-procedures-continue-steady-growth-in-us.html

Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful': cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthroplogical Institute , 363-381.

Simes, J. B. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from hyphen: http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-more-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

The “Return” of Race in Brazil 

cotasby Chloe Lyu

Different from the American white or black model of racial classification, there is a large range of choices between black and white for Brazilians to identify themselves, since Brazil applies skin colour as criteria for classifying one’s race. However, skin colour is more than skin tones in Brazil, as it also relates to the texture of hair, the shape of nose, lips and cultural background.

Moreno (brown) is the most popular term, which is used by nearly 44% of the population when people describe their skin colour. Its ambiguity allows a wide range of people with different skin tones to fit in the same box. In addition, brown is celebrated as a national symbol of mixed raced Brazilians. The founder of Brazil’s national identity, Gilberto Freyre, declared that the skin colour of brown was a great combination of Black, Indian and European, thus it symbolized mixed races of Brazilians’ commonness. Freyre’s work created an image that Brazil was a racial democracy without discrimination, due to everyone’s mixed background, thus everyone was the same.

democracyNevertheless, the reality tells a different story, from the statistics it is obvious that white Brazilians have more opportunities accessing education, work, and a higher standard of living. Despite the race-mixing, the white Brazilian population still occupies the top of Brazilian society, while black and brown people are largely struggling in poverty; Racial democracy is a myth and never actually existed. The colour classification, which has been promoted as a wonderful racial democratic system, sugars up the racial differences and inequality by obscuring the concept of race. In fact, colour and race are the same thing.

The current racial quota policy that benefits black people puts race back on the table and has raised heated discussions. In a debate about the racial quota policy, Demetrio Magnoli, a Brazilian professor, stated that Brazil enjoys racial democracy because people are identified by colour but not race. The new policy has created races by putting into racial boxes and would result in racial discrimination.

Nonetheless, it is really so? Hasn’t race existed forever in Brazil? Without applying the word “race,” people are still judged by their skin colour and treated differently. Racial problems are not returning to Brazil because they never left, while the word race is returning. Brazilians have been fooled so long by the myth of racial democracy, and the black community has begun to say no to the situation.

This response asserts that the American Black or White system is a universal system that should be applied in Brazil for achieving racial equality. However, the colour classification system, as an outcome of myth of racial democracy, makes the race problem rather vague and glosses over the shadow of racial differences and inequality in Brazil.

References

Guimarães, Antonio Sérgio Alfredo. 2012. Race, colour, and skin colour in Brazil. FMSH-PPhttps://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00714628/document

Edward Telles. 2009. The Social Consequences of Skin Color in Brazil. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Still Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Brazil’s racial quotas (2012), http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xr52qg_brazil-s-racial-quotas_news

When You Determine if a Woman is Beautiful, Does Skin Color Matter?

by Nana Tsujimoto

Belva Davis, founder of the Miss Bronze pageant

“You are beautiful.” This phrase can always make a woman really happy and let her be more confident about herself. Winning in a beauty contest is one of the ways of receiving wide recognition as being beautiful by society. This enables not only the winner but also people in the same social categories, especially in subordinate groups, to gain confidence in their beauty, including their skin color.

Numerous kinds of beauty pageants, including Miss Universe USA pageant, are held every year all over the world. As you might have known, there was the beauty contest called Miss Ritsumeikan Collection at Ritsumeikan University last month. Although competing in a beauty contest is quite widely popular in the world up to now, people in dominant group have been getting more chances to win in contests; one the other hand, people in subordinate group have fewer chances to do so.

Miss Bronze California is a beauty contest for African American women which lasted from 1961 to 1968, during the time when many African-American social protests such as the Civil Rights Movement occurred. The producer of this contest was Belva Davis, who was really making an effort to make African American women, especially dark-skinned African American women, to have more confidence in their beauty as African Americans. This contest was one of the great tools to expand the idea of “Black is Beautiful” in the US society at that time. The contest played an important role in fighting against colorism, racism, and discrimination against African American.

Moreover, because of the existence of dark-skinned winners of the contest, the definition of black beauty was expanded. However, there is an important point to consider in this contest: double consciousness. According to the concept of double consciousness, which was introduced by W. E. B. Du Bois, the standard of beauty in the whole African American community can be categorized into two parts: a white standard of beauty and an African American standard of beauty. This is because dominant views are internalized in the community, so to choose either a light-skinned African American woman (a white standard, which also shows privilege) or a dark-skinned woman (an African American standard, which also shows authenticity) for a winner depends on which standard the judges applied.

missamerica

Vanessa Williams (left) and Nina Davuluri (right)

While Miss Bronze California was a contest only for African American, Miss America is now opened for people of all races in the U.S., including African Americans and Asian Americans. The first African-American winner of the contest in 1984 was Vanessa Lynn Williams, who had light skin and blue eyes. Following after her, seven African-American women have been crowned. In addition, this year, Nina Davuluri won the contest as the first Indian-American woman. Both Vanessa and Nina have had to face negative attitudes toward them because of their skin color after they won the contest. For example, Nina has received numerous negative descriptions of her, such as “Too ‘Indian’ to ever be Miss India”. Moreover, she was described as a terrorist on Twitter. Those are not acceptable in the society with racial diversity.

When you determine if a woman is beautiful, does skin color matter? I would answer “No” because I believe all of skin colors are beautiful. Although people’s attitudes toward skin color are shaped in the societies where they grow up, I hope there will be no discrimination on skin color in the near future.

References

Broderick, R. A Lot Of People Are Very Upset That An Indian-American Woman Won The Miss America Pageant (Sept. 16, 2013). Buzzfeednews. Retrieved on Dec 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/a-lot-of-people-are-very-upset-that-an-indian-american-woman

Chaudhry, L. Miss America Nina Davuluri: Too ‘Indian’ to ever be Miss India (Sep 16, 2013). F.LIVING. Retrieved on Dec, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/living/miss-america-nina-davuluri-too-indian-to-ever-be-miss-india-1111477.html

Craig, Maxine Leeds. 2009. “The Color of an Ideal Negro Beauty Queen: Miss Bronze 1961-1968.” In Shades of Difference, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Davis, B. Fighting Racism, One Swimsuit at a Time (February 10, 2011). Ms. Blog Magazine, Retrieved on Dec 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/02/10/fighting-racism-one-swimsuit-at-a-time/

Stern, M. Vanessa Williams, the First Black Miss America, On Nina Davuluri and Racism (Sep 21, 2013). The Daily Beast. Retrieved on Dec 11, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/21/vanessa-williams-the-first-black-miss-america-on-nina-davuluri-and-racism.html

Watson, E. The Miss America Pageant Has Been Beneficial for Women of Color (Sep 12, 2013). The New York Times. Retrieved on Dec 11, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/09/12/is-the-miss-america-pageant-bad-for-women/the-miss-america-pageant-has-been-beneficial-for-women-of-color

The Era of Plastic Surgery Culture

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate p...

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate photograph; otopexy correction; Woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hanna Byun

This is a very interesting and educative topic entailing the cultural dynamics of different communities regarding beauty and appearance. Plastic surgery has become so standardized that everyone talks about it. Instead of “where did you get your designer handbag?” people might ask you where you got your chin, eyes or nose done. To understand these insights, two sources of information will serve as the basis for ideas of the authors about plastic cosmetic surgery.

The article by Alexander Edmonds titled, “‘The Poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil” discuss the dynamics of the cosmetics industry in Brazil over the last two decades. He focuses on the poor population of Brazil that has recorded a high rate of plastic surgeries, and that has been influenced by the diverse social origins of the general population. According to Edmond, poor people in Brazil have judged their appearance from different social origins as an “aesthetic defect”. The beauty industry, therefore, became a solution to the problem by diagnosing and treating it through plastic surgery. He cites a racialized “beauty myth” in clinical practice and marketing as one of the main motivators for the pursuit of plastic surgery. Outward appearance affects social mobility, glamour, and an individual’s association with modernity. By having plastic surgery, poor people believe that it gives them the means to compete in the Brazilian neoliberal economy. In Edmonds’ perspective, the capital flows of the modern capitalist economy are to blame for the commercialization of beauty and the absence of regulations in the cosmetic industry. The poor are simply doing so to achieve a class body that society has unknowingly decreed as the quintessential appearance of a person who fits in a higher social stratum.

The blog post by Jennifer Bagalawis-Simes discusses about the increasing number of plastic surgery penchants among Asian Americans. She observes that more Asian Americans are going for plastic surgery to improve their appearance without necessarily changing their ethnic appearance. The blog identifies different reasons that prompt Asian Americans to go for plastic surgery. Her reasons are:

  1. Some Asian plastic surgery seekers want to boost the confidence while attending job interviews;
  2. They want to achieve romantic success by looking younger;
  3. It is a way of trying to assimilate into mainstream Americans.

For instance, many want to brighten their eyes a little a bit without altering their ethnic appearance. Others want their nose reshaped just to look better than they think. All they want is to retain their natural looks, but bridge them with the mainstream American appearance. I personally agree with her on the fact that more and more young Asians are getting their faces done. People in younger generations, who are in middle school or high school, and also their parents, accept and believe that earlier they get ‘work done’, the more natural look they look they will have as they grow. And it is very common nowadays get plastic (cosmetic) surgery as a graduation or birthday gift from adults.

Both insights from Edmonds and Bagala, have one thing in common: the tendency of plastic surgery seekers to conform with ‘appearance myths’ in their respective societies. Appearing in a way that conforms to the ‘myth’ improves the seekers’ self-esteem as they move up the social ladder or attempt to fit into contemporary culture. As long as plastic surgery continues to be a psychological issue largely influenced by the ethnographic differences of the society, it is likely to may not end soon.  Furthermore, it is also bolstered by the market economy with massive influential marketing techniques. It is quite difficult to regulate the cosmetics industry without infringing on people’s rights on their bodies.

References

Bagalawis-Simes, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-more-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Expansion of plastic surgery, a new era of beauty culture

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surge...

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surgery Procedure being Performed by Facial Plastic Surgeon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kiho Kozaki

Plastic surgery is a widespread phenomenon today, and is more popular and accepted than ever. Aman Garg once said that plastic surgery is a medical specialty concerned with the correction or restoration of form and function. Now some studies and surgeons insist that plastic surgery is the “correction” of facial features. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) conducted a survey which is the 17-year national data for procedures performed from 1997-2013, and during that period, there was a 279% increase in total number of plastic surgery both surgical and nonsurgical procedures. Though the statistic covers only procedures done in the United States, I assume that same result would be seen in elsewhere in the world.

The survey also shows that the plastic surgery’s popularity among racial and ethnic minorities, who had approximately 22% of all cosmetic procedures: African-Americans 7%, Asians 5%, Hispanics 8%, and other non-Caucasians 1%. The percentages vary depending on the studies, however, as a common observation, racial and ethnic minorities seem to seek out plastic surgery more than Caucasians.

Nadra Kareem Nittle, a race relations expert, said that is because minority groups still feel pressure to live up to Eurocentric beauty norms. They alter traits such as prominent noses or hooded eyelids. Moreover, weaves, wigs and skin whitening creams continue to enjoy mass appeal in communities of color. Then, this phenomenon of plastic procedures raises a question: do they undergo these procedures in order to look like Caucasians? Or just to gain self-esteem and to look good?

Since the standard of beauty seem to be a Westernized ideal, some people are dissatisfied with their ethnic features and believe they are ugly. Angie Rankman wrote that the appearance of mostly unattainable model normalizes certain body images, and then people perceived problems with their own features. The result is that many people are left with deep seated psychological insecurities about themselves and their body image, often resulting in unreasonable expectations in regard to cosmetic surgery.

As Alexander Edmonds, a lecturer of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, notes, mass media uses this ‘market value of appearance’. I argue that is not necessary to conclude that they want to look like Caucasians. Of course there is a big influence by mass media remaining people dissatisfied with their features and the desire for Caucasians may exist but that does always not mean they want to cross racial and ethnic lines. Some people may wish to, but I assume that majority of people still want to remain as who they are.

Dr. Samuel Lam, a plastic surgeon cited in Bagala’s article, called it ‘ethnic softening’. It means the softening of facial features that patients deemed overly ethnic but still preserving their ethnicities. Most of the patients are becoming more willing to work with their ethnic features rather than work against them.

Edmonds says there is a slippage between the national cultural notion of a ‘preference’ and a racial-biological notion of a ‘type.’ So, according to Edmonds, operations like breast surgeries can be linked to national but not racial identities.

Plastic procedures are much complicated that we cannot simply conclude why it gets more popular than ever among racial/ethnic minorities. Now, we are in the era of expansion of beauty culture. Though patients who underwent plastic procedures may insist that was their personal choice, and that they wanted to look better to boost their self-esteem, it is not simple as they insist. We should note that their assumptions and beliefs may be constructed from deep-rooted national cultural norms, racial-biological norms and certain expectations of appearance. Right now we are in the middle of seeking a new way of accepting and dealing with the widespread beauty norms.

References

American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. (2013). 2013 ASAPS Statistics: Complete charts [Including National Totals, Percent of Change, Gender Distribution, Age Distribution, National Average Fees, Economic, Regional and Ethnic Information] http://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/Stats2013_4.pdf

Bagala, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-m ore-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Garg, A. (n. d.). Plastic Surgery. Cite lighter. http://www.citelighter.com/science/medicine/knowledgecards/plastic-surgery.

Nittle, K, N. (n. d.). Race, Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Procedures. About News.  http://racerelations.about.com/od/diversitymatters/tp/Race-Plastic-Surgery-An d-Cosmetic-Procedures.htm

Rankman, A. (2005). Obsessed With Beauty: The Rush To Cosmetic Surgery. Aphrodite Women’s health. http://www.aphroditewomenshealth.com/news/cosmetic_surgery.shtml