Symbiosis in the World of Beauty: The Cosmetics Industry and the Western Beauty Ideal

English: Super Skin Lightener skin lightening ...

English: Super Skin Lightener skin lightening cream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kyungyeon Chung

Upon walking into a drug store in Japan, one will find an array of cosmetic products that promises hopeful transformation into what today’s Japanese society perceives as beauty. These end results the products promise – fairer, whiter skin, brighter teeth, bigger eyes, and longer eye lashes – all embodying the ideal that originated from the Western, Caucasian-centric beauty standards.

The cosmetics industry, even on a global scale, operates on the platform provided by Western standards of beauty, and especially by the colorism ideology that has penetrated into deep corners of modern society. At the same time, the beauty ideal and colorism are not self-sustaining. Their presence and growing prevalence are made possible by numerous industries that profit from the growth, with the cosmetic industry being a major stakeholder in play. By constantly being made to consume products designed with a limited set of objectives and outcome, the consumers are constantly reminded of the beauty ideals behind the products. The global cosmetics industry and the Western beauty standards based on colorism, mutually reinforce each other’s existence and influence.

In order to fully understand the core of modern society’s beauty standards, it is imperative to know the colorism ideology that frames the entire discourse. Colorism refers to “the preference for lighter skin and social hierarchy based on skin tone”, and has been widely expanding throughout the globe (Glenn, 2009, p.166). Being one of the main axes behind inequality today, it occurs at societal, systemic level through social structure that permits systematic discrimination towards darker skinned people. In many different regions and nations around the world, light skin tone has historically been preferred to dark skin tone, and given higher social status and easier access to social and economic resources (Keith, 2009, p.25). Although the beauty ideal does include other phenotypic aspects than skin complexion such as desirable weight, body shape, and facial structures, skin tone does hold significant importance, if not the most.

This ideology of colorism has been directly translated into the Western beauty ideals. Up high on the list of what composes the ideals is ‘fair’ skin. Having lighter, fairer, and whiter skin gives a great advantage in one’s life, and is central to the very definition of beauty. Having been spread as part of the ideological rationale for slavery and colonial imperialism of the European powers (Keith, 2009, p.27), the “white is better” or “white is right” idea still pervades modern societies thanks to mass media. Today, these ideologies are strongly embedded in ways we admire, desire, and look upon fair skin. Its importance can be easily understood and highlighted by the popular practice of skin whitening, which will be elaborated further later. It is also important to note here that females are subjected to these standards much more frequently and strictly than males (Keith, 2009).

In modern societies with capitalist economic system, the beauty standards manifest themselves as profitable industries whose products promise the achievement of ideal beauty via consumption. As societies are deeply instilled with consumerism, selling and buying beauty have been a huge, popularly sought-after business than ever. Plastic surgery is one of the most common and provocative examples. Cosmetic surgeries have spiked up in number and scale around the world: 14 million surgery procedures were performed in the US in 2011 (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2012); close to 7% of the population has undergone knife in South Korea in 2010 (Bates, 2013). A wide range diet-support programs, machines, and food products are readily available to help people lose weight.

Among many industries that thrive on our search for beauty, the cosmetics industry deserves particular attention. For instance, unlike plastic surgery, which may seem invasive, dangerous and rather extreme, putting on makeup is seldom-questioned practice for women. While showing up at school after a holiday with larger breasts may cause a stir, putting on mascara would hardly be an issue. For many, it is a daily routine, an ordinary and even expected behavior. It is also continuous – women who use skin care products will probably continue to do so for years to come. While it may seem trivial at first, considering the commonality and regularity of skin care and makeup, the cosmetics industry is massive, universally pervasive, and commercially successful.

The cosmetics industry owes much of its existence and enduring popularity to the beauty standards. An impressive array of products is available to help people achieve beauty as prescribed by the Western ideal. Eye makeup products are a great example. A dozen different types of products are readily available to make one’s eyes look bigger and more defined: mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, eyelash curler, eyebrow shaper, highlighter, etc. In East Asia in particular, the desire to have the Western look has also led to the popularity of double eyelid (Bates, 2013). In Korean and Japanese cosmetics shops, one can easily find glue or sticker-like products that hold the skin of upper eyelid together, creating an illusive double-lid. For those unwilling to undergo surgical procedures to create double eyelids, those products are a way to go.

Yet, the segment within the cosmetics industry that is perhaps the most influenced by, shaped by, and reflective of the Western ideals, is skin whitening products. Colorism has effectively produced a social view that associates whiteness with superiority and darkness with primitiveness, something to be avoided and fixed. In her book Shades of Differences, Evelyn Nakano Glenn argues that light skin has come to hold symbolic capital that furthers one’s life chances (2009, p. 166). This relates to the concept of beauty queue in society, whereby the level of beauty and social status are judged by the shades of complexion, the lightest at the top and the darkest at the bottom. For such reason, men and women from all parts of the world have strived for lighter complexion by consuming copious amounts of skin whitening products, supporting a multibillion-dollar global industry.

In the Asia Pacific region, the skin lightening market was valued at over US$13 billion in 2012 (Tan, 2012). In African continent, studies have found that up to 50% of population use skin lightening products in Dakar, Senegal; and even up to 77% in Lagos, Nigeria (Ntambwe, 2004). Almost all major cosmetic brands have a product line specifically dedicated to brightening care: Estée Lauder’s ‘CyberWhite’, Shiseido’s ‘White Lucent’, Clarins’s ‘Bright Plus’, Vichy’s ‘BiWhite’, Chanel’s ‘Le Blanc’. The list is endless. The prevalence and magnitude of the industry indicate how the widespread Western ideal of beauty and reverence for lighter skin tone has led to increasing demand for skin whitening products. The unabated expansion of the skin whitening products is a clear manifestation of colorism in action.

The highly interrelated relationship between the cosmetics industry and the Western beauty ideal can also be traced back from the other way around. The cosmetics industry work to constantly and persistently reinforce the ideal into the mindset of people, making it into an accepted social norm. Commercials by cosmetic firms continuously remind the consumers of what they should look like, and thus eventually what they should consume in order to achieve the said goals. These commercials tactically employ models that will spark the feeling of desire, which make the viewers think the goal – of looking like the model – is attainable. In essence, the models will look Caucasian enough to fit the White beauty standard, yet still possess enough ‘local’ features not to alienate the viewers too much. For instance, in Japan, half-Japanese and half-Caucasian models have rose to prominence for such reasons, brining the ‘ha-fu boom’ in entertainment and media (Krieger, 2010). In such manner, the constant bombardment of strategically produced advertisements on TV, magazines, and in shops, works to ensure the beauty ideal is here to stay.

As seen in the case of skin whitening products, the industry ushers consumers to fix their blemishes and dark spots, to get rid of undesirable features, and to become closer to the ideal beauty. Prominent cosmetic manufactures reveal supposedly bettered, new products every season. The products are ‘upgraded’ in a sense that they claim to produce better results, such as longer eyelashes, darker eye lines, more durability, brighter effects, to name a few. Consumers absorb such ideas: those results are good; those results are better; those results are what they should seek after. Through this process, the beauty standard gets repeatedly ingrained in the subconscious of society as a whole.

There is a wide range of factors at play that help maintain the global obsession with the White ideal of beauty, and especially that of light skin tone. One of the perpetuators is the cosmetics industry. In modern capitalist economy in which consumerism has become the social norm, the cosmetics industry prospers, thanks to the consumers’ ceaseless quest for beauty as dictated by the Western ideal. The quest for fairer skin, in particular, embodies the reality of colorstruck world – to borrow Verna Keith’s words – where colorism is firmly established as part of social structure.

The cosmetics industry and the White beauty ideals function as lifeline to each other. The ideals condition society for the industry to profit from, while the industry works to reinforce the ideals. It is a mutually interdependent, symbiotic relationship. If we want to start tackling the racially charged foundation behind the White ideal of beauty, we must first understand how it is perpetuated and internalized by consumption of products that cement the said ideal. Only when both ends are understood and questioned, can the process of deconstructing the colorstruck world begin.


  1. American Society of Plastic Surgeons (2012, September 2). 13.8 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed in 2011. Retrieved from:
  2. Bates, C. (2013, January 31). 15 million people worldwide had plastic surgery in 2011. Daily Mail Online. Retrieved from:–SOUTH-KOREA-leading-way.html
  3. Glenn, E. N. (2009). Consuming lightness. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters. (pp. 166-187). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  4. Keith, V. (2009). A colorstruck world. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters. (pp. 25-39). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  5. Krieger, D. (2010, November 29). The whole story on being ‘hafu’. CNN. Retrieved from:
  6. Ntambwe, M. (2004, March). Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Science in Africa. Retrieved from:
  7. Tan, D. (2012, September 18). Who’s the fairest of them all? Asian Scientist. Retrieved from: 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Skin-Lightening Products in China

by Yuan Mingyang

Rondilla (2009) analyzed the influence of the advertisements of multinational cosmetics companies on the colorism in the Philippines. The company that Rondilla examined, L’Oreal, also has its market in mainland China. Therefore, this paper aims to do a similar study on the cosmetic advertisements of the multinational companies in mainland China, and to analyze whether these advertisements in China have a similar influence on the racial discourse in China as they have on the Filipinos according to Rondilla.

The method of this post is to analyze the websites and the advertisements on the websites of According to Dalal (2002), early definition and classification of race usually include the concept of skin color, and what’s more, “colour becomes synonymous with the notion of race” (p. 18). Rondilla (2009) also discussed about the colorism in the Philippines by analyzing the skin-lightening advertisements, but the cause of colorism is a little bit different from what Dalal discussed. The preference for light skin tone also has a long history in China. According to Leong (2006), there are many kinds of folk remedies to lighten one’s skin color in China, for example, drinking a small amount of pearl powder with water everyday (p. 167). Light skin tone shows “elegance and nobility” in China (Ibid, p. 167).

The desire for light skin tone still prevails in China, as well as many other Asian countries, while a favor of tanned skin appears in the West (Leong, 2006). It might be hard to argue that the contemporary desire for light skin color in China is a legacy from the past or a result of colonialism. Two factors may have great influence on the skin-lightening ideology in contemporary China. The first factor that should be noticed is the role of the Communist Party on skin-lightening before the economic reform in the 1980s. According to Hopkins (2007), the Communist Party at that time “rejected displays of difference of any kind, including gender” (p. 289). The uses of almost all kinds of cosmetic products are prohibited (Ibid). Therefore, skin-lightening products should also have been prohibited during this period, for decades. As a result, the recent desire for light skin might be a new one which emerged after the economic reform in the 1980s.

The second factor is the economic reform in the 1980s. According to Hopkins (2007), the cosmetic industry thrived after the economic reform, especially after China became a member of the WTO, which allowed more multinational cosmetics companies to invest in mainland China. Appearance became more and more important for women, and the cosmetic products started to entail new symbolic values (Ibid). Women use these products in order to “look modern and worldly” (Ibid, p. 302), which shows that the desire for light skin tone in contemporary China is representing some new values coming after the reform, which may be probably influenced by foreign countries and globalization.

Therefore, it is reasonable to discuss about the role of racism, as a result of foreign influences after the 1980s, on the skin-lightening fashion in China. Rondilla (2009) pointed out an ideal model of beauty to be Asian and global in the same time. Hopkins (2007) argued Chinese women use cosmetics to be global. This paper aims to prove the statements made by Rondilla and Hopkins in the context of China, with the concern of a potential racial discourse in China. In the first part, the advertisements of three multinational cosmetics companies on their websites in mainland China and the websites themselves will be examined with some of the criteria used by Barnes et al. (2004) in their research on cosmetics advertising in China. The three companies, Shiseido from Japan, L’Oreal from France, and Estee Lauder from the US, are from different parts of the worlds. Therefore, if they are using similar strategies to attract the costumers in China, a general identity of the dominant social values and criteria of beauty believed by most of the Chinese people can be drawn from these advertisements and websites.

In the second part, the findings in the first part will be compared to the similar researches on foreign advertisements in Hong Kong by Leong (2006), and in the Philippines by Rondilla (2009). The second part aims to detect the racial discourse in the advertisements in China by referring to similar researches in other Asian countries. The second part will also give a general image of the role that the multinational cosmetic companies plays in the ideology of light skin tone in China, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

Advertisements of Multinational Companies in China

At first glance, one could see from the layout of the websites of the three companies, Shiseido, L’Oreal, and Estee Lauder, that the main targets of these companies are women. Most of the products are for women, and if a product is for men, it will be put under a special genre. Products for men usually have the word “men” noted in the title, while there is usually no “women” in the title of the products for women. Also, the advertisements for skin-lightening products prevail in the section of skin protection. On the contrary, there seems to be no product for tanning in these websites. As for the best sellers of these websites, the products for skin-lightening have a place in the lists of both Shiseido and Estee Lauder, while L’Oreal does not have a ranking list. Therefore, the assumption of the multinational cosmetics companies in China, when they are making the advertisements and the websites, may be that women are more willing to buy their products, and almost all of them want light skin color.

As for the models in the cosmetic advertisements, Rondilla (2009) stated that using models “racially ambiguous” is very usual in Asia, since they “have global appeal” (p. 71). In the same time, mix-raced models can also fulfill the need to look Asian (Ibid). A similar phenomenon may be found in the websites of foreign companies in China. Estee Lauder seems to prefer to use western models in its website, which can be considered to be a sign of modernity and globality, which proved the statement made by Hopkins (2007) that women purchase cosmetics to look global and modern. On the other hand, that L’Oreal tend to use both Chinese and Western models, which reflects the statement made by Rondilla, shows that the advertisements are stressing both an Asian face and global feature of the products. The study of Barnes et al. (2004) also showed the similar result that the ethnicity of the models usually does not matter, but Asian models are slightly more preferred by Chinese than Western models are. Therefore, most of the Chinese people may accept both Chinese and global faces, but a little bit more prefer their own identities.

Perception of Skin Tone in China, Hong Kong, and the Philippines

This section aims to analyze the racial discourse in China by comparing it to that in Hong Kong and the Philippines. The reason these two countries are chosen is that China has posed some influences on the criteria of beauty in Hong Kong (Leong, 2006) and the Philippines (Rondilla, 2009). For the Filipinos, they use skin-lightening products not to look like westerners but to look like East Asians (Rondilla, 2009, p. 63), in spite of the fact that the image is influenced by Westerners. Rondilla also mentioned a rise of Chinese in the Philippines, which may further reinforce the notion that light skin tone is better and represents higher status. As for Hong Kong, Leong described it as a place where both Chinese and Western values exists.

The colorism in the Philippines that Rondilla (2009) analyzed may have been influenced by other Asian countries, but in the same time it may also influenced these nations in reverse, but as role of the discriminated ones. Leong (2006) noticed the “scale of whiteness” (p. 172) in Hong Kong. In this scale, the skin tone of Japanese and Chinese women are on the top, and the skin tone of Filipinos and people from some of other Asian countries is considered to be dark and is often described as “coarse” (Ibid, p. 172). Leong (2006) pointed out that “social groups such as the Filipinos and Indonesians were the target for much of the participants’ biases throughout their discussions of whiteness and skin tones” (p. 174). The skin tone of Caucasians is also not preferred by Chinese people in Hong Kong (Ibid). Similar phenomenon may also exist in mainland China, since Leong claimed the Chinese values in Hong Kong. With the findings of Barnes et al. (2004) that mainland Chinese people prefer Chinese models in cosmetics advertisements, one can draw a conclusion that in East Asia and Southeast Asia where China has a strong influence, Chinese or Japanese like skin tone rather than Caucasian like skin tone is on the top of the hierarchy, and people from Philippine might be the ones who are discriminated in the skin tone hierarchy in Asia.

As for the logic under the advertisements of the foreign companies and their role in the racial hierarchy, which is close to what Leong (2006) defined as the “scale of whiteness” (p. 172), Leong argued that they are creating “the myth of whiteness”, which emphasizes “purification” and “whiteness” (p. 171). Hopkins (2007) suggested the advertisements seek help from a pre-existing notion that whiteness means less working under the sun in China, which means high social status, in order to make a preferred model and let costumers believe the importance of their products (p. 302). Rondilla (2009) stressed a racial discourse which comes from the colonial period promoted by the advertisements of multinational companies. The existing racial discourse is merged with and reinforced by the colonial racial discourse promoted by multinational companies. The pre-existing preference for light skin tone, the skin tone hierarchy resulted from the interaction between different Asian countries, and the role of the cosmetics companies in spreading a colonial ideology may all have contributed to the construction of the racial discourse in contemporary China, which turns out to be a preference for light skin tone on the surface. The multinational companies are expected to stabilize, reinforce, and promote this racial discourse, when they “attempt to cater to specific markets” (Rondilla, 2009, p. 80), and “promote an ideal” (Hopkins, 2007, p. 302).

This paper aims to analyze the racial discourse in China influenced by the multinational cosmetic companies. The first section analyzed the advertisements on the websites of three multinational cosmetics companies, Shiseido, L’Oreal, and Estee Lauder, in mainland China. The result proved the statement of Hopkins (2007) that Chinese women use cosmetics to be modern and global. The result also contains a racial discourse that white skin tone is considered better by Chinese people. The second section stressed the role of multinational companies in reinforcing an existing skin color discourse as well as creating a new racial discourse as in China. Other factors are also discussed about in this section, while we can still see that the multinational cosmetic companies contribute much to the colorism in contemporary China.


  1. Barnes, B. R., Kitchen, P. J., Spickett-Jones, G, & Yu, Q. (2004). Investigating the impact of international cosmetics advertising in China. International Journal of Advertising, 23(3), 361-387.
  2. Dalal, F. (2002). Race, colour and the process of racialization: New perspectives from group analysis, psychoanalysis and sociology. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
  3. Hopkins, B. E. (2007). Western cosmetics in the gendered development of consumer culture in China. Feminist Economics, 13(3-4), 287-306. doi: 10.1080/13545700701439416
  4. Leong, S. (2006). Who’s the fairest of them all? Television ads for skin-whitening cosmetics in Hong Kong. Asian Ethnicity, 7(2), 167-181. doi: 10.1080/14631360600736215
  5. Rondilla, J. L. (2009). Filipinos and the color complex: Ideal Asian beauty. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 63-80). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Colorism and Discrimination in Japan’s Marriage Scene

Kiyohara no Natsuno (清原夏野) was a Japanese Heia...

Kiyohara no Natsuno (清原夏野) was a Japanese Heian era courtier and bureaucrat.This picture was drawn by Kikuchi Yosai(菊池容斎) who was a painter in Japan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Seimu Yamashita

The concept of “white supremacy” has spread almost everywhere around the world, along with colonization. This concept of deeming lighter skin as better has been problematized since it contains aspects of racial discrimination, compared to other physical traits, such as height. This paper will deal with colorism, which can be a form of racial discrimination, but is simply discrimination according to skin color. It is not common to find a distinct lighter skin color preference or privilege in Japan like that in India, possibly because of its mostly homogeneous population. However, a preference for a fair complexion as a form of beauty still exists in Japan. This paper will address colorism in Japan by looking at Japan’s marriage scene, which is assumed to have a clear connection with colorism. This paper will analyze how Japan’s marriage scene relates to the concept of white supremacy, addressing how fair complexions are preferred over other skin colors, and treated as a trait of beauty in women.

The first part of this essay will describe the history of fair skin as a beauty trait in Japan. The second part of essay will explain Japan’s marriage scene, and the role fair complexions play in the shifting scene. The third part of the essay will describe how there is still a preference for fair skin in modern Japanese society. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn by comparing the situation of the preference for fair complexions in Japan with other multi-racial countries.

It is crucial to know the origin of the preference for fair skin in Japan. White skin is actually a traditional concept of beauty, with the notion of fair complexions as beautiful in Japan started in the Heian Era, from 794AD to 1192AD (Graham-Diaz, 2001). The reason for the preference of fair skin back then is quite different from today. The lifestyles of rich, noble women who were considered sophisticated and classy during the Heian Era consisted of just staying indoors in their residence without going outside, waiting for the men to be back. In this era, it was semi-dark inside the residence even during the daytime and there was not enough light at night thus women needed to have extremely white complexions, so that the face would stand out and be attractive in such environment where there is not enough light. That is why the tradition of putting powder on their face to make it look white began. White powder thus became a common make-up to look beautiful in the Heian Era. However, the trend of applying heavy make-up on the face did not last long, and died out after the Heian period. It was in the Edo era (1603AD to 1868AD) that such make-up became popular again. This style of make-up still remains in Japan on maiko and geisha who are now symbolic of the traditional city of Kyoto (Graham-Diaz, 2001). Although the standard of other physical preferences in Japan differed in different times of history, women with fair complexion have been always preferred, not just during the Heian and Edo periods.

In this second part the focus will shift to Japan’s marriage scene, which is a great scene to view the preference of fair complexions even through the many shifts and changes over time. In Japan, there have been two types of marriage: arranged marriage s and love marriages. Although more than 90 percent of today’s marriages in Japan are love marriages, arranged marriages were more common until a few decades ago. Data show that the shift of the percentage from arranged marriages to love marriages in Japan has been dramatic. Arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% in the 1930s, but the proportion of love marriages gradually increased, whilst arranged marriage decreased relatively. The number of love marriages surpassed the number of arranged marriages only recently in the 1960s (National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center, n.d.).

The traditional Japanese style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a written profile with a picture called tsurigaki is used as a marriage resume that helps find a marriage partner (Hendry, 1981). A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find a good partner for them either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki other matchmakers have. The matchmakers pass the tsurigaki to the potential couple, and if they are interested, they can arrange a meeting.

In miai, there has been racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of hibakusha, those who were exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases (Uchida, 2002). Due to such discrimination, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.

There was also a preference for women with a fair complexion; however, this did not mean people of darker complexions could not participate in miai. The existence of a preference for a white skin was because of its beauty, and a belief that can be seen from an Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults (Old Proverb Dictionary, n.d.). It is basically saying that as long as a woman has fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults. Thus even if a woman’s other features are not considered beautiful, having a fair complexion is the most important in determining her beauty.

This third part will address a preference for a fair skin in modern Japanese society. As stated in the introduction, it is not really common to feel and find white supremacy recent days in Japan. As can be seen by the explanation of white skin as form of traditional beauty, this may be because white skin is not associated with Europeans or being a different race. It only means having a fair complexion compare to everyone else in society who are mostly Japanese. As the form of marriage shifted to love marriage and people desperately look for love, the online matching site became popular in Japan (Tokuhiro, 2010). Getting deeper into the online world, more casual version of matching site, online dating sites also appeared. People especially young generation use the site to meet new people. On the website, they make profile for other people to look at. Thus, modern days tsurigaki is online and more casual. Same as a miai picture, a picture is important for the profile to give good impression on both matching site and online dating site.

Recently, girls use apps to edit their photos to make them more attractive. For example, they make their face look whiter and make their eyes bigger. Another type of edited photo that is used for profile is purikura. Purikura is a type of photo that is popular among girls in Japan.

Purikura automatically edits the people to look prettier. For example, it makes eyes bigger, makes legs longer, and sharpens chin and nose. The most obvious change purikura makes is the skin. It makes skin look brighter and whiter. Those effects of purikura reflect a physical preference for women. Hence, recently in Japan, we can acknowledge the existence of a fair complexion for women by looking at technology.

In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene for example, in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists. This may be because it is a relatively homogenous society, so everyone has a similar level of skin colour, whereas in India, there are different races that have differences in complexions. In Japan, the concept of white skin as beautiful has existed since the Heian period in the 1st century, and still exists today as can be seen in the purikura machines that automatically make girls have features that they believe are beautiful. The marriage scene reflected how women’s beauty were determined only by how fair their skin was, and how having darker skin put a woman at a disadvantage of being wanted as a bride, which in the end, is not so different to the discrimination in a country like India.


  1. Graham-Diaz, N. (2001). Make-Up of Geisha and Maiko. Immortal Geisha. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from
  2. Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from
  4. Old Proverb Dictionary. (n.d.). Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu(A fair complexion hides faults). Retrieved January 4, 2014, from
  5. Tokuhiro, Y. (2010). Marriage in contemporary Japan. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  6. Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from
Enhanced by Zemanta

Flower Men of Korea

by Lilia Yamakawa

“Beauty” and what one considers beautiful depend a lot on a person’s own culture and ethnicity. On the streets of Korea, it is not unusual to find Flower Men (FMs), called “kkotminam” (“flower handsome men”). You will know them by their pretty and “soft masculinity” and by their attention to the way they look. They are willing to spend a lot of time and money on their appearance and lifestyle. They may use make-up and other beauty products, pluck their eyebrows, manicure their nails, gel and style their hair, get facials, get massages, and even have cosmetic surgery. They are also associated with soft speech and traits such as gently caring for their families. They are seen as being pure and innocent, and they are very polite. In this report, I will examine some of the reasons to explain the Flower Man boom.

First, the boom is part of the larger global phenomenon of the “metrosexual” male, which has spread throughout both the East and the West. The metrosexual man is one who takes care of his physical appearance through means that were once considered feminine. The FM is just one example of this wide global trend. The East Asian metrosexual trend is so prominent that Time magazine did a cover story on it in 2005. Ling Liu wrote in this article:

A few years ago it may have been considered sissy for a guy to be fussy about his clothing and appearance. Real men demanded the world accept them on their own uncouth, unkempt terms. But in Asia nowadays, the definition of masculinity is undergoing a makeover – and narcissism is in, thanks to economic growth, higher disposable incomes, shifting gender roles, and fashion and cosmetics industries eager to expand their customer bases. No longer content to be the drabber sex, Asian males are preening like peacocks, perming, plucking and powering themselves to perfection in an effort to make themselves more attractive to their bosses, their peers and, of course, to women.

Although the boom is worldwide, it seems that Korean Flower Men have taken it to a further extreme than men of any other ethnic group and nationality. In 2013, South Korean men spent roughly $900 million on skincare. This was almost one-fourth of sales worldwide for men’s skin care. There are many salons and spas just for men that offer hair, facials, massages, and other procedures. Plastic surgery is also common, and there are also a number of clinics that cater solely to men. In 2013, Korean Air began training male staff to use beauty products (Fujita 2005).

The FM phenomenon itself began in the 1990s, around the time the Korean government began to allow more pop culture from Japan to come into the country (in 1998). Many manga and anime, which were previously hard to find, could now be bought and read in public. Young male actors and singers, especially in the boy bands, began to look like Japanese and Korean manga and anime characters, especially those in “girls’ comics” or “shojo manga” where the ideal image of a male is “bishonen” or “beautiful boy.” The flow of media between Korea and Japan also included tv dramas, cinema, and advertising (Sun 2010). The “yaoi” type of manga, which became very popular in Korea, is also said to be a big influence on the FM trend. The men in these manga often look like elves or fairies, and they are soft, sweet, and sensitive.

Up to the 1990’s the popular image of male beauty in Korea was a rather macho-type man. Since then, the soft male type has become much more popular. Two groups of FBs best exemplify the phenomenon today. One is the Korean boy band DBSK of idols. The other is the Korean tv drama called “Boys Over Flowers.” It was based on the Japanese manga and anime called “Hana yori dango” and was broadcast in Korea in 2009. It is a typical shojo Cinderella story of a poor high school girl who is befriended by the four richest, most handsome boys in the school, the F4. It became super popular in Korea, and later, in many other Asian countries including Japan. With “Boys Over Flowers”, the male image of the “kkotminam” became even more popular in Korea. More and more males aspired to look soft and gentle and pretty. Men’s fashion came to include pinks and floral prints, and cute “boyish” hairstyles with long bangs became the rage (Lee 2010).

Advertising has played an important role in spreading the FM image. Cosmetics companies have been very eager to sell cosmetics to this whole new group of buyers. Large areas of department stores are now devoted to men’s beauty care. Famous idols and actors, including members of both the DBSK and the F4, are used to advertise men’s beauty products. More and more men in Korea aspire to look like these idols.

The Korean economy is very strong now. This makes it possible for many Korean men to spend their money on personal beauty. With the economic power they become more confident, and more men want to look good even if it costs them.

A major reason for the “kkonminam” craze is that men want to look good to be competitive in the job market. They want to have “the right face”, which looks youthful, lively, friendly, and upper-class. Job applicants must send in photographs with their applications. Many Koreans believe that a person’s character can be read in the face, and even that their looks are more important than their skills (Jeffreys 2007).

Historically, Korean is a country ruled by strong Confucian ideals, which emphasize taking care of and making both the mind and the body strong. It is said that one reason for the “hallyu” (“hanryu” or “Korean Wave”) throughout East Asia is that the men are good-looking but show “a lack of profanity and sex, as befitting Confucian morals” (Maliangkay 2010).

David Coad believes that sports figures, such as David Beckham have been important in popularizing the metrosexual and the FB trend. They stand for traditional masculinity in their sports skills, but they also take care of their personal appearance in ways that were once thought feminine. The long-haired Korean soccer player, Ahn Jung-Hwan became very popular at the 2002 World Cup. He is known not only for his soccer skills, but also for his looks and his actions that show a softer side of men. He kissed his wedding ring after winning a major game. Then, he went on to advertise men’s liquid foundation. Coad writes:

The immediately obvious hyper-masculine and generally assumed heterosexual status of most sportsmen has been vital in changing attitudes about exposing, eroticizing, and taking care of the male body. Without some of the most celebrated heterosexual athletes in the world endorsing and embodying different facets of metrosexuality it is uncertain if masculinity norms would have changed so rapidly in so many different cultures. Metrosexuality, in a way, is indebted to sportsmen for its very existence. (Coad 2008)

Some people believe the most important reason the FM phenomenon is spreading throughout Korea, but especially in urban areas, is that women like it.  Bae Yong-joon, who was so popular in the tv drama “Autumn Sonata”, is also well liked among somewhat older Korean women. His popularity is based on his character in the drama which was soft looking, passionate, sincere, and polite. James Turnbull, who writes for The Korea Times, has an interesting theory about the origins of the FM.

When focusing on men, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that it is actually women’s changing tastes in them that drive changes in their fashions and grooming jabits, and accordingly it ultimately proves to be married Korean women in the late-1990s that are responsible for flower men’s origins. (Turnbull 2009)

Turnbull goes on to explain that during the “IMF Crisis” of 1997, many more women were laid off from their companies than men were because it was assumed that their husbands could support them. They had only recently gotten the legal right to not be fired upon marriage. Then they were encouraged by society to support “Korean’s hardworking men” to help get through the crisis. He says that many women, at this time, started to reject “the ideals of men as strong, provider types, and it is no coincidence that a sudden glut of movies appeared featuring romances between older women and younger men, and that this was when the first, identifiable, flower men began appearing in advertising too.” Korean women wanted men who were more interested in satisfying them than their companies (Turnbull 2009).

It is obvious that many females from mid-teens to their 30s also like the FM. They fill social media sites with comments about popular singers and actors. They use various interesting words to describe the men: pretty, sweet looking, a hootie, cute, looks like a pretty girl, etc. One blogger on Korean pop culture expresses what seem to be the views of many young women:

So why do flower boys act like women? There is only one answer to this. Because their fans love it. I guess there is something about a handsome man trying to act like a woman which makes them even more endearing. Somehow, there is an inexplicable and irresistible urge that makes women want to pinch flower boys’ cheeks every time they do their “cute acts”…flower boys are pretty to look at and they are cute and entertaining. But, why are they so popular? The ultimate reason, I believe, is that flower boys represent certain qualities of a man women look for – a man unafraid to explore his soft side…his emotional side and admit that he is vain after all. (Deen 2011)

About those pretty cheeks the women want to pinch, many times they might be pretty as a result of plastic surgery. The Korean Association for Plastic Surgeons estimated that in 2010 approximately 15% of Korean men had plastic surgery. The Korean Herald reported that 44% of male college students were considering plastic surgery (“Think plastic surgery” 2013).

In an excellent article on cosmetic surgery in Korea, Ruth Holliday and Jo Hwang point out that plastic surgery is popular and accepted in Korean society. The former president of Korea, among many other famous people have had work done on their faces. They write that “the body emerges as a site for negotiating and reinforcing national identity.” After1945, Koreans wanted to look more western in order to look very different from the Japanese colonizers. Later, they wanted to embrace their Koreanness by consulting with fortune tellers of physiognomy to find out what is their particular auspicious face. Surgeons and physiognomists often work together in the clinics. A survey found that 7 of 10 Koreans approve of plastic surgery, and even more say they would do it if they had the money. The government supports plastic surgery tourism, does not control the industry strictly, and even approves of it through the insurance program in many cases. With plastic surgery accepted so widely in Korea, it is not surprising that men are commonly having surgery on their eyelids to make them look bigger, on their noses to make them more pointed, and on their jaws to make them look less angular. Liposuction to suck out fat is also popular among men. (Holliday & Hwang n.d.)

The Flower Man as a positive male image partly has its origins in the worldwide metrosexual trend and in Japanese manga and anime. It is, however, uniquely Korean. It was made popular by the “soft masculinity” of pop idols and actors in dramas. It has been promoted by advertising of cosmetic firms who want to open up and make money in the new market of male beauty aids. This happened just at a time when the Korean economy was relatively strong. The Korean job market is very competitive, and appearance is important. Nonsexual boys fit in with traditional Confucian ideals. Sportsmen have shown that a man can be traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine at the same time. Some women want men to be a mixture of male and female, more androgynous, and not masculine Rambo types. Finally, striving for ideal beauty (and the range of what is considered “beauty” seems to be quite narrow in Korea) and using means such as plastic surgery to get it has been a part of the Korean culture for a long time. Procedures such as cosmetic surgery are readily accepted by the general public.

South Korea is a country with a military draft. All men must serve in the military for at least one year. Some men said they started using face creams as soldiers because they wanted protection in the sunshine. It is even possible to buy a set of camouflage face paint, healthier for the skin than the usual, to wear during military service. (Ling 2012) This shows that the traditionally male identity and the newer Flower Man identity are blending well in Korean society.


  1. Coad, David. (2008). The metrosexual: Gender, sexuality and sport . (p. 196). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  2. Deen, Catherine. (2011, November 30). Understanding the lure of ‘flower boys’. Retrieved from
  3. Fujita, Akiko. (2005, October 28). South Korean men cosmetics-crazed. Retrieved from
  4. Holiday, Ruth, & Jo Hwang. (n.d.). Gender, globalization and aesthetic surgery in south korea. Retrieved from 
  5. Jeffreys, Daniel. (2007, April 28). Koreans go under the knife in a cut-throat race for jobs. Retrieved from ww&gws_rd=cr&ei
  6. Lee, H. (2010). Men, be beautiful for spring, summer. Retrieved from…/199_39427.html
  7. Liu, Ling. (2005, October 28). Asia’s metrosexuals: Mirror, mirror…. Retrieved from
  8. Maliangkay, Roald. (2010). The effeminacy of male beauty in korea. Retrieved from
  9. Sun, J. (2010). Pan-east asian soft masculinitity: Reading boys over flowers, coffee prince and shinhwa fan fiction. Retrieved from Currents/122/xhtml/frontmatter1.html
  10. Think plastic surgery is only popular with girls in Korea? Take a look at the guys – See more at:
  11. Turnbull, James. (2009). Flower men: the hot topic of 2009. Retrieved from
  12. Williamson, Lucy. (2012, December 3). South korean men get the make-up habit. Retrieved from

How could social media transform racism?

by Miho Tanaka

Could internet communications change the structure of race? The revolution of media has changed how people communicate and connect with the others, and forms of media have been constantly changing as internet technology has been developed. Internet communications have enabled us to communicate each other without borders. In other words, people have gotten unrestricted tools to get to know the others having far different cultures and backgrounds.

In this post, I attempt to discover the relevance between media and race and how the emergence of social media could make changes, especially in the United States. Therefore this post looks first at the development of media from tangible products to intangible services, secondly how race awareness or consciousness has been transforming as the forms of media have been changing, and thirdly some expectations that could positively or negatively influence race structure in relevance to the changes of media.

Development of media: Imagined communities

Media is one of the strongest tools to foster and penetrate some ideas, biases and stereotypes to its viewers and construct their perception toward their world. Newspapers, magazines and printed advertisements were the major media for the last centuries, however new types of media such as online media, social media and so forth have appeared in the last decade and these dynamically influence people’s lives. Jessie Daniels (2013) posted on Racism Review that newspapers used to play a role to function for creating “imagined communities” among those who engage with the communities. However Joanne L. Rondilla (2009) argues that globalization and technological advances have changed the formation of imagined communities (p.64-65). Rondilla borrows Hall’s description of globalization and cites that globalization is:

the process by which relatively separate areas of the globe come to intersect in a single imaginary “space”; when their respective histories are convened in a time-zone or time-frame dominated by the time of the West; when the sharp boundaries reinforced by space and distance are bridged by connections (travel, trade, conquest, colonization, markets, capital and the flows of labor, goods and profits) which gradually eroded the clear-cut distinction between “inside” and “outside.” (p. 64-65)

Online media has enabled us to shorten our communication style and has released the West-dominated time-frame. An imaginary space platform, in the case of online media, works as an intersection of people in different areas. She concluded that “globalization involves the flow of ideas, products, images, and so forth, that, through technological advances in the media, closes the gap between perceived differences among people” (p. 65). Considering how media has been changing especially in the 21st century the range of imagined communities must have expanded. Now social media has started to function just like newspapers, as people go to online in order to affirm their racial identity and to seek community around that identity (Daniels, ibid).

Media’s objectives

Popukin, Kabashima, and Taniguchi (2008) point out that public media controlled by national institution and private media owned by private companies take different roles (p.71). Public media seeks societal objectives including political and national purposes, since it considers the viewers or listeners as voters for next elections, while private media seeks profit since it considers the customers as buyers (ibid). As Harris (2009, p. 1) insists, racism is constituted through “economies of difference.” In other words, “economies of color” have great power over market capitalism. Before the emergences of social media, the messages of media were always sent from companies or institutions to consumers based on the senders’ objectives, which are often “selling more products and increasing revenue” or from public organizations to the supporters to achieve some kinds of political goals.

However social media totally broke the previous rule and now the senders of message also include individuals or users on the internet. They do not have to seek certain outcomes because they can send any messages even if they are not tied from some groups, therefore their messages might be sometimes emotional. Racial minorities also got a chance to speak out their feelings and experiences on the internet.

Changes of race awareness

Daniels clarified the fact that “people go online to affirm their identity and to find community, often along racial lines.” In 2009 the chart of popular social network sites shows was ranked in as 13th (Daniels, 2013). There are further more social networking sites focusing on the encouragement of African Americans and the other minority groups in the U.S. For instance, Atlanta Blackstar is one of the media which strives for becoming the central voice in black media. It applauds black peoples’ achievement and self-esteem, and simultaneously analyzes and reflects black culture or its representation in societies, which is often considered as a negative phenomenon.

Especially some media focusing on encouragement of isolated minorities such as and Atlanta Blackstar are considered an enhancement of self-esteem among them. According to Verna Keith, self-esteem is defined as “the evaluative dimension of the self” (2009, p.33) and borrowing Porter and Washington’s definition, it is “feelings of intrinsic worth, competence and self-approval rather than self-rejection and self-contempt” (ibid). Among black people in the United States, media would be used for both sides, in negative and positive ways. In negative ways it is used for accelerating black culture and its representation, and the images are often applied to all black people without considering characteristics of the individuals. However in positive way it could be used for encouraging themselves and applauding black culture and its experiences. In this case the idea of “double consciousness” would be related.

Double consciousness is presented by W. E. B. Du Bois and according to Craig (2009), the concept “provides a useful way to think about the interrelationships between white and black systems of representation” (p.84). Double consciousness is two dimensions of how black see their world from their view. One dimension is that blacks have to see themselves and judge themselves as whites see them, which describes the internalization of racist systems of representation. Another is an internalization of dominant views of oneself and a critical awareness of the structure of racism along with an ability to recognize the presence of racism (ibid, p.84-85).

Until the emergence of social media, only the former dimension had covered people’s viewd, but social media gave them an opportunity to share their second insight, a critical awareness of the structure of racism. If it might have been the great chance to recall black consciousness and lighten their self-esteem, what kind of positive aspects would appear?

Positive and negative aspects

Now this paper will look at whether the emergence of social media is positive or negative. Grasmuck, Martin, and Zhao (2009) explored racial issues which often come along with injustice frequently included by the African American, Latino, and Indian students on their Facebook wall. The authors theorize that these wall postings accelerate “a sense of group belonging, color consciousness, and identification with groups historically stigmatized by dominant society” (ibid). That means racism still occurs in social media.
However Daniels also examined that some dominant groups rarely signed up as their racial categorized group and they foster an idea of “racelessness” through it. In addition according to Popukin, Kabashima, and Kawaguchi, the internet doesn’t work for erasing racism and even ignorance is very dominant on the internet (p.64). Though the internet has been penetrated and larger number of people now have access to talk openly about issue of racism, the open network works not only to improve the issue but also to foster blindness toward racism and colorism.

Through this post, I have looked at the relationship between media and racism and how it has changed. As media has been developing, the racial awareness and consciousness has changed, however media could not only influence racism in positive way. In social networking sites and social media, people have started to get around with the others belonging in the same group but simultaneously race blindness and racelessness have gotten bigger power than before. Whether the feud between more powerful voices and encouragements which minorities got in social networking and racelessness that racial dominant group of people often foster would weaken or not will be the next challenge of racism we will face.


  1. Craig, Maxine Leeds. (2009). The color of an ideal negro beauty queen: miss bronze 1961-1968. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press (pp.81-94).
  2. Daniels, Jessie. (March 2nd, 2013). Race, Racism & Social Networking Sites: What the Research Tells Us. Retrieved on December 23, 2013 from
  3. Gordon, T., Jones, J. & Morris, S. (2014) Atlanta blackstar: about us.
  4. Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  5. Harris, Angela P. (2009). Introduction. In Glenn, N. E. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  6. Keith, Verna M. (2009). A colorstruck world: skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, CA : Stanford University Press.
  7. Popukin, L. S., Kabashima, I., & Taniguchi, M. (Eds.) (2008). Changing media, changing politics. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.
  8. Webb, L. S. (n.d.). How colorism affects light skinned girls and women. Retrieved on December 21, 2013 from
Enhanced by Zemanta

From arranged to love marriages in Japan

by Seimu Yamashita

I researched the relationship between Japan’s marriage scene and race and ethnicity by comparing the cases of Japan and India. The vast majority of marriages in India are arranged marriages, in which usually a family member initiates and determines the marriage partner. However, more than 90 percent of marriages in Japan are love marriages. If we look at the data showing the shift of the percentage of love marriages and arranged marriages in Japan, we see that arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% of all marriages in Japan in the 1930s. The proportion of love marriages gradually increased (and that of arranged marriage decreased relatively), surpassing arranged marriages in the 1960s.

Japanese-style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a profile with a picture, called tsurigaki, has been used as a marriage ad. It functions as a curriculum vitae for marriage. A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find its partner either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki that other matchmakers have.

In the miai process, there was racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido, were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of Hibakusha, those who were exposed to the radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases. Due to such discriminations, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.

There were preferences in ascribed characteristics such as class and family standing in miai. Moreover, in miai, there was a preference for women with a fair complexion, but not as much as India’s case. The existence of a preference for a white skin can be seen from Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults. It is basically saying that as long as a woman has a fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults.

In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists.


  1. National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from
  2. Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu (A fair complexion hides faults). (n.d.). Old Proverb Dictionary. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from
  4. Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from
Enhanced by Zemanta

The Role of Skin Tone in Konkatsu (Looking for a Marriage Partner)

by Mitsumi Yamamoto

In 2007 sociologist Masahiro Yamada proposed a new term “konkatsu” to describe the act of looking for a marriage partner (Yamada & Shirakawa, 2008). Konkatsu is an abbreviation of “kekkon katsudo”, which means marriage hunting. Since the first use of this term in a weekly journal AERA, there has been a big boom in konkatsu with mass media actively broadcasting about this phenomenon in Japan.

Today there are around 3,700 websites aimed to support people in konkatsu and Yahoo! has sponsored two websites that encourages konkatsu and arranges parties for unmarried people (Yahoo! JAPAN). The number of single men and single women in konkatsu who have struggled, and currently are struggling, with selecting their marriage partner is not small.

By studying konkatsu we can see what kind of qualifications people are looking for in their prospective marriage partners. This blog post will highlight how skin tone plays a role in the process of choosing a future wife or husband in Japan and how there is a correlation between race and gender regarding skin color.

Firstly what kind of qualifications and requirements do people set for choosing their partner? According to a survey released by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, both men and women tend to consider a good personality (honest, kind, considerate etc.) as the most important factor. Personal values come in second (Co. dentsu, 2004).

Although both men and women consider personality and values as major points when choosing their partner, there are differences in how they evaluate the possible candidates. The same study indicates that the third most common qualification men tend to consider is their partner’s appearance while women rather ask for financial stability. Possibly due to the importance men place on their partner’s appearance, women themselves seem to take good care of their appearance for konkatsu.

For example, the ladies’ magazine FRaU featured an article about konkatsu-hada (skin for marriage hunting), explaining how women can make konkatsu-hada with skin care products such as liquid foundations, body oils and cheek blushes in order to succeed in konkatsu (X BRAND, 2013). The article suggested that they help to make your skin whiter and clearer, showing your purity and honesty like Cinderella appearing in a fairly-tale.

It seems that the article implies that light and clear skin is regarded as favorable for finding a marriage partner. How about men’s skin tone? According to an investigation carried out by Panasonic, 70% of women answered they prefer men with tanned skin rather than men with white skin (Co. Panasonic, 2007). The electronic commerce and Internet giant Rakuten Inc. also researched about the connection between the use of sunscreen and maintaining white skin. When comparing results between men and women in their twenties, it seems that only 13% of men use sunscreen in order to maintain a lighter skin tone, while 60% of women answered that this is their main goal. In fact, as many as 50% of men answered that they do not even care about sunscreen, whereas 90% of women were keen on using it (Rakuten, Inc., 2013). The results of this survey that show men are often not concerned about the lightness of their skin.

It can be said that men and women consider different attributes in konkatsu and that skin color is gender-specific, with skin color playing an especially important role for women. Having lighter skin is considered an important factor for women who are looking for future husbands. This shows us that there seems to be correlation between skin color, race, and gender, since favorable skin color varies greatly between different races and between genders. For example, recently it seems that tanned skin is favorable among Caucasian men and women, however in Japan and India women with lighter skin are preferred. On the other hand in Japan it seems that men who have tanned skin are preferred over men with light skin tone, showing that there are great variations between ideal skin tones.


Yamada, M., & Sirakawa, M. (2008). Konkatsu Jidai [KONKATSU Period]. Tokyo: Discover 21

Yahoo! JAPAN. Retrieved from

Co. dentsu. (2004). Syoushika ni kansuru ishiki chousa [survey about decreasing birth rate]. Retrieved from

X BRAND. (2013). Kirei no takurami [trick for beauty]. Retrieved from

Co. Panasonic. (2007). Otokomae Chousa [survey about man’s good looking]. Retrieved from

Rakuten, Inc.. (2013). Shigaisen taisaku ni kansuru chousa [survey about UV protection]. Retrieved from

Enhanced by Zemanta

Changes in the beauty standard for men and women

by Satona Kato

Jyotsna Vaid’s research shows us that lighter skin is a requirement for marriage. We learned many people think lighter skin is better and is one of the conditions of beauty in various countries.

However, it is also true that the standard of beauty varies by regions or countries. In Japan, it also has changed depend on the generation. There was the time when the skin browned by the sun was seen as more beautiful. For example, in the ‘ganguro’ boom or ‘komugihada’ boom, people preferred dark skin and many people went to tanning salons. When I was 3 or 4 years old, many Japanese high school girls made their skin dark and I longed for their skin and I wanted to be like them. In that time, the models who had sunburned skin were popular and that was the standard of ‘kawaii’ for young girls. But when I became a high school girl, there were no girls who made their skin dark and the standard of “kawaii” was having white skin. Most advertisements of cosmetic products also uses models with white skin.

More and more people come to think we want white skin, not only girls, but also boys. Surprisingly, recently the boys who have white skin are increasing. In the Japanese drug store, there are many sunscreens or whitening lotion for men and many men use that, especially young boys between the ages of 15 and 30. Nippon TV interviewed 55 boys whether use whitening lotions, and 33 boys answered “Yes”.

Then, which do women like better, white skin boys or sunburned boys? The answers about this question were different depending on the women’s age. Young girls (10~30) tend to like boys who have white skin better, but most of women over 30 years old like boys who have sunburned skin. The reason why that difference exist is the influence of media. Today, many young actors and models have white skin. But, it was different 20 to 30 years ago. You can see this difference if you compare the popular actors 5 to 10 ago with actors who are popular now.

As you can see, the trend of skin color has changed. In Japan, both boys and girls become to more and more like the white skin. Last year, we were surprised the publication of the popular young men’s magazine “Men’s Egg” was suspended. When I was a junior high school student, many young boys read this and tried to be “Gyaru-o” by having browned and meshed hair, and tan skin. The reason for suspending the publication was that young people’s trend were changing. Today, most Japanese people like white skin better, and use whitening lotion. But there are possible that standard of beauty “white skin is beautiful’ will change in the future in Japan.

Are such changes in views toward skin color occurring in countries that have a connection between skin color and social status?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Matrimonial Advertisements Reflecting Social Values

by Yuan Mingyang

Vaid (2009) researched matrimonial advertisements in India, and by immigrants from India. Values that are promoted in the society can be found in the matrimonial advertisements. For example, the advertisements stressed caste, class, education, appearance, and the one that is the main subject of Vaid, the skin complexion (p. 148).

Vaid’s study showed that the preference for light skin tone has a continuous influence on the perception of beauty and other behaviors of the Indian immigrants. The study also showed a clear gender difference between the importance of “fair” skin complexion for men and for women, which may prove that the skin complexion is rather a criteria of beauty for the females (Ibid).

There are some similarities between the situation in India and that in China. According to Vaid (2009), “marriage is a central aspect of societal functioning in South Asia” (p. 148). Marriage is also very important in China due to the strong bonds of and pressure from the family. Vaid also mentioned that arranged marriage is the major form of marriage in India. According to Zhou et al. (1997), arranged marriage is a long lasted tradition in China, and after the economic reform in the 1980s, people started to find their marriage partners on their own. Matrimonial advertisements also started to appear in newspapers and magazines after the reform (ibid). China also has a long history of skin lightening (Leong, 2006). Therefore, similar characteristics may be found in these matrimonial advertisements in China, as Vaid did in the study in India.

Zhou et al. (1997) pointed out that several terms are frequently used in the self-description, for instance, age, height, appearance, and education (p. 68). The social values in a changing society can also be detected in the advertisements. For example, Zhou et al. mentioned a discrimination against short people and an increasing concern with one’s financial status.

There is also a clear division in the roles of different genders expected in the matrimonial advertisements (Ibid). Not much about the skin complexion was mentioned by Zhou et al., and their study is quite outdated due to rapid changes in China.

Nowadays, people can post their advertisements online in some special websites (The website viewed by the author: These advertisements usually have photographs, which led to fewer people describing their physical features in their self-description. However, even though the advertisements are with photos, a small proportion of people still mentioned their light skin tone, and they usually relate their skin tone to youth. Moreover, photoprocessing to make skin color lighter has become a business in China (Anon, as cited in Leong, 2006), and the common use of photoprocessing software should also be noticed, for there is a possibility that the photos used in the advertisements have been processed, although there is no concrete evidence.

In conclusion, the preference for light skin tone can be detected in the recent matrimonial advertisements online in China. It should also be concerned that the use of photographs in the advertisements may also change one’s perception of skin color. One can also have a general image of the nature of matrimonial advertisements by comparing the situation in China with that in India.


  1. Leong, S. (2006). Who’s the fairest of them all? Television ads for skin-whitening cosmetics in Hong Kong. Asian Ethnicity, 7(2), 167-181. doi: 10.1080/14631360600736215
  2. Vaid, J. (2009). Fair enough?: Color and the commodification of self in Indian matrimonials. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 148-165). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  3. Zhou, N., Yau, O. H. M, & Lin, L. (1997). For love or money: A longitudinal content analysis of Chinese personal advertisements, 1984-1995. Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 19(2), 65-77.
Enhanced by Zemanta

“Gaijin” to Japanese: What Japanese Often Expect from Foreigners

by Satona Kato

comediansTerry Kawashima argues that people have a consciousness about race, and this consciousness depends on their background. We can see this by comparing various ways of thinking about shojo manga characters by Western people and Japanese people.

In Japan, many people put the people who are not Asian (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, South East Asian) into one category called “gaijin”. Many Japanese people do not think about the country where the “gaijin” were born. Furthermore, they tend to stereotype that sort of people have specific skills. In Japan, some of the people who are unilaterally labeled as “gaijin” have experiences that they are wounded or feel alienated, especially the people who are multiracial or who were born and grown up in Japan.

As you know, in Japan, multiracial models on TV have been popular. Recently, multiracial comedians become popular as well. They do not act like fashion models. They make people laugh by talking the story about the incident happened around them only because they are multiracial. First, Japanese are surprised that they can speak fluent Japanese and cannot speak English or another foreign language. Japanese also laugh at the characteristics the multiracial comedians share with other Japanese.

They had had many troubles and unique experiences which happened just because they are “hafu.” If we listen to their stories, we can know how hafu people are treated by Japanese. For example, Anthony, he is one of the ‘hafu comedians’. He is American and Japanese. People laugh at the fact that his hometown is Tokyo and his father managed a Sushi shop. He has knowledge about sushi because his home is sushi shop, but when he goes to a sushi shop, the master of sushi shop offered him ‘California roll’ and he was surprised. He has had other interesting experiences. He is bad at English, and when he was an elementary school student, he decided to go to English conversation school. On his first day of English conversation school, when he entered the classroom, other students misinterpreted him as an English teacher and they said “Hello, how are you?” to him.

I want to tell you about one more ‘half comedian’, Ueno Yukio. He was laughed at because of his obvious Japanese name. He is Brazilian and Japanese. When he plays soccer, the opposing team judged Yukio was a good soccer player by his appearance and many defenseman surrounded him. The opportunities to watch TV programs in which many ‘half comedians’ gather and talk about the things often happen around them are increasing. According to them, following things often happen: 

  • are judged to be foreign people
  • are often stopped by the police 
  • are asked by Japanese to sing foreign songs 
  • are laughed at by Japanese when they sing Japanese songs
  • are often expected to have high athletic ability
  • have difficulty getting a part time job
  • are invited to BBQ parties or Halloween parties
  • are called ‘Bob’ or ‘Michel’ 
  • are treated as tourists everywhere

Of course their nationality is Japanese and most of their hometown is Japan. Why they are laughed? Why do Japanese people stereotype their abilities? When Japanese look at people who look like “gaijin’’, Japanese often expect some specific skills because they have some assumptions. They think that people who have white, black, or other foreign appearance have foreign names and can speak foreign languages, and cannot speak Japanese at all.

It is true that hafu people are not a majority in Japan and many Japanese have little familiarity with thinking about race. That’s why people have expectations about the skills hafu people have. If hafu do not have these skills, Japanese laugh at them and hafu are unilaterally discouraged.