The Privilege of Beauty

by Ellen Brookes

“Because society is stratified along lines of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, disability status, citizenship, geography, and other cleavages, some bodies are publicly and visually dissected while others are vulnerable to erasure and marginalization” (Casper & Moore, 2007)

This quote is genuinely puzzling as it does not disclose who is being spoken about in which area. Is it all about white people? Or is it whites versus those of ethnic minorities? Or is it even just all about ethnic minorities? And are these bodies that are being dissected being dissected in a positive or a negative way? Are the bodies prone to erasure just fading into the background or are they fading due to “fitting in”?

It is really difficult to figure out exactly who is being talked about in which way.

One thing is for certain, looks are not mentioned here. The aesthetic appeal of one human being is not referred to in this quotation. Yet people seem to believe that beauty is also a level of stratification within societies. The Alexander Edmonds’ article “The poor have the right to be beautiful” (2007) looks at a similar argument, saying that people want to be beautiful because with their status in life, it may be all they have to use in order to move up. This would imply that outward appearance is a form of cultural capital that can be utilized in order to climb the social hierarchy ladder.

It must be noted that this article did only provide a view of one community within Brazil. At first “low self-esteem” is blamed as a major reason to undergo cosmetic plastic surgery, or plástica, in Brazil, but the issue has more to do with class privilege than it does to any one human being. This reasoning, however, goes against the reasoning that would be used in another society.

Trends in the U.S point to the fact that about 4.8% of people will have plastic surgery in a year). Given that the current population of the U.S. is over 317 million people, and plastic surgery in the last year was 15,116,353 surgeries, that number seems rather high (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2013; Schlesinger, 2013).

To put this into further perspective, this is only cosmetic surgeries, not reconstructive for those who were in accidents or had birth deformities.

A person would not say that this number occurred because of economic problems, or need for social mobility. In fact, people would imply that these people were middle-to-upper-class people who either felt the need to look “prettier” within their social circles, or that these people may have had mental issues that were directly linked to their appearance. Admittedly, health care does cost more in the U.S., and cosmetic surgery is not cheap, which would imply that these people were most definitely within a higher class than those in Brazil. Yet, if Brazil and American’s populations were equal, there is only about a ten percent difference in relative poverty levels, so why is the argument for plastic surgery and its implications so different between these two countries? (Hunkar, 2011).

The answer comes down to race and racial preference. Brazil is eroticized in the way it is portrayed globally. It is sold as being a country full of brown-skinned, “sun-kissed” girls in bikinis with almost unrealistic body proportions (Beauty Check, 2007). This is the ideal held within Brazil and most women in Edmonds’ article are shown to aspire to it in order to achieve social mobility; their own personal Cinderella story.

America is stereotyped as being a land of white privilege, and one where being white automatically affords a person a “free pass” to beauty (Luckey, 2013; Jackson, & Greene, 2000). However, via influence of the media, the attitudes are slightly different. Plastic surgery is not noted in a positive light and the media will constantly tear down women who have gone under the knife (Northrop, 2012). White women who undergo cosmetic procedures are shamed, and this could be directly linked to the fact that they could be seen to be abusing the privilege already afforded to them.

It all comes down to racial privilege. For Brazil, fitting the ethnic stereotype is considered the ideal; specifically conforming to the exported idealistic looks is considered paramount. With looks, a majority of Brazilian society believes they would have a higher chance of social mobility. Edmonds’ Brazil is portrayed as a culture that would seem to promote “faking it to make it”.

White people have privilege, so they do not need this plastic surgery for the same reasons, as they can use their “whiteness” to afford them the same treatment the Brazilians are looking for. White people do not have these “ethnic traits” that make them “not beautiful”, meaning they have no dire need to change. Those who do change are considered to be abusing the system, and have a social stigma that follows them. It sticks even if the person tried to use the argument of “low self-esteem” that is shown in the article. Yes, white privilege does offer a person more cultural capital, but it does not protect them from any or all stigmas.

For Brazil, investment in aesthetics is seem as profitable; while in America, it may be profitable for a time, but the social stigma may counteract that profit. It is this that brings us back to the comment on the starting quote – who is really “fitting in” and who is having their bodies “dissected”? In this age of “white is right”, does it really imply that only positive consequences occur to white people?

References

American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2013). 2013 Plastic Surgery Statistics. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/plastic-surgery-statistics/2013.html

Beauty Check. (2007). Beautiful Figure. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.uni-regensburg.de/Fakultaeten/phil_Fak_II/Psychologie/Psy_II/beautycheck/english/figur/figur.htm

Casper, M.J., & Moore, L.J. (2007). Missing bodies: The Politics of Visibility. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful': cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 13(2), 363-381.

Hunkar, D. (2011). A Shocking Comparison of Poverty Levels Between The U.S. And Brazil. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://seekingalpha.com/article/306094-a-shocking-comparison-of-poverty-levels-between-the-u-s-and-brazil

Jackson, L. M., & Greene, B. (2000). Psychotherapy with African American women: Innovations in psychodynamic perspectives and practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Luckey, S. (2013). Why Reverse Racism Isn’t Real. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://feminspire.com/why-reverse-racism-isnt-real/

Northrop, J. M. (2012). Reflecting on Cosmetic Surgery: Body image, Shame and Narcissism. London, UK: Routledge

Schlesinger, R. (2013). The 2014 U.S. and World Populations. U.S. News. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2013/12/31/us-population-2014-317-million-and-71-billion-in-the-world

Whiteness vs. Lightness: Advertising Happiness

by Chelsea Mochizuki

In “Consuming Lightness”, Evelyn Nakano Glenn describes research that suggests there is a correlation between light skin and socioeconomic status, and that lighter-skinned individuals are perceived to be more intelligent, trustworthy, and attractive. Skin tone, she writes, is a form of symbolic capital, and the lighter the skin the more social privileges you are awarded, such as increased job and marital prospects, as well as the concession to shop at “white” stores without being followed around by a security guard who profiles you as a shoplifter because your skin is dark.

Why is light skin favored over dark skin?

Glenn writes about 6 regions where light skin has been and continues to be favored over dark skin: Africa, African America, India, the Philippines, East Asia (Japan, China, Korea), and Latin America. She attempts to identify the origins of the preference for light skin over dark skin in these regions. In Africa, she says, women with red or yellow undertones to their skin were traditionally considered more attractive, and European colonization created a hierarchy based on skin tone, in which the social privileges of lighter skin became institutionalized. In this way, she describes the origins of preferring lighter skin in these regions as based more on a traditional beauty ideal than on the influences of colonization. Lighter skin preferences in the United States and the Philippines were due to racialization and colonization, and especially slavery in the United States. In East Asia, she writes, there are instances of preferring white skin long before the threat of colonization. In India, however, she writes that the origins of skin preference are lesser known, but most likely became ingrained into social hierarchy due to colonial influence.

So was the preference for light skin mostly created by colonization and/or contact with Western European powers? According to Dr Premen Addy, a senior lecturer in Asian and international history at Kellogg College, Oxford, before the Raj in India, good characters from folklore were always described as light skinned, and bad characters as dark skinned. This association of light as good and dark as bad is certainly not unique to India. In many regions, it seems that colonization did not directly influence the preference for light skin, but rather, through institutionalizing the social privileges of having light skin, made having lighter skin socially beneficial.If a new government formed in your country and said that people with green skin do not have to wait in line and get extra income without having to work, people without green skin would suddenly want to have green skin, regardless of whether there was a preference for green skin before the new government formed.

Is the preference for whiteness or lightness?

Glenn was careful to point out that women and men were not trying to emulate white beauty standards or look more like Caucasians. According to Glenn, in all of the regions she described, most women are aspiring to become two or three shades lighter, even out their skin tone, or reduce signs of aging. Even in the case of the Philippines, most women, she says, aspire to look more Chinese or mixed-Spanish, like Filipino celebrities. Using skin lightening products does not necessarily mean that one wants to become “white” or “Caucasian”. Rather, it suggests the opposite. Lighter skin has become the Indian, or Filipino, or South African beauty ideals, separate from the beauty ideals of Europe or the United States. To say that skin lightening is emulating western culture is not only inaccurate (except for individuals who literally aspire to become more Caucasian in appearance), but ethnocentric in assuming that “Caucasian” beauty is the universal ideal and consumers of skin lightening products aim to emulate this.

The “Evils” of Advertising

Glenn describes the types of commercials and advertising used to sell skin lightening products, such as infomercials that associate light skin with modernity, mobility, and cleanliness, and others that bluntly suggest dark skin leads to unhappiness and with only light skin will you achieve prosperity. This insight is nothing new; advertisers, informercials, and commercials often use this “problem, solution” strategy to sell their products– just look at the examples in this youtube video, “hilarious informercial struggles compilation”.

“This skin-lightening product is the solution to your dark skin and the unhappiness and misfortune it brings you!”

In order to sell products using this strategy, advertisers have to paint their skin-lightening product as the solution. In order to have a solution, there must be a problem to solve, and solving that problem must be perceived by individuals as worthwhile. Acne, unwanted hair growth, enlarged pores, cellulite, flabby arms, single-lidded eyes– there is a plethora of media-painted “problems” we must focus our efforts and wallets on “solving” in order to be “happy”. However, how many of these problems have been institutionalized, to the point where it affects anything from social status to the degree in which certain laws are enforced? Has anyone with bad acne ever been barred from entering certain stores or sitting in certain seats? How about cellulite? None to the extent in which skin tone dictates social privilege.

Do you think advertisers created the association between dark skin and unhappiness in order to sell skin lightening products, or rather are introducing a solution to a problem that has already been established in society? What do you think?

Reference

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2009. “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Thinking About Getting Cosmetic Surgery in Korea? Make Sure You Read This First

japansociology:

My class ‘Race and Ethnicity in the Modern World’ focuses on the relationship between race, notions of beauty, the global trade in skin lighteners, and the growing use of plastic surgery. Along those lines, this post gives a helpful overview of debates over plastic surgery in Korea. Enjoy!

Originally posted on The Grand Narrative:

Korea Cosmetic Surgery(Sources: left, dongA; right, The Kyunghyang Shinmun)

The more operations, the more possibilities for complications, mistakes, and patient deaths. So, with the highest per capita number of cosmetic surgery operations in the world, you’re always going to hear a lot of harrowing, even terrifying experiences of going under the knife in Korea. Korean cosmetic surgeons, who are no more unethical or incompetent than those from any other country, shouldn’t be singled out for horror stories that can and do happen everywhere.

But it’s more than just numbers. With so many clinics lacking even basic first-aid equipment; doctors clamoring to break into the lucrative cosmetic surgery market whatever their training and specialty; patients receiving little to no warnings of side-effects; little regulation by the Ministry of Health and Welfare; insufficient support staff because they’re too expensive; and patients doped-up to disguise the fact that the hot-shot surgeons they’ve hired have been replaced with…

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What It’s Like To Be Half-Japanese

japansociology:

An interesting and engaging take on the experience of being half-Japanese, by Michelle Reimann.

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

Eurasian, half-Japanese, bi-racial, mixed race, hafu, hapa, double, hybrid, dual culture, TCK (third culture kid,) the axis of evil (yeah, yeah: I am German and Japanese, get over it.) However you choose to describe me my lineage is often one of the most frequently asked questions when I meet new people. I have been asked if I am Brazilian, Italian, Middle Eastern, Indonesian, Malaysian, Turkish, and basically every nationality under the sun. I can’t keep up with the flavor of the day in terms of political correctness anymore so for the purpose of this article I am going to refer to people like myself as halflings.

I mean this as a term of endearment, and also as a tribute to one of my favorite TV series coming to an end this week. True Blood had me going for seven strong seasons and I am already mourning the loss. The series…

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What a close read of the Isla Vista shooter’s horrific manifesto, “My Twisted World,” says about his values—and ours

japansociology:

In one of my classes, we’re studying colorism in a global context, focusing on the global market for skin lighteners. The horrific violence that just took place in Southern California highlights the dangers of the systematic valuing of lighter skin over darker skin, and a “white is right” ideology. Truly understanding Elliot Rodger’s ‘manifesto’ requires understanding how race, class, gender, sexuality, and mental illness all intersected to shape his view of the world. Terrifying stuff.

Originally posted on Quartz:

I truly didn’t want to read Elliot Rodger’s “manifesto,” in which he told the story of his life and rationalized the horrific acts with which he allegedly ended it in excruciating detail. I certainly didn’t want to write about it. It’s exactly what he wanted, after all: A chance to be noticed, to be recognized—perhaps even to be empathized with.

But after seeing him consistently described as fitting the “typical mass shooter profile” of a young, mentally disturbed white loner, I realized that both the conventional news and much of social media were making a profound and possibly important error. Because if you’re Asian, a single look at his picture is all you need to realize that Rodger was not white.

A little research exposed what should be obvious: Rodger is biracial—the son of British-born filmmaker, Peter Rodger, best known for assistant directing The Hunger Games, and…

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Seeking a stable life in precarious Japan

Help Japan

Help Japan (Photo credit: Ray Schönberger)

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post.

I hope that I spend my life with a secure job, getting married and giving birth to a child. However, after reading Anne Allison’s book, I thought that we can’t have too much hope. Now, I’ll state the current situation of  Japan and how can I draw my future plans.

At first, it is hard to get job because a lot of companies decrease their regular employees with the depression. Therefore, the number of irregular workers have been increasing and a lot of youth are experiencing an unstable life. In this situation, the government perform an increase of the consumption tax. This policy is one of the factors that torment the life of low-income group and spread the gap between low-income group and upscale. Moreover, the government plan more increases tax again in 2015 and the gap is estimated to become more critical.

Also, recently, the non-payment of scholarship is in question. Many people may get scholarships when they are students. Of course, this is the money from the government or organization and we have duty to pay it back. 340,000 people, and 79.7 billion yen. According to the Japan Student Services Organization, this figure is the number and amount of non-payment scholarship. It is said that the half of non-payers spend their life with less than 300 hundred yen in year. Many youth are suffering from paying back the money.

The difficulty of finding employment affects not only unstable income but kakusa shakai. If you want to get a secure job in this situation of difficulty finding work, you need to have income and academic background as your own. Whether you can get the good education depends on the earning of your parents. Therefore, the starting point is different depending on the family resources.

In conclusion, it is difficult to have hope for the future in that society. We need to provide for a lot of money, such as increasing taxes, paying scholarships, child-raising, education expenditures of children, and so on. To have a stable life, it is important to get a job at a better company or to have a stable occupation. Companies tend to make a point of academic background. Therefore, what I can do now for the future is learning and experiencing various things at university. Although Japan’s precariousness can’t be changed by the actions of just one person and I don’t know how to change it, I want this society to change into a better one so that everybody can live peacefully.

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Planning a future with family and relationships

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Takashi Nakai

In the first class, when the professor asked me what I want to be, I must have answered that I have no idea. However, as I joined in this class and discuss the contents with some classmates there, I think that I need to have a clear vision of my life, because as I read Anne Allison’s Precarious Japan, I learned a lot from the current precariousness of Japan.

I will start to think the expectations of my work. The author says that there is a large number of irregular workers in Japan. They have as high a risk of being cut off as regular workers. Also, today even if you can be a regular worker, many people might have an uncomfortable impression on their working conditions. One of this is that some workers are forced to work hard beyond their working time. It is not until know these facts that I would like to be a regular worker in the office and when I have to choose what kind of working in the future, I should have no mistake of choosing the office.

Allison analyzes the current relationships of Japan. I begin to think from this what I want to be about them. Today there are many cases that people meet the end of their lives. Especially, this situation may apply to the old who live alone because of the lack of the relationships around the community and their family. When I read or listen to the fact, I strongly hope to avoid dying alone. To do it, I might have to have a family of mine and have children and grandchildren. Add to this, I should have the good relationships of the community, for example: office, family, friends, neighborhood, and so on. In the various kinds of categories, I should have what the term of “ibasho” expresses.

I will make the conclusion about my expectations. After graduating from this university, I may well enter the office and continue to work for long years of my life without the special reasons. On the other hand, needless to say, it is difficult for me to get some job which I am eager to, due to the recession of this society. After all, I think it is essential for me to make many kinds of experiences.

Gogatsu-byou: The “sickness” that strikes Japan each and every May

japansociology:

In the university, the freshness of a new academic year that students and faculty may feel in April can give way to the reality of homework, tests, and grading in May. Thankfully, the May weather is pleasant, so we can seek solace in the warm sun, before the heat and humidity of summer arrive.

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

Gogatsu byou

As well as being the start of the new business and academic year, April in Japan also marks the time when new graduates make their first forays into the world of full-time employment and many companies rotate their staff both to keep them on their toes and help them acquire new skills. It’s a fun, frenetic time of year, and everyone from kids in their new school uniforms to fresh-faced employees wearing crisp, black suits looks tremendously smart and presentable as they hurry to their place of education or employment, eager to make the most of their day.

In May, however, it all comes crashing down. Reality sets in and people start to realise that everything is just as awful as it was before, albeit with a few quirks and a shiny new name badge or lunchbox. The fire in kids’ bellies goes out, the twinkle disappears from new employees’ eyes, and they…

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Nagoya NPO releases survival guide for hikikomori for when their parents are gone

japansociology:

As the post notes, the aging of the parents of hikikomori will present new challenges for Japanese society, as the parents are no longer able to provide support to their children. Will job-hunting strategies be included in the basic living tips?

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

The social phenomenon of hikikomori, where people are compelled to remain confined in their own homes, is not new anymore. What is new, however, is the looming issue of what happens when a hikikomori’s parents become elderly or die.

Recently a scattering of cases has begun involving people who have filed for government support after their parents have died. And with estimates of the hikikomori population hovering around one million in Japan, experts are suggesting this is just the tip of the impending iceberg.

One group called Nadeshiko No Kai out of Nagoya is looking to take the bull by the horns and is nearly ready to issue a manual – the first of its kind – for hikikomori to aid them in becoming independent once their parents are no longer able to help.

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