Miss Universe Japan — spectacle, race, and dreams


Ariana Miyamoto’s victory in the Miss Universe Japan contest has raised debates about race, representation, gender, and identity. While hāfu women are very visible in fashion and mass media in Japan, these women are rarely Blackanese. Recent events, like a blackface performance by Momoiro Clover Z and a call for apartheid, in Japan have reminded us that Japanese society has a long way to go in acknowledging and accepting the diversity of its population. Thus Ms Miyamoto’s victory gives hope that maybe, just maybe, things are changing in Japan. Mitzi Uehara Carter’s blogpost shares some important insights on these issues.

Originally posted on Grits and Sushi:

The newly crowned Miss Universe Japan is Blackanese.  No, she’s Japanese.  No, she’s Haafu.  Multiracial? Mixed?  Japanese enough to represent Japan in a silly beauty contest?  Ariana Miyamoto is from Nagasaki, Japan and her win has whipped up both excitement and disdain.  The issue of representation has emerged yet again for those anxious about the nation’s performance on the global beauty stage. These pageants, the spectacle of “national authentic beauty” are always a site where race and gender intersect in convoluted, messy ways and Miyamoto’s racial difference has sparked a series of interesting questions about how to identify “Japaneseness” through the body of women.

Ariana Miyamoto

Weather you’re a pageant supporter or not, the social commentary these kinds of wins generate in everyday discourse is telling of how race is framed in mainstream Japanese and transnational media circuits and they should not be easily dismissed.  While people outside Japan seem…

View original 1,100 more words

‘Ideal Asian Beauty’ in Skin Care Marketing

by Kiho Kozaki

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mixed-race and Asian Ideal Beauty

by Rena Shoji

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Beauty Per Skin Complexion and Symmetry

Anonymous student post

This blog will focus on beauty ideals pertaining to skin color and facial symmetry.

From Asia to Africa, having a light skin tone makes one more desirable. Colonial invasions have only helped to instil the idea ‘the whiter the better’. Even in Africa skin bleaching is quite popular. Especially in Nigeria where 77% of women use skin bleaching aides (Alonge 2014). While many Caucasians may tan, other races may tend to avoid tanning. According to the media, tanned skin on a Caucasian individual represents fitness and vacationing, yet ads showcasing the tanning of other races is rare or non existent.

Perhaps the desire for lighter skin is due to the “colonial mentality” which preaches that “white is right”. Yet in countries such as Japan and Asia the ideal beauty has been pale and to an extent is still considered the ideal. One only needs to search for images of celebrities to know the standard. For many centuries in Asia the color of one’s complexion has been an indicator of class status with pale being at the top (Wagatsuma 1967).

India also has a status system based on the complexion of one’s skin that has been exaggerated since the invasion of colonialism. The main difference between the availability of opportunities between East Asia, India, and Africa is that in Japan and China tanned skin does not affect job opportunities, but dark skinned foreigners stick out and aren’t treated as nicely as their lighter skinned counterparts (Arudou 2014), but in Korea where a profile picture must be attached to a resume (The Grand Narrative 2010), the discrimination is worse; in India dark skinned people use skin bleaching aides in order to secure a ‘good job’ and/or get a successful arranged marriage partner (Glenn 2008); and in Africa women bleach their skin due to self esteem issues and to get married as the ‘colonial mentality’ still exists along with the racial profiling of black skinned people.

Even in the US and Europe there are issues with the degree of one’s skin color yet bleaching is less common. Being lighter than average in complexion in one’s race gives one special privileges such as receiving discounts, extras, and also better behavior such as in not being profiled (Fihlani 2013). Lighter skinned black people receive extra attention yet being too light or albino excludes one from their race yet they are also excluded from the white race group (Parks 2007). Also bias in treating others differently due to skin tone is a form of internalized racism (Hall 1992).

According to research, facial symmetry is preferred over asymmetrical faces. In Rhodes et al.’s study on facial symmetry, males preferred the perfect symmetrical face more than females, but the preferences of all other degrees of facial symmetry was similar between the genders. In experiment 1, three individuals original portraits were shown along with computer-altered images in the order of low, normal, high, and perfect symmetry (Rhodes et al. 1998). The argument for the reason being that facial symmetry is attractive is due to health in childhood, but such evolutionary claims have been debunked as a myth (Poppy 2014).

In westernized nations a low WHR (waist to hip ratio) is preferred over a high WHR, yet the Matsigenka people, who are isolated from westernization, prefer a high WHR. According to the Matsigenka the low WHR looks unhealthy (Yu et al. 1998).

Also infants responded more to images of symmetrical faces than asymmetrical faces by staring at symmetrical faces for a greater duration of time. Not many studies in facial symmetry have been conducted multiculturally yet current issues in South Korea such as plastic surgery being quite popular may suggest that facial and/or body symmetry is quite important (Chang & Thompson 2014).

Perception bias may also influence the concept of facial symmetry as participants in Little and Jones’s experiment didn’t express a preference for symmetrical faces that were inverted, rather such images were perceived as objects than faces (Little et al. 2003). Overall westernized cultures, (meaning not having been influenced by western media) may prefer symmetrical faces and bodies with a low WHR.

Cross culturally in determining beauty a symmetrical face and clear skin are main ideals that remain (Gaad 2010) while ideals such as having fair skin are of Western (Wade 2014) and East Asian origin (Xiea et al. 2013). If one pays attention to the media, the majority of actresses, models, celebrities and those who appear in the media usually have clear, bright skin, and facial symmetry. Also hierarchy due to skin tone may be a cultural issue, but it is most likely not strictly just a cultural issue alone, but also internalized and externalized racism (Hunter 2007).


Alonge, Sede. “Not all African women believe ‘black is beautiful’. And that’s OK.” The Telegraph 18 July 2014. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10973359/Not-all-African-women-believe-black-is-beautiful.-And-thats-OK.html>.

Arudou, Debito. “Complexes continue to color Japan’s ambivalent ties to the outside world.” The Japan Times (2014). <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/07/02/issues/complexes-continue-color-japans-ambivalent-ties-outside-world/#.VJl6oAABA>.

Chang, Juju, and Victoria Thompson. ” Home> Lifestyle South Korea’s Growing Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery .” ABC NEWS, 20 June 2014. <http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/south-koreas-growing-obsession-cosmetic-surgery/story?id=24123409>.

Feng, Charles. “Looking Good: The Psychology and Biology of Beauty.” Journal of Young Investigators 6.6 (2002). <http://legacy.jyi.org/volumes/volume6/issue6/features/feng.html>

Fihlani, Pumza, and Thomas Fessy. “Africa: Where black is not really beautiful.” BBC NEWS AFRICA. BBC, 1 Feb. 2013. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-20444798>.

Glenn, Evelyn N. “Yearning for Lightness Transnational Circuits in the Marketing and Consumption of Skin Lighteners.” Gender & Society 22.3 (2008): 281-302.

Hall, Ronald E. “Bias Among African-Americans Regarding Skin Color: Implications for Social Work Practice.” Journal of Black Psychology 2.4 (1992): 479-86. <http://rsw.sagepub.com.libproxy.library.wmich.edu/content/2/4/479.full.pdf+html>.

Hunter, M. “The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality. Sociology Compass” (2007), 1: 237–254. <http://www.mills.edu/academics/faculty/soc/mhunter/The%20Persistent%20Problem%20of%20Colorism.pdf>

Little, A. C. & Jones, B. C. (2003). Evidence against perceptual bias views for symmetry preferences in human faces. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 270: 1759-1763. <http://faceresearch.org/students/symmetry>

Parks, Casey. “Black Woman, White Skin.” Marieclaire.com. N.p., 13 July 2007. Web. 20 Dec. 2014. <http://www.marieclaire.com/politics/news/a557/black-white-skin/>.

Perrett, David et al. Symmetry and human facial attractiveness. Evolution & Human Behavior. 1999 (20): 295-307. <http://facelab.org/bcjones/Teaching/files/Perrett_1999.pdf>

Poppy, Brenda. “Facial Symmetry is Attractive, But Not Because It Indicates Health.” Discover 12 Aug. 2014. <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2014/08/12/facial-symmetry-attractive-not-because-indicates-health/#.VJlWpAAAM>.

Rhodes, Gillian, Fiona Proffitt, Jonathon M. Grady, and Alex Sumich. “Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 5.4 (1998): 659-69. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/BF03208842>

Saad, Gad. “Beauty: Culture-Specific or Universally Defined? The universality of some beauty markers.” Psychology Today (2010). <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/homo-consumericus/201004/beauty-culture-specific-or-universally-defined>.

The Grand Narrative. “Korean Sociological Image #40: As Pretty as a Picture?” The Grand Narrative: Korean Feminism, Sexuality, and Popular Culture, 16 June. 2010. <http://thegrandnarrative.com/2010/06/16/korean-resumes-photographs/>

Wade, L. (2014, May 16). When White is the Standard of Beauty. The Society Pages. <http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2014/05/16/white-as-beautiful-black-as-white/>

Wagatsuma, Hiroshi. “The Social Perception of Skin Color in Japan.” Daedalus 96.2 (1967): 443-97. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20027045?sid=21104921217471&uid=2129&uid=4&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3738328>.

Xiea, Qinwei (Vivi), and Meng Zhang. “White or tan? A cross-cultural analysis of skin beauty advertisements between China and the United States.” Asian Journal of Communication 23.5 (2013).

Yu, D W., and G H. Shepard. “Is Beauty In the Eye of the Beholder?” Nature (1998): 396, 321-322+. <http://www.academia.edu/296731/Is_Beauty_In_the_Eye_of_the_Beholder>.

The Pervasive Nature of Skin Lightening Products

by Olivia Katherine Parker

Skin lightening products are a really interesting topic due to their pervasive nature. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. Not only are they used within Asian cultures but all around the world. In America, the Black and Mexican populace tries to embody the “perfection” of clear, smooth, and light skin. Women of color constantly compare themselves to white washed celebrities and models. Ultimately, it creates a very disturbing mental image that makes cosmetic companies big bucks.

After going online to check out social media websites, specifically Tumblr and Twitter, I found that there are entire categories of the beauty hashtag devoted to skin lightening products. Young women chat with each other about the effectiveness or dangers of a certain product. What upsets me is that these girls know they’re damaging their skin. More importantly, the companies that make these products know this as well. Lead, hydroquinone, and other dangerous chemicals are still used in some products that go unregulated.

Even the women who don’t purchase skin lightening products are negatively affected by the cosmetics industry because they’re looked down upon by other women. I have overheard Black mothers talk about how lucky their daughters are to have lighter skin. A recent blog post by Indian author Monisha Rajesh says that India has an “unfair obsession with light skin”. She claimed she had an experience with a respected Indian newspaper that published a white washed image of her. When she confronted the art director he said he believed he was doing her a favor by whitening her skin.

With Japan’s female populace being so overly presentable, you can imagine how popular skin whitening products are. For crying out loud, they walk around in the summer with umbrellas and long sleeves. Young women wear makeup two or three shades lighter than their actual skin color in the winter and wear coats with scarves to cover up. It’s expected to use a skin lightening lotion or cream. Light skin is desirable, light skin will make you popular, light skin will get you a husband.

Bihaku is one of the leading Japanese skin lightening producers. The work Bihaku translates to “beautifully white” their products claim to reverse damage and create perfectly clear and fair skin. Bihaku products run adds in pop culture magazines directed at girls as young as 10. Other companies include Hanae Mori, Shiseido, and Kanebo. The demand for skin lightening products increases every year. The mentality towards these products in most Asian cultures is positive. It’s implemented in the infamous Japanese women’s skin care regiment which is usually a six to twelve step process.

So the question is: will this issue ever be widely recognized as an unnecessary product being pushed on people by society? Is this something that needs to fixed internally by women of the same culture accepting their original skin tones and supporting their fellow females or are we past the ability to do that? Do we need to run campaigns in the media telling ladies that they’re beautiful as they are? Or should more people be told the truth about what these products actually do to their skin? Unfortunately, I believe that the first step is for the producers to take a stand and stop selling lightening products and that’s not going to happen while these products remain their best sellers.

Reforming surgery and the self: Plastic surgery, historical traumas, and beauty in Korea

Girl’s Generation, a very popular K-pop group consisting of nine women who are considered ideal in South Korea

by Lisbeth Lyngs

Plastic surgery and skin whitening have in recent years become a hot and very normalized topic in Asia. Especially in South Korea, where one in five women has undergone some sort of cosmetic surgery, compared to around one in 20 in the U.S., according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. Their desired look is the same: Big eyes with double eyelids, white skin, a nose that sticks out and a slimmer jawline. A high Korean consumer culture has made women equate this beauty standard with a higher life quality, better jobs and more luck in marriage. Feminist cries of objectification are overheard, and as I see it, the racial argument that it is “to look white” has faded – as Asia’s own mainstream culture, especially K-pop culture, has grown.

K-pop is pop music from South Korea, and it has spread rapidly through East Asia in the last couple of decades (to some extent it has also hit the Western world with “Gangnam Style”). The industry’s popularity, and the value placed on the plastic surgeries behind the stars, has meant that many Asian women flock to Seoul, the now self-established epicenter of plastic surgery. Not to fix a crooked nose or uneven eyes, but to change their faces to look like the same ideal, the same type.

What I find interesting about plastic surgery in Korea is that it is called ‘reforming surgery’ (성형수술), not translating to ‘plastic’, which in English carries negative connotations of ‘fake’ or ‘cheap’. The Korean phrase carries more positive connotations, like the patient is just waiting to be ‘reformed’ and reveal their ‘true beauty’ from within. Interestingly from language alone, cosmetic surgery in Korea does not have the same stigma to it, that it has in English speaking countries and a majority of the western world.

In fact it is so normalized that Korean women will ask each other “where did you get your eyes and nose done?”, instead of “where did you get your handbag?”, and girls will get plastic surgery as a graduation ‘present’ from their parents. Many Korean kids, especially the girls, thus grow up with the understanding that they are going to have plastic surgery one day.

In the short documentary Korean High School, we get a glimpse of this mentality among high school students.

“[after graduation] I’ll have plastic surgery.”

“But you don’t need plastic surgery.”

“.. I have to do it. Beauty is important in Korea.”

But then what is this beauty, and where does it come from? To say it is because of a Korean beauty standard, or that they “want to look white” is too easy. In this article on The Grand Narrative, a reader suggests to look deeper into Korean history for answers. In this interesting read, she argues that the shift in Korean beauty standards is a response to the country’s historical trauma. She admits it might be a long stretch, but oppression during the Japanese colonization taught the Korean people to think lowly of themselves, before the American occupation pushed the envelope and taught them that there was something wrong with their psychical features.

The first double-eyelid surgery on an Asian face was performed by American plastic surgeon Dr. Ralph Millard. His reasoning was that creating a more Western look would help Asians assimilate better into an emerging international world. The Asian eyelid simply made their expression look passive an unemotional, as opposed to a double eyelid which would produce a more open and approachable face. The surgery quickly caught on, and this procedure of beautification worked its way into mainstream culture which today, I would argue, has been modified into a more “beautiful Asian look” than a “beautiful because it looks Caucasian look”.

To return to the notion of K-pop and the plastic surgeries performed to achieve their looks, I would like point out their ideal small and V-shaped faces. This jaw surgery cuts off a piece of the patients jawbone to make the face slimmer. And even though many Caucasians have small and slim faces, I do not believe this is a response to wanting to look Caucasian – If you inspect some Caucasian celebrities, you find many examples of prominent jaws and high cheekbones. But if you inspect Asian celebrities, they all have small jaws and cheekbones.

What I am getting at is that the reason why skin whitening and plastic surgery have become such common means to obtain this non-traditional Asian beauty-look is not as easy answered as “because the Caucasian look is ideal”.

In a highly globalized world like ours today, where I can eat McDonalds and watch The Hobbit no matter the city, it is easy to assume the Western influence is the sole reason for Asia’s desire to look “not Asian”. What might have started like that, has today evolved into some unique beauty standard required in a lot of Asian cultures to get a better social position.

While part of the answer as to why another girl in the short documentary answers “big eyes with a double eyelid, a white body, a nose that sticks out and a small face.” When asked about beauty, the Western world’s influence on Asia is not the entire story.




The Grand Narrative

Consent To Plastic Surgery?

by Lin, Tzu-Chun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

by Nana Tsujimoto

Belva Davis, founder of the Miss Bronze pageant

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

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

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

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


Vanessa Williams (left) and Nina Davuluri (right)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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?


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

The Era of Plastic Surgery Culture

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

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

by Hanna Byun

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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