From Ebony to Ivory: Colorism in the Philippines

by Jiyang Shin

The ever-expanding skin whitening market in the Philippines seems to have distinctive characteristics compared to the markets of other countries that also value lighter skin tones. In the discourse of colorism, many tend to conclude that the phenomenon of skin whitening obsession is largely due colonization by European conquistadors; however, that is not always the case in the Philippines.

I would like to raise an example of skin whitening advertisement, featuring Jinky Oda, an African American comedian in the Philippines. The advertisement is composed of before-and-after pictures of Oda. On the left hand side is Oda’s torso before she went on the skin whitening pill. She is in a white tank top, wears gold hoop earings, and has her natural curly hair all swept back with bandana like hair band; a casual style of a typical African American woman that we can easily relate to.

On the right hand side is Oda after finishing the pill, in her brand new bleached-up skin. However, that is not the only significant difference that one can tell from the picture. Other noticeable features are that her attire is considerably more dressy than the left side (you can notice it although the ad only shows down to her chest), but even more importantly, the texture of her hair has turned silky and straightened like the East Asian look that a vast number of Filipino women crave.

One can observe sinister motives behind this marketing. In the book Shades of Difference, Joanne L. Rondilla argues that there are generally three major messages that are conveyed in skin whitening advertisement in the Philippines:

1. Darkening can and must be stopped.

Why? Because having dark skin does not make you good enough.

2. Lightness comes from “within”.

This message misleads people into thinking that their natural color is lighter than they expected, thus their desire to turn white is achievable.

3. Lightening can happen instantly.

The advertisement that featured Oda is unethical because it links having darker skin with wrongness by dressing up her in casual attire. In addition, she seems to have more weight in her before picture, implying she was sloppier when she had a darker skin tone (fatness is often linked to laziness). Such indirect messages have the great potential of stirring up or further encourage racism and discriminations against certain groups of people.

As for why many women in the Philippines opt for a Chinese or Korean look, I argue that it is due to racial hierarchy that exists among Asian countries. For example, in South Korea, people of Southeast Asia origin encounter difficulties renting rooms and searching for jobs. Moreover, in Japan, Filipino people are often referred to as “Pina”, which is a derogatory term used against women who perform in sex-related work. Such unequal treatment might have gradually developed a sense of inferiority towards people of lighter skin color in East Asian countries. I argue that people attempt to escape from such discriminations by assimilating into those who discriminate against them.

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Why Does Skin Color Matter in Indian Marriages?

by Sho Hamamoto

It seems that having fair skin still matters in Indian marriages. Many Indian men and women are suffering from an obsession with fair skin. Why is it important to have fair skin in Indian marriages? There are three possible reasons for the obsession. Jyotsna Vaid (2009) mentions maintaining the purity of the bloodstream of the upper castes and an association between darker skin and lower class working under a hot sun. India is a very strict class society due to the caste system and sensitive to social classes. This is one of reasons why the percentage of arranged marriages in India stands at 90%. Arranged marriages prevent marriages between different classes. Skin color is one of class symbols. As Glenn mentions, there is an association between darker skin and lower class working under a hot sun in India. Due to the fact that skin color represents one’s class in India, people prefer fair skin (upper class) to darker skin (lower class).

Agrawal (2012) provides another reason for the preference for fair skin is a mind-set by British rule. Under the British rule, Whites were superior to Indians (darker skin people). The legacy of British rule may still remain in the Indian society and create an image that lighter skin is superior to darker skin.

Lastly, media is a major contributor to creating an image that lighter skin is better than darker skin. In media including TV programs, ads, and movies, lighter skin tends to be described as a sophisticated feature. People on media tend to have fair skin and those media create an ideal image of people. As a result, people have had an image that lighter skin is more sophisticated than darker skin.

As seen above, skin color still matters in India marriages because of a strict class society in India, British rule, and an image that fair skin is sophisticated created by media. It is not easy to change the situation because you have to change the structure (class society, media and so on).

An interesting point is that an association between fair skin and “a sophisticated image” can be seen in many other countries, such as Japan, China, Korea, and Singapore. Why is the sophisticated image of fair skin shared in different countries? Personally, a class society has much to do with this phenomenon. Darker skin may be linked to lower class working under a hot sun while fair skin is linked to upper class. This historical image has created the sophisticated image of fair skin and media has bolstered the image. This can be an explanation for the shared image of fair skin in many different countries.


Agrawal, V. (2012). Why Indian men want fair skin brides? Retrieved from–health/relationships/why-indian-men-want-fair-skin-brides

Glenn, E. (2009). Shades of difference. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Lancy. (2013, April 15). Does skin color really matter in Indian marriages?. Retrieved from

Statics Brain. (2012). Arranged/forced marriages statistics. Retrieved from

Why Indian Men want Fair Skin Brides from