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.

References

  1. American Society of Plastic Surgeons (2012, September 2). 13.8 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed in 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/News-and-Resources/Press-Release-Archives/2012-Press-Release-Archives/138-Million-Cosmetic-Plastic-Surgery-Procedures-Performed-in-2011.html
  2. Bates, C. (2013, January 31). 15 million people worldwide had plastic surgery in 2011. Daily Mail Online. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2271134/15million-people-plastic-surgery-world-just-year–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: http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/life/whole-story-being-hafu-722376
  6. Ntambwe, M. (2004, March). Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Science in Africa. Retrieved from: http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2004/march/skinlightening.htm
  7. Tan, D. (2012, September 18). Who’s the fairest of them all? Asian Scientist. Retrieved from: http://www.asianscientist.com/features/skin-whitening-products-asia-2012/ 
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Yasukuni and Nationalist Identities, Japanese and Korean

English: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lilia Yamakawa

In 1985, US President Ronald Reagan agreed to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany to lay a wreath in honor of Germany’s war casualties. Reagan’s team of advisors did not do their homework, and it was later discovered that the cemetery contained graves of some of Hitler’s elite officers who had taken part in the massacre of Jews. Here was a president who always talked about “American values”, and he was going to pray for soldiers who had caused the Holocaust. There were strong protests by Jewish groups, US congressmen, US military officials, and regular citizens who all urged Reagan not to make the visit. He felt he could not cancel, however, and instead, a trip to a nearby concentration camp was also scheduled for the day of the cemetery visit. Reagan was not anti-Jewish, nor was he a Nazi sympathizer, and he himself had even served on the “right side” of the war. Although he had simply bumbled into the visit, the “Bitburg Fiasco” turned into one of the lowest points of Reagan’s presidency. He and his handlers had failed to see the powerful symbolism of the visit.

One German political editor noted the day after the visit was announced that Germany “had been able to become a member of the community of civilized nations after the war not by denying but by accepting its Nazi past.”

The Reagan-Kohl idea of a historic harmony is, therefore, an insult not only to those who suffered and died in the camps. World War II was not just another European war. It was the darkest hour of European civilization. Its end brought to an end the world’s most atrocious regime and the world’s hitherto most dangerous conflict. It also laid the basis for a democratic West Germany and a united West (Lou, 1991).

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on 26 January 2013, made his second visit to Yasukuni Shrine, a powerful symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism. Unlike Reagan who had bumbled into his visit, Abe went on purpose. Unlike the Americans, who had fought against the German aggressors, Japan was the aggressor. Unlike many Japanese leaders who deny many wartime actions, the Germans have accepted their Nazi past. Thus, it is understandable that the Koreans and Chinese would be upset by visits to Yasukuni by Abe and other officials.

This post explores national identity and visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese government officials. I examine how the visits help to form and strengthen a sense of nationalistic, racist self-identity among some Japanese. I will also show how the visits help to form a particular identity of Koreans today. This paper is based on Benedict Anderson’s (2006) Imagined Communities.

First, with regard to Japanese identity, Yasukuni Shrine shows us a negative side of Japanese nationalism and patriotism. Twelve class-C war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni. In fact, the government pressured the shrine to include the war criminals in 1978. The museum at the shrine, the Yushukan, does not show the atrocities that the Japanese army brought on its neighbors in Asia, controlling the way history is remembered. The shrine symbolizes the beliefs of ultra-nationalist right-wing groups today. Japanese officials not only insult Asian neighbors when they visit the shrine, but they also make the Japanese identity look bad to the world. Finally, while there is supposed to be a separation of religion and state, Yasukuni Shrine seems like a very political place that portrays nationalism based on “us vs. them.”

Love and self-sacrifice are important parts of a nation’s identity, and Yasukuni is a symbol of that positive side of nationalism and patriotism. Anderson points out that a love of nation is often expressed in its literature. Emperor Hirohito paid a visit to the shrine and wrote a poem that said: “I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine in Musashino.” Because of this, soldiers who went to war would say “Let’s meet at Yasukuni.” These words signify loyalty to the emperor, to the nation, and to the Shinto religion. In this way, it was and remains a symbol of love and self-sacrifice.

People who believe it is the right or duty of Japanese, even government officials, to pray at Yasukuni argue that it is a spiritual place. To worship at Yasukuni is an act of love and gratitude to those who fought and died for Japan (John, 1991). Many Japanese also believe it is the right of the people of a nation to worship whoever and however they choose to worship.

Anderson discusses the roots of racism and says that in some cases it came from social class differences rather than nationalism. But in the case of the Japanese, is it possible that nationalism and racism were pretty much the same thing?

Koshino Kosaku is a sociologist who studies Japanese identity. He argues that “racialism” includes racism but is broader in meaning. He describes race as a socially constructed and imagined community because it does not have a real biological foundation, and because most members of the group don’t actually know each other. Although the Japanese are mixed, many of them imagine that they are a racially distinct and homogeneous group. These people believe that being Japanese is an unchosen result of nature. The Meiji leaders invented the idea of Japan as a “family-nation of divine origin.” All Japanese were supposedly related to each other and to the emperor. “Kinship, religion, and race were fused to produce a strong collective sense of oneness” (Koshino, 1998).

Koshino says that the notion of blood ties is still a part of the Japanese subconscious. The idea of Japanese blood makes the idea of “us v. them” stronger. Japanese culture is associated with a “Japanese race,” and Japanese tend to be possessive of their culture. Many people believe that no matter how long Chinese or Koreans live in Japan, they will always remain Chinese and Korean because they are different “minzoku”. He says the concept of “minzoku” can mean race, ethnic community, and nation. Anderson says that a nation is closed because it is something you don’t choose. It is, however, also open because through language and naturalization you can enter a nation. It seems that as long as the Japanese tend to think of themselves as a separate race and continue to feel racist toward others, Japanese nationalism is much more closed than open. Abe’s visits to Yasukuni only make this racist identity stronger. (Koshino, 1998)

Next, we will discuss Yasukuni and Korean identity. Whenever a Japanese official visits Yasukuni, the Koreans protest. It seems as Korean nationalism has been strengthened through protest against Japanese policy. Recently, the Korean president refused to negotiate with the Japanese because Japan refuses to apologize for its wartime actions. One Korean said that he can not talk about the history of his country without talking about what Japan did when it controlled Korea from 1910 to 1945.

Jukka Jouhki discusses the Japanese politicians’ visits to Yasukuni and the impact of those visits on Koreans. In the following passage he describes Yasukuni as a “wormhole”:

Symbolically, Yasukuni can be thought of as a wormhole that goes through time and space. When this wormhole crops up, the entire Korean nation seems capable of being transported backward into the era of Japanese colonial rule. (Jouhki, 2009)

Jouhki says that the Korean image of Japan is as it was in the colonial period, and Yasukuni represents imperial Japan just as if it were now. The image exaggerates the difference between us and them, Korea and Japan. He says that when the Koreans were colonized, it made the Koreans see themselves as “Other”, just as they saw the Japanese as “Other”, and Yasukuni represents an identity that they are still trying to work through. Therefore, Japanese leaders’ nationalism, expressed through visits to Yasukuni Shrine and the museum and textbooks that fail to show wartime atrocities, is not only a means to form a certain Japanese identity. It seems that Japanese nationalism strengthens a certain Korean identity as well.

Amartya Sen writes that a sense of identity can be positive because it makes us closer to others in our group, but it can also be negative because it can cause a deep feeling of division with those who are outside your group. He talks about how Al Qaeda tries to create a militant Islamic identity so that the people will feel the West is separate and bad. In the same way, Abe’s visit to Yasukuni creates sense of division from both the side of Japanese and Koreans.

The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live. The descriptive weakness of choiceless singularity and … the illusion of destiny exacts a remarkably heavy price” (Amartya, 2006).

Visits to Yasukuni can cause certain groups, both Japanese and Korean, to get caught up in one identity, forgetting they have diverse identities, and this can lead to conflict. These visits cause some Japanese to identify themselves as Japanese in a nationalist, racist way. They can cause some Koreans to identify themselves as Korean and the former victims of Japanese imperialism in an overly nationalistic way.

Clearly, Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol of patriotic love and self-sacrifice. It depends on your political beliefs as to whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing. I believe the people were used and sent to war by the Meiji oligarchs in their official nationalism, and they need to be prayed for. However, I believe, that we should pray for them in a place that is not so political and insensitive to the Koreans and others. It leads to a nationalist identity, on both sides, that is divisive and may lead to conflict and violence.

References

  1. Benedict, A. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism.
  2. Calhoun, C. (1993). Nationalism and ethnicity. Annual Review of Sociology19, 211. 239.
  3. Lou , C. (1991). President reagan: “the role of a lifetime. (p. 520). Touchstone Simon and Schuster
  4. John, B. (1991). Yasukuni: the war dead and the struggle for japan’s past. (2007 ed., p. 56). C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd.
  5. Jouhki, J. (2009, May 8). The second invasion: Notes on korean reactions to the yasukuni shrine issue. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/179474/The_Second_Invasion_Notes_on_Korean_Reactions_to_the_Yasukuni_Shrine_Issue
  6. Koshino, K. (1998). Making majorities. (2007 ed., p. 19). C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd.
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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.

References

  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 https://ph.omg.yahoo.com/blogs/okpop/understanding-lure-flower-boys-050944369.html
  3. Fujita, Akiko. (2005, October 28). South Korean men cosmetics-crazed. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2013/05/south-korean-men-cosmetics-crazed/
  4. Holiday, Ruth, & Jo Hwang. (n.d.). Gender, globalization and aesthetic surgery in south korea. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/726850/Gender_Globalization_and_Cosmetic_Surgey_in_South_Korea 
  5. Jeffreys, Daniel. (2007, April 28). Koreans go under the knife in a cut-throat race for jobs. Retrieved from https://www.google.co.jp/webhp?hl=en&tab ww&gws_rd=cr&ei
  6. Lee, H. (2010). Men, be beautiful for spring, summer. Retrieved from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/…/199_39427.html
  7. Liu, Ling. (2005, October 28). Asia’s metrosexuals: Mirror, mirror…. Retrieved from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-10/28/content_488529.html
  8. Maliangkay, Roald. (2010). The effeminacy of male beauty in korea. Retrieved from http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL55_0607.pdf
  9. Sun, J. (2010). Pan-east asian soft masculinitity: Reading boys over flowers, coffee prince and shinhwa fan fiction. Retrieved from http://books.publishing.monash.edu/aps/bookworm/view/Complicated 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: http://yourhealth.asiaone.com/content/think-plastic-surgery-only-popular-girls-korea-take-look-guys/page/0/1#sthash.FsaKcvCZ.dpuf
  11. Turnbull, James. (2009). Flower men: the hot topic of 2009. Retrieved from http://thegrandnarrative.com/2009.04/03/flower-men-the-hot-topic-of-2009/
  12. Williamson, Lucy. (2012, December 3). South korean men get the make-up habit. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20522028

Globalization in Japan

by Kaho Nagao

Since our generation has been in school, teachers, the media and so on often say that “Globalism is important and you guys might to be an global person.” On the other hand, the definition of globalism and globalization are very vague and huge. Actually I still do not know what globalization is. In addition, Japan often said that we are not globalized and we need to be hurry and adapt globalization. However, accepting globalization is really important and do we need to be so?

The specific example is mobile phone. For a long time, in Japan many people use normal mobile phone. Main work for them is calling and sending text in special way, which using e-mail address. On the other hand, the other countries such as the U.S., the U.K. and Korea, sending text through the telephone numbers was most popular. The introduction of smart phone was delayed both spreading and developing even though Japan was one of the most famous countries for these technologies. Some people said that Japan need to catch up and develop more and more.

In here, the problem is that is it important to catch up to other country or not. Of course, we sometimes need to understand what is happened on the earth and think about problems. However, in Japan, even though some says that some realize and move towards, most people are not move and do not understand the importance of that. Changing people is very difficult about knowing importance is more difficult.

Globalization is recently speed up and some are confusing about that fact, however, cherishing and knowing our own culture and learning about different way of thinking and view will be help understand one of the best way to what is globalization and how to survive international society.

K-Pop Beauty Factory

Korean wave, hallyu in Singapore

Korean wave, hallyu in Singapore (Photo credit: KOREA.NET – Official page of the Republic of Korea)

by Adelle Tamblyn

Coming in at US$180 million in 2011, Kpop (Korean pop) has become South Korea’s largest export. After watching a handful of Kpop music videos, it’s not hard to see why it’s become known as Hallyu, or the “Korean Wave“: every music video I watched had addictive beats and perfectly synchronised choreography, and it’s hard not to be mesmerised by a group of twenty year-olds with six-packs and make-up a la B2ST, or the perfect faces of SNSD, all with button noses, delicate, pointed chins, and big, sparkly eyes. Kpop’s main target market are teenagers: teenagers from France to Fiji, Australia to Austria have succumbed to the Korean Wave. Due to the clever utilisation of the internet to market Kpop, entertainment companies SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP (known as the “big three”) have helped create an entirely new generation of teens who sing lyrics they don’t understand. But Kpop has created a new trend: cosmetic surgery.

This year’s contestants for the Miss Korea contest look starkly different to the contestants just 30 years prior. 30 years ago Miss Koreans had a very different face: slumberous, slanted eyes, a round face and a wide nose. In exchange for these features, the Miss Korean contestants today have large, double-lidded eyes, a pointed chin and tiny, pointed noses. The same look can been seen, replicated again and again in the Kpop industry. Children as young as nine or ten get recruited by entertainment companies, in which they are signed into 10-15 year contracts: it is no big secret that along with this, new recruits are contractually obliged to have plastic surgery to “improve” their image and become more sellable. In other words, these children are moulded and manufactured, ready-made and sold globally for company profit. In an interview with Kpop group D-Unit, Charlet of Vice asks what the ideal Korean beauty is: one girl answers that ideally, Korean beauty would be that of Westerners, because of its “distinctiveness”. “Big round eyes, straight nose and round face”, the D-Unit member says. Has this become the template for beauty in South Korea? The “Western” face?

The advancement of cosmetic surgery technology and techniques means that this Western look is readily accessible, and attainable. In a nation increasingly becoming obsessed with notions of Western beauty, boosted by the Kpop industry, one in five South Koreans have turned to plastic surgery, as opposed to one in twenty people in America. Parents in South Korea are helping to encourage the importance of beauty in their society: as a middle school or high school graduation present, instead of luxury goods, it is now quite common for parents to foot the bill for their children’s plastic surgery (typically, double eyelid surgery). Supposedly, this is meant to increase their child’s chances of getting into a prestigious high school or university. It is not only teens who are affected by the cosmetic surgery: some employers make recruiting selections based on physical attractiveness. If Western phenotypes are the ideal Korean beauty, then those who have undergone cosmetic surgery would be the people getting the jobs: such hiring techniques resembles the employment patterns of companies, who give preferential treatment of White people over other types of people.

Kpop is much more than South Korea’s largest export: besides influencing plastic surgery tourism, endorsement deals with a variety of Korean products have helped stimulate the country’s economy, and the deification of Kpop stars has also boosted agriculture. Worshipping teens will make donations of rice at music concerts in order to feed their idols. With so much socio-economic profit, it doesn’t look like the Kpop and plastic surgery will come to an end soon.

Kpop has become the “face” of South Korea, whilst their real faces are hidden behind more than a nip-and-tuck. If South Koreans keep turning to plastic surgery as the answer to their problems, constantly Westernising themselves, they are only telling themselves that White phenotypes are the only type of beauty.

Furthermore, they are ethnically cleansing themselves psychologically and physically through plastic surgery.

References

Lee, H. (2013, October 10). Plastic surgery lifts South Korean tourism. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-10/plastic-surgery-lifts-south-korean-tourism

Stone, Z. (2013, May 24). The K-Pop plastic surgery obsession. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/the-k-pop-plastic-surgery-obsession/276215/

Vice (2012, October 23). Seoul Fashion Week – K-Pop to double eyelid surgery [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wWKjxxM6q8

Willett, M. (2013, June 6). Korea Is obsessed with plastic surgery. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/korea-is-obsessed-with-plastic-surgery-2013-5

Yasukuni Shrine and Korean Identity

English: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

English: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lilia Yamakawa

In his research on nationalism, Craig Calhoun talks about when and how nations were formed. Some people say nations are primordial, that they have been around forever, that they are “natural” phenomena. Others, including Calhoun, believe that nations and nationalism are modern and constructed. By 1815, the world was full of nations. He calls nationalism the most momentous phenomenon of modern history. He writes:

In East Asia, nationalism has throughout the twentieth century been the rhetoric not only of anti-imperialist struggles but of calls for strengthening and democratizing states from within. (p213-214) 

Calhoun cites references on China, relating how anti-Japanese imperial protest, the May Fourth Movement in 1919, was both anti-imperialist and served to strengthen and democratize China. This was later to have led to the revolution.

It seems as Korean nationalism has beeb strengthened through protest against Japanese policies. Recently, the Korean president refused to negotiate with the Japanese because Japan refuses to apologize for its wartime actions. One of my Korean friends told me that he cannot talk about the history of his country without talking about what Japan did when it controlled Korea from 1910 to 1945.

Jukka Jouhki (2009) discusses the Japanese politicians’ visits to Yasukuni and the impact of those visits on Koreans. In the following passage he describes Yasukuni as a “wormhole”:

Symbolically, Yasukuni can be thought of as a wormhole that goes through time and space. When this wormhole crops up, the entire Korean nation seems capable of being transported backward into the era of Japanese colonial rule. 

Jouhki says that the Korean image of Japan is as she was in the colonial period, and Yasukuni represents imperial Japan just as if it were now. The image exaggerates the difference between us and them, Korea and Japan. He says that when the Koreans were colonized, it made the Koreans see themselves as “Other”, just as they saw the Japanese as “Other”, and Yasukuni represents an identity that they are trying to work through.

Japanese leaders’ nationalism, such as visits to Yasukuni Shrine and the museum and textbooks that fail to show wartime atrocities, is not only a means to form a certain Japanese identity. It seems that Japanese nationalism strengthens a certain Korean identity as well.

References

Calhoun, C. (1993). Nationalism and ethnicity. Annual Review of Sociology19, 211-239.

Jukka, J. (2009, May 8). The second invasion: Notes on korean reactions to the yasukuni shrine issue. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/179474/The_Second_Invasion_Notes_on_Korean_Reactions_to_the_Yasukuni_Shrine_Issue 

 

Gender Equality Solutions a Problem in Korean Workforce

by Ji Soo Kim

Recovering from Japanese colonization and the Korean War, under the strong U.S influence, the Republic of Korea displayed an amazing yet abrupt economical development throughout the 20th century. Due to the traditional Confucian belief of “men are superior to women, who are expected to attend to men’s every need,” the social status of women in Korea before Western influence was significantly low. As the Western ideology of gender equality permeated in Korean society, educated men lifted their voice to give equal rights to women, and women shouted for their rights.

Beginning with women’s suffrage in 1948, the social and governmental movement for women’s rights rapidly settled in society. As a result, women in Korea now seem to have equal rights under the protection of the whole society. However, the process of achieving gender equality was done too abruptly. People do not understand the true definition of gender equality, thus real problems regarding gender have not been solved in many parts of society, and men are claiming their feelings of reverse discrimination. In this article, I will specifically talk about gender equality issues in workforce, and suggest better solutions to current activities for improvement.

The Korean government set laws and encouraged businesses to protect women from being discriminated against in employment, and in the workplace. An example of the law is that an employer should not consider female employee’s physical looking, or ask about marriage status, which are unnecessary in work performance. Businesses were encouraged to increase female welfare in the company, to provide long maternal leave, menstrual leave, shuttle bus system for safe return to home, anonymous telephone line for accusation of any sexual discrimination, powder rooms and lounges only for women, and extra financial support for child care. An example of Korean company known for fine female welfare is Hyundai Motors. It is one of the most popular businesses where young women wish to be employed. However, uncongenial to its high reputation, women employees consist only 4.3% of the entire company. Why is the women employee proportion considerably low while the company provides satisfying welfare for women? Looking around the young graduates around me, I also see many who wish to be employed by Hyundai Motors, which means that there are sufficient, and even an overflow of applicants.

One valid reason for low constitution of female employees in Hyundai Motors could be employers’ unwillingness to employ women. The cost of hiring a woman in their workforce is much higher compared to that of hiring a man, since they have to provide all different kinds of welfare. If there is a man and a woman in interview with almost the same quality and potential, even if I was an employer, I would choose man not because I am discriminating against woman, but for cost reduction. This possible reason is suggesting that current welfare system is designed just to satisfy the wants of the government and the society, and this is ineffective because it shows a decline of women employment in some business sectors and discourages younger unemployed women to aim for these businesses.

The society demands female welfare because we are taught that women must have ‘equal’ rights to men, and that women had not been treated ‘equally’ in past. With such excessive focus on women, not many people clearly come to understand the true meaning of gender equality. The majority focused only on present discrimination against women around us. The law protected women first, and businesses started to provide immoderate welfares for women, and there’s no specific word as ‘male welfare.’

In workplaces, to stop employer’s unconscious thinking of preferring man over woman for cost reduction, not only female welfare but also male welfare should be considered thoughtfully. Excessive focus on women empowerment in workforce created current system. Companies should concern men and women together and provide what is needed for each fairly. Increase in paternal leave, provision of comfortable lounge for men, or provision of children’s kindergarten in father’s company could be possible solutions. Concern for both men and women in work places would make both willing to work for longer period with loyalty, and lead to better understanding of each other. The change in work places would result in a bigger change in the entire society. Starting with work places, a deep knowledge and discussion about gender equality should be taught and held in public education system. The society would not be able to change at once, but with the effort of current generation, the future generation will grow up with much improvement.

The preference for lighter skin in Mexico and Asia

by Han Si Hun (Jake)

In the book Shades of Differences, Christina Sue talks about the categorization of the color in Mexico (especially in Veracruz), and I believe that this categorization of color in Mexico is similar to the discrimination of races. As Sue argues, “Veracruzanos do not embrace their mixed-race status in and of itself: instead, they strive to ‘whiten’ themselves and their progeny.” It can be said that Veracruzanos have a strong preference for white. Sue also argues that Veracruzanos are looking for partners who have whiter skin for the possibility of the next generation coming out with lighter skin, and that Veracruzanos have strong images of black people related to the history of slavery.

This kind of discrimination and the preference of lighter skin color actually happened to my friends when I was staying in Singapore. I never really had an issue with the light skin or dark skin thing in Singapore. However, I went to of those middle schools where most of the black friends (Malaysian and Indians) dated either light-skinned black women or people of another race (lighter skinned people). I did not have a problem with people preferring light skin but sometimes I feel it people are sort of implying “darker” skin is worse. I used to be able to see people’s preferences for things as simple as that. But I remembered the question that I raised to my friend “why are you preferring to meet lighter skin than you?” and my friend was saying, “It is because I want my kids to be lighter than me.” This can be said that the preference of lighter skin is not only happening in Veracruz, but also in Asian countries.

I found out a report from The Asia Market Intelligence (AMI), which showed that the 68 percent of Hong Kong men are more appealing to lighter skin women (Schwartz 2012). In the case of Korea, white skin is also one of the important points for a beauty of women and it is also a part of men`s preference for their partner as well. We Koreans are also having stereotypes of darker skinned people as the people from the countryside. This can be said that the color discrimination on people is not only happening in Mexico but it is also a problem happening in Asian countries as well.

Works Cited

Schwartz, S. (2012, July). Men find fair skin more alluring. South China Morning Post. http://www.scmp.com/article/374509/men-find-fair-skin-more-alluring

The Latin Americanization of Korean race relations

by Yang Jicheol

The process of Latin Americanization is simply about keeping white supremacy from other colors. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David Dietrich introduce an example of how the U.S. follows the way of the Latin Americanization for its white supremacy, which is challenged from increasing population of other colors. There is similar example of the Latin Americanization of U.S. race relations in Korea.

As with the United States’ race relations, Korea has also experienced a similar process in terms of racial issues. That appears from young aged population because young aged population tends to be more multiracial. Many Korean consider themselves as a single-race because of same language and skin-tone. However, that single-race nation does not exist anymore. The races are becoming more complex and wider in current Korea. Many western people, whom we regard as white, come to Korea for having job or traveling. Not only western people, but other races such as Southeast Asian also come to Korea for working or marrying with Korean. In that process, a hierarchy has been constructed, which pure Korean place at the top, other western and East Asian people are middle, and others, the Southeast Asian and black people, are at the bottom.

In current Korean society, the interracial marriage rate has dramatically increased between whites with Koreans and nonwhites with Koreans as well. So, there are many multicultural children in Korea now. The multicultural children mean that children have at least two different cultural backgrounds because of their parents’ nations. At the first appearance of multicultural children, it became a hot social issue because of Korean attitudes towards them. The Korean attitudes were harsh to typical multicultural children, who are born from Southeast Asians or blacks. Unlike that attitude, it considered other multicultural children, who are born from the white or East Asian, positively. The multicultural children, born from Southeast Asian or the black, have been considered as negative perspectives such as poor background, dirty, and non-beneficial to Korean children. Nonetheless, other multicultural children have been thought differently. This perspective made Korean society to change its preference towards typical races for equality and norm, which is “We are all Korean”. To solve this problem, schools and libraries have been built only for multicultural children, especially for children having nonwhite parents. Also, government has made public advertisements to make citizen not to discriminate against them. It seemed to work at first because those children have started to respect their identity and have self esteem. Also, the harsh discrimination seemed to disappear. However, those solutions did not work actually. Although people do not tend to show their attitudes directly, they still regard those children as not real Koreans, poor, and shunned children. When we see the surface of that problem, it seems to be solved, but under of the surface, the pure Korean supremacy becomes much stronger and discrimination remains invisibly.

The reason why similar phenomenon appears in Korea is that the world has become smaller that different races are easy to move to other nations where other races are dominant. This makes diversity of race more complex in many nations. So, phenomenon of the Latin Americanization would occur in many other nations like U.S. and Korea to keep position of their majority from influx of immigrant.

 

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.

References

Agrawal, V. (2012). Why Indian men want fair skin brides? Retrieved from http://www.bollywoodshaadis.com/article/lifestyle–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 http://browse.feedreader.com/c/Makeup_and_Beauty_Home/390094216

Statics Brain. (2012). Arranged/forced marriages statistics. Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/arranged-marriage-statistics/

Why Indian Men want Fair Skin Brides from www.bollywoodshaadis.com