The fallacy of Japaneseness identity through the ideal of “white” Japanese skin 

by Agathe Schwaar

For the four years I have been living in Japan, I have never felt attracted to Japanese cosmetic products, and for many different reasons. First of all, the TV commercials. They always show beautiful Japanese ladies with perfect skin, they would compliment the effect of their “whitening lotion”. They also would have this strange way to play with their skin as it was some British jelly and cry out how their skin is soft after applying the product. Second, I had never been able to find my skin tone among all the Japanese makeup available in the drug store. The foundation creams in Japanese are so pale that I would have looked sick if I had tried to wear some.

To remedy this situation, every time I go back to France I buy all the products that I need from face cleansing to shampoo and conditioner (for thin hair, which is not like Japanese hair). By being a western women in Japan, I clearly felt the assumption that Japanese people consider their skin tone as unique and specific to their “people”.

clipimage_21In her research on Japanese whiteness, Mikiko Ashikari (2005) tries to explain where the idea of a specific white skin among the “Japanese race” comes from. According to Ashikari, it seems less likely to be from Caucasians’ influence, since Japanese women considered Caucasian skin as “rough, aged quickly and had too many spots” (Ashikari 2005:82). The idea of white skin in the Japanese society is even more specific than any other features that could define the idea of being “Japanese”. Although Japanese change their hair color with dying products, their eye color with contact lenses, and their physical features with plastic surgery, they would never change their skin color because “the notion of Japanese skin works as one medium to express and represent Japaneseness” (Ashikari 2005:76). As Ashikari notes, by defining a specific skin color to their race, Japanese people are even able to reject the Okinawan people as a “second-class citizens” (Gibney quoted by Ashikari, 2005, p. 80).

b02602_ph02Actually, Japanese whiteness has its roots even before the Black Ships arriving in Japan during the 16th century. It is said that during Nara Period (710–94) and Heian Period (794–1185), Japanese women were already using diverse products to light their skin tone (Kyo 2012). The ideal of white skin is also found in a lot of literature of this period such as the Diary of Lady Murasaki and Tale of Genji (Kyo 2012). Back in the Heian Period, women would blacken their teeth and shave their eyebrows. Nowadays nobody would shave their eyebrows as a sign of beauty but the idea of white skin as the ideal of beauty among Japanese women is still a recurrent topic in Japanese society.

In the case of Japan, we are actually not facing an issue of white supremacy on a “secondary” race, but the emergence of the uniqueness of a specific and idealised race through notions of a Japanese race. The idea of a race is still a controversial subject in scientific research, and I think that the Japanese people’s attitude toward their own skin as a part of their own race should be also considered as controversial. If we follow the idea that whitening one’s skin in order to follow an old tradition that dates back to the 10th century, then the “French race” also should wear white makeup in order to respect the traditions from the 15th century.

The commerce of whitening products in Japan is not an issue of how much Japanese people spend on those products, it is an issue of how it feeds the Japanese mentality on their own uniqueness. As Ashikari (2005) explains, white skin in Japan is not only a beauty feature among Japanese women, it idealises the white face as a symbol of the “Japanese identity as a race and therefore very different from — and even “superior” — to western whiteness” (p.89). The marketing is using a single element to increase the belief of a unique race in order to make more profits. With these actions, they instill in Japanese people a fallacy of their identity and create an idea of a skin superior to any other white skin and so superior to any other kind of “white race”.

Reference

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity.” Journal of Material Culture 10(1):73-91.

Kyo, C. (2012). Search for the Beautiful Woman: A Culture History of Japanese and Chinese Beauty (Asia/Pacific/Perspectives). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Japanese Whiteness and Bihaku Products: Media Influence on Aesthetic Values of Japanese Skin

by Rena Shoji

Japanese model Chie Kumazawa in an interview for an online fashion magazine For F

Bihaku (skin-whitening) products are “must-haves” in Japan. I think using those products is almost considered as etiquette to avoid getting sun tanned to keep your skin tone “appropriate”. The market size is huge in Japan. In 2012, study shows that bihaku products consist of over 210 billion yen in the domestic market (TPC Bibliotech 2014). However, it is not that Japanese women have color complexes or feel inferior to the skin tone of Caucasians. They seek “Japanese whiteness”, which they claim a “traditional” aesthetic value in Japan. In “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness” (2005), Mikiko Ashikari argues that Japan has its own skin identity and aesthetic values, in which whiter skin is preferred.

First, Japanese people tend to think that they have a distinct skin tone (Ashikari 2005). Despite individual differences, people with darker skin by nature (jiguro), are seen as different or unusual. For example, people from Okinawa are likely to be considered as different from “usual (futsu-no)” Japanese because they share different historical backgrounds. Their darker skin is distinguished from ordinary Japanese. As a result, darker skin generates “otherness”. It reminds me of a friend of mine, who has relatively darker skin. She is often teased about her skin tone. “You don’t look like Japanese.” Her darker complexion makes her look like non-Japanese in the Japanese society. Therefore, Japanese people tend to think that they have “unique” and “traditional” skin identity and aesthetic values.

Second, with regard to Japanese skin identity, the author’s survey illustrates that Japanese women claim that they have “traditional” aesthetic values in terms of whiteness. Their Japanese whiteness, they think, is even superior to the skin of White people. Thus, skin-whitening in Japan is not mimicry of Caucasians. In addition, skin-whitening products are widely spread and its market scale is huge. However, the purpose of using those bihaku products is not to make their skin tone lighter than their “innate” complexion. Rather, skin-whitening in Japan are used to regain youth on their skin. It implies that the consumers think that they naturally have lighter skin and can regain youth and whiteness with those products. Many Japanese women try to avoid sun tanning in order to “protect their whiteness”.

Kumazawa in a SHISEIDO’s advertisement

Kumazawa in a SHISEIDO’s advertisement

However, I argue that the skin identity and aesthetic values, which Japanese think they traditionally have, can be questioned. Also, I would say that these ideas are strongly influenced by beauty companies in Japan because of its market size and the regulations on the advertisements. As mentioned above, bihaku products are very popular, or sometimes considered as “necessary”, and used by the majority of Japanese women. It can be said that those products, in part, influence the beauty standard of Japanese women. What are the media messages of the products through selling them? In fact, Japan Cosmetic Industry Association (JCIA) prohibits advertisements of cosmetic products from claiming skin-whitening effects (JCIA 2012). The recovery and prevention from san tanning are the only things that are permitted in cosmetic advertisements. The regulations would certainly affect the content of the advertisements. It also should be noted that even under the regulations, the models for the skin-whitening products actually show whiter skin than they really have.

Given both of Ashikari’s arguments and these two factors above, it can be said that the Japanese “traditional” aesthetic values are, in actuality, constructed by media messages. That is, in order to pass through the regulations and still create a demand for skin-whitening products, cosmetic companies claim Japanese women’s “innate” whiteness on their skin. Reciprocally, the media message from those prevalent market products influence on the aesthetic values of Japanese women. Furthermore, its influence is so huge that the consumers strongly believe in their “natural” light skin tone. Therefore, I argue that Ashikari’s arguments about Japanese skin identity and female aesthetic values are strongly influenced by bihaku products in Japan.

Many women enjoy using cosmetic and skincare products, but applying and consuming products can be an obsession if the society creates the specific beauty standard. In the case of Japanese skin-whitening, the products themselves and the media message create the social norm and aesthetic standard. We, consumers of these products, have to be aware of the impacts of media influence from cosmetic advertisements.

References

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

Japan Cosmetic Industry Association. (2012). Guidelines for fair advertising practices of Cosmetics, 2012 Edition. Retrieved from http://www.jcia.org/n/all_pdf/gul/JCIA2012_ADguide.pdf

TPC Bibliotech. (2014). The market analysis and research of skin-whitening products. Osaka: Total Planning Center Osaka Corp.

Whiteness vs. Lightness: Advertising Happiness

by Chelsea Mochizuki

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

Why is light skin favored over dark skin?

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

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

Is the preference for whiteness or lightness?

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

The “Evils” of Advertising

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

“People want to watch people who look like them”?

From the Japanese television program “Takeshi’s Castle”

by Robert Moorehead

I’m quoted in a French news article on the limited appeal of Japanese television programs in Western countries. The journalist, Mathias Cena, questions the answer Japanese producers gave him as to why many Japanese programs are popular in Asia, but not in the West.

The producers claimed that audiences want to watch people on TV who look like them. But is that true? Isn’t the appeal of some shows due to the fact that the characters are different from us? Don’t we watch the super-wealthy, the beautiful, the glamorous because we want to be like them, but currently aren’t? What about shows like Jerry Springer? In The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk ShowsLaura Grindstaff argues that part of the appeal of shows like Springer is that audiences feel that they’re better than the losers on the show.

Some Japanese shows are popular in part because the shows are Japanese. Shows like Iron Chef and Takeshi’s Castle fit the stereotype of Japan as a wacky, zany, crazy country—a stereotype routinely nurtured by Western press’s penchant for articles about Japan as inscrutable and bizarre.

It’s great to have a journalist seeking out a sociological perspective. Now if only someone writing in English could show sociology some love …

Why should I enhance and accentuate my “natural” beauty? On “almond-shaped” eyes

by Chelsea Mochizuki

I’m sure you’ve seen them at one point in time, displayed along the aisle shelves of drugstores in cultural and “racial” melting pots like the United States—makeup and hair products marketed to “enhance” and “accentuate” the “natural” features of certain races. However, there is no one physical trait that all members of a racial group share; all “Blacks” do not have x amount of melanin in their skin, all “Asians” do not have almond-shaped eyes with a curvature of y, and all “Japanese” do not have hair with a diameter of z. So how is it we learn to associate, define, and read physical traits and racial categories?

Let’s see this process in action. Try to imagine a “Black” person. Next, imagine a “White” person. Okay, now imagine a “Japanese” person. How did you draw them? What features do they have? How did you know what features to give each “race”? We learn to expect the way people look like based on our encounters in the social world- through interactions in our daily lives and through popular media representations of “races”. Through this cultural learning process, we internalize how to code race and categorize individuals based on what we think they should and should not look like compared to other “races”.

Terry Kawashima illustrated this social phenomenon using the racial “ambiguity” of characters from Japanese shojo manga. Will a manga character with a small mouth, straight tall but small nose, large “saucer” eyes, and blond hair be recognized as “Japanese” or “White”? According to Kawashima, American audiences tended to view this character as “White” because it had blond hair, while Japanese audiences tended to view this same character as “Japanese” because of its small mouth and nose. Americans were surprised that this character is also thought of as “Japanese” because Americans tend to learn that blond hair is a central indicator of “Whiteness”, while Japanese audiences tend to learn that blond hair does not necessarily indicate being “White” in combination with other telling features of “Japanese-ness”. Different cultures and societies have their own set of rules and criteria for defining and categorizing “races”, which accounts for the differences in the way American and Japanese audiences code the character. We are taught what traits define which races, and what races should or shouldn’t have which traits.

I remember when I was a child growing up the United States, and children would mock Chinese people (this term was all-encompassing to mean anyone of East-Asian “descent”), by pulling the outer corners of their eyes towards their ears to form a more almond-looking shape, and yell “ching-chong” to imitate the “Asian” language. While both my parents and I identify as “White” and are viewed by society as “White”, I remember thinking that both my mother and many other of my “white” acquaintances also had smaller, almond-shaped eyes, so I did not understand why “almond eyes” were a trait associated with “Asian-ness”. As I entered high school and became more aware of and interested in Japanese popular culture, I began to notice differences in the way “Asian-ness” or “Japanese-ness” were represented in the media. When I showed pictures of the Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki to my peers, they said her “orange” hair was weird and here eyes were too “big”; in other words, they came to the conclusion she was trying to be “White”, when she should otherwise be accentuating her “Asian” features because she is racially perceived as “Asian”.

Famous Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki

In comparing Japanese media representations of Ayumi Hamasaki to images of Lucy Liu, who was embraced by American popular media and described by Kawashima, there are noticeable differences in the appearances of these women. Ayumi Hamasaki’s makeup gives her eyes a large and rounded appearance, while Lucy Liu’s makeup leaves her eyes in an “almond” shape- just as “Asians” are expected to look by American audiences. You may speculate that Ayumi Hamasaki enlarges and thus in-authenticates her eyes using  makeup techniques or has undergone plastic surgery, but in arguing so, you are giving in to socialization processes and assuming that “natural” Asian eyes are almond-shaped, and therefore cannot “naturally” be “saucer shaped”.

Lucy Liu, who was generally embraced by American popular media

This blog is not attempting to define or identify any defining physical characteristics of each race; race is in the eye of the beholder- what is authentic, what is natural. Women are often told they should accentuate their natural features—follow the natural curves of your face when contouring, play up your lips if they are naturally plump, and so forth, but this becomes a problem when “naturalness” and “authenticity” are racially coded. If you are “White”, makeup leaving you with deep-set eyes and medium-high cheek bones is viewed “authentic”; if you are “Asian”, any makeup that does not render your eyes in an “almond” shape is “inauthentic”. If there are many physical variations of the same features among members of the same “race”, why does “natural” makeup for each race only portray one set of variation of physical features?

I will be sure to think of Kawashima’s work, the next time I hear someone say “It’s such a waste that he/she is hiding his/her “natural White/Asian/Black/Brown” features”. There are no physical traits “natural” or essential to any one race, so why should one race have just one “natural” or “authentic” form of makeup and beauty alteration? We must re-examine the innate racialization of “natural” beauty.

Reference

Kawashima, Terry. 2002. “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference in Japan.” Meridians 3(1):161-190.

“Whitening” manga figures?

by Lyu Dian

mangaIt is easy to recognize Japanese Manga characters from their exaggerated round eyes, small nose, spindly legs and colorful hair. These features that are generally common for most Japanese readers confuse Western readers sometimes because in their eyes Manga characters look like Caucasians but Japanese. In Kawashima’s article, many Westerners consider stylized Manga figure as an expression of “trying to be white” and the idea of “becoming white” is a product of cultural imperialism since the white people were historically dominant in the world. They even express their sympathy to “Asian people” who try to become white by stating that their should stay who they are but not constrained to racial hierarchy thinking. In fact, the thought of regarding Manga figures as white or trying to be white is a symptom of visual production of race and racial privilege thinking.

Different from Western viewers, Japanese readers naturally regard Manga figures as Japanese, blonde hair and round eyes are nothing more than exaggerated factors of Manga, as well as spindly arms and legs. In addition, colorful hair and round eyes are widely used for highlighting distinct personalities and showing emotional performance in artistic works, same as characters in Disney cartoon who usually have oversized head (eyes too) and disproportioned body. As a Chinese reader, it never occurs to me that these characters look more Caucasians since they do not even look like man in reality with their unbelievable shape of hair and limbs thin as stick. The reason why Western viewers especially tend to think Manga characters as white, as Kawashima pointed out, is that they usually hold stereotype of “Asian look” in their mind. In their and mass media’s views, Asian look should be flat face, small and slanted eyes, yellow skin and straight black hair which are actually not correct (see the Disney movie Mulan as a example). In the American drama, The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon’s mother carved a smiling face on a pancake she said “his eyes are little thin but pretend him to be Chinese”. It is really common to see stereotype of “Asian looking” face in mass media, thus it would not be surprise to understand why Westerner viewers cannot accept Asian face with round eye and lighten hair naturally because that against their typical expectation of Asian people. Exactly as Kawashima discussed, the idea of “Asian looking face” or “what Asian people should look like” is a process of picking and ignoring certain features as standards to create and evaluate race. This fixed mind-set is artificially and socially constructed, rigid characters in films, cartoons, dramas are outcome of it and also reinforced it. Even though, mass media are far less racial than in the past but stereotype still exists.

References

Terry Kawashima. 2002. Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference. Meridians 3(1):161-190.

Matt Thorn. The Face of the Other.  http://www.matt-thorn.com/mangagaku/faceoftheother.html

How come Japanese cartoon do not look like Japanese people. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-77407.html

Skin Lightening in South Africa

by Yutaro Nishioka

The trend of skin lightening, especially among women, is getting increasingly common all over the world, including South Africa, where the major part of its population is black. According to a study from the University of Cape Town, as many as one in three African women use bleaching products to lighten their skin.

Skin lightening products often create serious medical complications; many patients suffer from diseases caused by a combination of use of lightening products and sunlight (africa.com).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also mentioned the negative effects of some skin lightening products. Mercury, one of the common ingredients in lightening creams, is said to have harmful effects and could also lead to kidney damage, as well as other side effects such as “skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections” (africa.com).

Why is skin lightening becoming so common in South Africa despite its negative health effects? Professor Lynn Thomas, co-author of the book Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, mentions the history of South Africa being colonized by Europeans. The Europeans and South Africans were not treated equally, and there was the notion that light skin was somehow better, not much unlike Hitler’s idea that Jews were inferior. More recently, apartheid, the government policy of racial segregation against black Africans in South Africa, was renounced officially only in 1992.

The effects of the history of discrimination can still be seen in the current South African society. For example, Nomoto “Mahoza” Mnisi, a famous South African musician, is known for her extensive use of skin lightening products. She says, “I just want to be light skinned… I was tired of being ugly.” She is assuming that dark skin is “ugly” and light skin is not.

People that have heard of this news have reacted differently, but the majority of the comments on the internet do not seem to approve of her changed appearance: “she was so much prettier before; her husband must be blind”, “God created her black and she looked so pretty. She looks pretty now but she looked better before”, “She is insecure and that’s bad.”

As there is a difference between Mahoza’s view and that of her fans, it is questionable to say that the history of the colonization and discrimination is the sole cause of the contemporary trend of South Africans’ skin lightening, but it is probably one of the factors that have contributed to the trend.

Reference

“Not Happy Being Black?” – Posted by Africa.com Editorial Staff. http://www.africa.com/blog/not-happy-being-black/

Thomas, Lynn M. 2009. “Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self.” Pp. 188-210 in Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E. N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Beauty Standards in the White Imagination

by Shinoko Itakura

The phenomenon of changing skin color has been happening all over the world. Some attempt to get lighter skin and some attempt to get tan skin. The reasons behind those two attempts seem opposite yet, the purpose is the same, “high class”. The symbol of high class depends on where you are, and how the standard of the beauty has been created in your society, because the standard of beauty  includes class status.

But who created the standard of beauty and how? We tend to describe people who have straight jet-black hair, and large, double lidded, almond-shaped eyes as “Asian beauty”. Even though we are Asian, whenever we see people who have those facial features, we say, “You are beautiful like Asian beauty!” In fact one of my colleague just described another colleague as an “Asian beauty” the other day. It just feels weird when Asian people describe another Asian as an “Asian beauty”. This is because the idea of Asian beauty has been created in the white imagination. We do not say European beauty or Latin beauty, because the standard of beauty is already based on European (white) features. What is more, something which is called a “universal standard” or “universal beauty” is just not universal. It always based on physical features of white people.

The standard of beauty seems to be controlled by mass media and the marketing of cosmetic products. Cosmetics companies use many strategies to gain more and more profits. “Relatable” is one of the important key concepts; if consumers find any similarity to the advertising models, for example “Asian-ness”, they believe that they can achieve those models’  look, and the universal standard of beauty. Those advertisements do not directly say “you guys can be like this model, if you use this products!” yet they are implying this by using racially ambiguous models. In order to sell the products, they also give us images of dark skin as dangerous, unhealthy, bad, and wrong by using terms such as aging or skin cancer. But what really matters is “skin color”.

I feel wrath about how skin-lightening products are marketed. It is so depressing that somehow we have to feel pressure of skin color or looking, and have to try to look like someone else, just because we are not white. This situation must be stopped and there should be the world which do not judge you by your skin color.

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Selling whiter skin for beauty

by Kohsei Ishimoto

In Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (2009), Joanne L. Rondilla looks at the different techniques are used in the cosmetics industry. When looking at the Philippines, advertisements focus on ‘whitening’ the skin, because the people in the country tend to have darker skin. On the other hand, when looking at European countries, advertisements look at ‘brightening’ the skin, for there is the idea that people in these countries naturally have light skin.

When looking at these advertisements, it can be seen that to be beautiful, you must have white skin. Rondilla explains that there are many people in the Philippines who buy skin-whitening products to look beautiful, but is being ‘white’ really being beautiful? The main answer to why ‘white’ is thought to be ‘beautiful’ is colonization. To the countries that had been colonized, the European countries had been superior, fixing the image that ‘whites’ are ‘better’.

When reading Rondilla’s chapter, however, it can be seen that there are various ‘types’ of white skin. One is the European beauty that was mentioned earlier, and the other the ‘Asian beauty’. This refers to East Asian countries, such as China and Japan. Filipinos are actually looking at ‘Asian beauty’, possibly because these countries are closer to them. In Japan’s case, the country looks at being ‘white’, trying to achieve the European look. This statement can be said to be wrong however, for recently Japanese people want to be seen as individuals.

When looking at various advertisements, it can be seen that models of different skin tones are used. For advertisements that use ‘white’ women, companies state that they are the ‘result’ of the product. On the other hand, companies that use models of a darker tone state that it does not look ‘right’, telling the consumers to change by buying the product. It is a fact that many purchase skin-whitening products to gain their ‘beauty’, but exactly how close are they to their ideal image? Will consumers ever believe that they are beautiful enough? The answer to this is probably no. The cosmetics industry has control over the consumers, by selling only a small portion of a product, or changing advertising techniques to trick us into believing that our images are not yet satisfactory. When thinking about this, it is interesting to wonder why people use cosmetics in the first place. Can not having any make-up on be considered beautiful? The answer to this can be explained through society; how people see you, and how you want to be seen.

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Brainwashed by media?

by Kanae Mukaihara

What is beauty in Japan and what race do Japanese regard themselves? In “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference in Japan,” Terry Kawashima mentions that Japanese people have used Westerners as a model of beauty, with Westerners’ taller noses, bigger eyes, and blond hair. Thus, Japanese women do makeup to make their eyes look bigger and dye their hair in brighter colors. Yet, being Japanese, I myself do not do my makeup while thinking about to wanting to look like Westerners. From this, Japanese are not putting Westerner as a model of beauty, yet we are brainwashed and affected since we are young children. 

How are Japanese people affected and brainwashed? Considering Japanese manga or animation, most characters have white skin with colored hair. If this characters are seen by foreigners, it is natural for them to consider why ‘white’ characters are are used in Japanese animations. Although Japanese children have seen these images since they were young, they do not feel uncomfortable or wonder why the characters have different colored skin than they do. From this, it could be said that media in Japan is constructing citizens to have Westerners as a role model and also to make the citizens feel similar to Westerners.

Yet, why would media do such a thing? In society, there always are classifications in race, even when we are not aware of them. So, from looking at the world, from Japanese aspect, Westerners have been superior since the end of World War II. This is making Japanese people treat Westerners as a role model, and also by media making Japanese people think similar and familiar with westerners, it makes Japanese consider themselves similar to Westerners. When we watch cartoons made in other countries and see a character that has black hair, small eyes and short height, I guess some Japanese people might have experienced regard that character as Chinese even wearing kimono or other Japanese traditional clothes. I consider this is coming from the classification and unconsciousness of superiority and inferiority. 

To conclude, Japanese are regarding Westerners as beauty due to the effects of exposure to the media since a young age, and the unconsciousness of classification is still affecting our ideas. Thus, Japanese people regard their race as Japanese, yet in some point, they have some kind of similarity to Westerners and Western stays as the model of beauty in Japan.