‘Ideal Asian Beauty’ in Skin Care Marketing

by Kiho Kozaki

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mixed-race and Asian Ideal Beauty

by Rena Shoji

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Beauty Per Skin Complexion and Symmetry

Anonymous student post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pervasive Nature of Skin Lightening Products

by Olivia Katherine Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Normality and the Mass Media

by Marcel Koníček

Before I took my international sociology class, I had never heard about skin lightening and the issues connected to it. I did not even imagine that something like that could even exist. Well, my ignorance is not as surprising considering I am a man coming from ethnically uniform Central European country not really interested in recent trends in cosmetics in other parts of the world. However, after reading about the issue I have quickly realized how widely spread and dangerous this trend is.

For those of you who have not heard about skin lightening, it is a practice done in many parts of the world, where people (mostly women) use cosmetics, containing usually either heavy metals or hormones, that change the skin tone towards the fair end of the skin tone spectrum. Prolonged use can lead to many illnesses and can permanently damage the skin. However, many are willing to pay the price.

Of course, people all over the world are doing many different beauty practices that are not good for their health, so this might be somewhat unsurprising. What is so interesting about it is that it is a phenomenon that connects many dissimilar cultures such as Philippines, African countries, African Americans, and even Japan and Korea. Why would people in all these places want to appear whiter, even though import of the whitening substances is banned in their countries?

Evelyn Nakano Glenn is saying that this is comes from mixing of preexisting preferences for fair skin, relicts of colonial supremacy and modern consumer capitalism. Being whiter gives them better chances at getting a job or being a better match for marriage. I agree with this statement and it is quite eminent, that we actually live in an age of “white normality” where any other skin colour than Caucasian white is considered something undesirable, something that you should and can change about yourself. It is true that for example Europe is full of tanning beds but tanning does not influence your racial identity, which does not have to be true for somebody like African Americans.

The huge rise in the industry of skin whitening and the idea of white normality in the current world is in my opinion tightly connected to two things: globalization of pop culture and rising buying power of the middle class in third world countries. The rise of relatively affluent middle class in countries such as India has created hundreds of millions of consumers of skin lightening products, who previously did not have enough disposable income to buy them. The globalized pop culture is what keeps the trend accelerating. All summer blockbusters that Hollywood sells to us are full of unrealistically attractive white women and the smaller entertainment industries all over the world have already adopted the American ideals of beauty – this is clearly visible in the Korean pop scene, where all the young idols have the same surgically altered face – face that is maybe less Asian and more Caucasian.

English: Nicki Minaj live on Femme Fatale Tour...

English: Nicki Minaj live on Femme Fatale Tour in 2011.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We do not have to go as far for a good example – let’s have look at an African American pop star, Nicki Minaj, and the cover of her new single. Her hair looks very Caucasian and her skin tone actually looks almost whiter than my own skin. I am sure that this is not an accident but a careful choice of background, lighting, cosmetics and photo editing. Everything with the goal to make her look as white as she can without losing too much of her racial background. If even the artist of what some people call “black music” has to look white on the cover of her single to give the right impression, how white must be an Indian woman to be considered a good match for a preferably wealthy husband?

This question is very worrisome and I do not know how to solve this problem or even if it can or should be solved in some reasonable way. However, it shows the ways how media, economic development of third world countries and perception of beauty can influence the behavior of people worldwide.

The Links between Skin Tone and Self-Esteem

Gordon Parks' American Gothic. Portrait of gov...

Gordon Parks’ American Gothic. Portrait of government cleaning woman Ella Watson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mikaella Hahn

As I was reading Verna Keith’s “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement, and Self-Esteem among African American Women,” I started to wonder if myself as a Korean American being able to distinguish amongst Asians is similar to what was mentioned regarding African Americans being more sensitive to different shades of among African Americans—a distinction that is not significant to the dominant majority.

Well frankly, a Korean person would be insulted if they were asked whether they were Chinese. To the dominant majority in America (which is white), these distinctions probably do not matter, because the main distinction to the majority is whether the person is White or Asian. In general the dominant group doesn’t realize the importance of intra-differentiation is to the minority groups. They don’t have to be able to differentiate, so they don’t learn to, and this contributes to the continued frustration of minority groups in America.

My initial thought after reading the first paragraph was that, self-esteem of African Americans would be low when living in white dominant society due to the discrimination against them, however as opposed to my first thought, the reading revealed that African Americans rather tend to have lower self-esteem when they are living in black dominant society than living in white predominant society. The evidence from this paper provides that the light skin African Americans get better education with better job prospects with higher income.

According to the way I was educated about racism, the inherited, unacknowledged racism in a white dominant society is what I thought would lead to lower self-esteem for African Americans. To live in a society where the color black is associated with something negative, and to be portrayed as harmful to the society by media, it seems to me that people colloquially called “black” would evaluate themselves more poorly. Watching a number of videos about both white and black children favoring white dolls only reinforced my belief.

However the author says this is not the case because after the 1960s’ and 1970s’ racial activism inspired young African Americans to appreciate their natural beauty, which led them to have higher self-esteem.

On the other hand, after the hardships that African Americans have faced, it is hard for me to believe that this movement would do such widespread affect in such a short term. Compounding my disbelief is the number of empirically unproven theories presented by the author. Thus, while this chapter provided stimulating claims, it should be read with other evidence-based papers.

The “Return” of Race in Brazil 

cotasby Chloe Lyu

Different from the American white or black model of racial classification, there is a large range of choices between black and white for Brazilians to identify themselves, since Brazil applies skin colour as criteria for classifying one’s race. However, skin colour is more than skin tones in Brazil, as it also relates to the texture of hair, the shape of nose, lips and cultural background.

Moreno (brown) is the most popular term, which is used by nearly 44% of the population when people describe their skin colour. Its ambiguity allows a wide range of people with different skin tones to fit in the same box. In addition, brown is celebrated as a national symbol of mixed raced Brazilians. The founder of Brazil’s national identity, Gilberto Freyre, declared that the skin colour of brown was a great combination of Black, Indian and European, thus it symbolized mixed races of Brazilians’ commonness. Freyre’s work created an image that Brazil was a racial democracy without discrimination, due to everyone’s mixed background, thus everyone was the same.

democracyNevertheless, the reality tells a different story, from the statistics it is obvious that white Brazilians have more opportunities accessing education, work, and a higher standard of living. Despite the race-mixing, the white Brazilian population still occupies the top of Brazilian society, while black and brown people are largely struggling in poverty; Racial democracy is a myth and never actually existed. The colour classification, which has been promoted as a wonderful racial democratic system, sugars up the racial differences and inequality by obscuring the concept of race. In fact, colour and race are the same thing.

The current racial quota policy that benefits black people puts race back on the table and has raised heated discussions. In a debate about the racial quota policy, Demetrio Magnoli, a Brazilian professor, stated that Brazil enjoys racial democracy because people are identified by colour but not race. The new policy has created races by putting into racial boxes and would result in racial discrimination.

Nonetheless, it is really so? Hasn’t race existed forever in Brazil? Without applying the word “race,” people are still judged by their skin colour and treated differently. Racial problems are not returning to Brazil because they never left, while the word race is returning. Brazilians have been fooled so long by the myth of racial democracy, and the black community has begun to say no to the situation.

This response asserts that the American Black or White system is a universal system that should be applied in Brazil for achieving racial equality. However, the colour classification system, as an outcome of myth of racial democracy, makes the race problem rather vague and glosses over the shadow of racial differences and inequality in Brazil.


Guimarães, Antonio Sérgio Alfredo. 2012. Race, colour, and skin colour in Brazil. FMSH-PPhttps://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00714628/document

Edward Telles. 2009. The Social Consequences of Skin Color in Brazil. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Still Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Brazil’s racial quotas (2012), http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xr52qg_brazil-s-racial-quotas_news

Skin Lighteners and the African Illusion


Nigerian and Cameroonian singer Dencia

by Allan Kastiro

“White means pure. Not necessarily skin but in general, that’s how I look at it, it means pure.” This is a statement made by Nigerian and Cameroonian singer Dencia, who created a controversial skin-bleaching cream called ‘Whitenicious’. In a Television interview with the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News in March 2014, the singer responded to the criticism that her skin lightening product had received. Dencia claimed that her product was not a skin lightener but a dark spot remover however; many of the Whitenicious’ campaign ads presented Dencia’s skin tone as being lighter than her original color and this created a contradiction with her claims.


Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o

Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o, who has on numerous occasions discussed the issue of standards of beauty and why girls should not find the need to use skin lighteners, also addressed the issue of products like Whitenicious in her acceptance speech at the ESSENCE awards. In the speech, Lupita Nyong’o talks about how she has been able to inspire and empower dark skinned girls around the world by showing them that black is indeed beautiful. She talks about one particular girl who wrote to her to thank her for inspiring her to love her natural skin tone otherwise she would have resorted to using Whitenicious since society and western standards of beauty make it seem as though anything less than light is not beautiful.

I think that the biggest problem in Africa today is the illusion that lighter is better. This illusion is rooted in colonialism, western-dominated capitalist culture and western standards of beauty. Many African people believe that they need to have a lighter skin tone in order to improve themselves and their status in society. That is, most African people desire lighter skin because they believe that this will change people’s outlook on them and they will be able to attain their desired jobs, get spouses or elevate to another class in the society. These beliefs stem from the fact that whiteness is viewed as being symbolic capital whereby being white or having a light skin tone is equated to competence, respectability and honorability. African people have unconsciously been taught by the west to dislike their dark skin and instead strive to achieve a lighter skin tone because they believe that it is much more accepted and desired.


South African musician Nomasonto ‘Mshoza’ Mnisi

A number of people who use skin lightening products argue that desiring a lighter skin has nothing to do with self-hate or wanting to be white but is as a result of insecurities and low self-esteem. An example is that of South African musician Nomasonto ‘Mshoza’ Mnisi who changed her skin complexion and is now lighter than she was originally. To her, skin-bleaching is a personal choice and is no different from breast implants or a having nose job. Mnisi says that the main reason she bleached her skin was to see what it would be like to be white as she had been dark for a long time. (Pumza Fihlani, 2013) Although Mnisi says that she is not self-hating and does not aim to be white, her attitude towards her natural skin tone says otherwise. It also leads me to question why she would feel less confident or have a low self-esteem if she was indeed proud to be black as she so often claims.

In conclusion, I believe that Whiteness or in this case, lightness as a symbolic capital has created a generation of African people who lack self-worth and confidence in their natural skin tone and this has resulted into the use of skin lightening products which in the long run damage their skins and might ultimately lead to severe diseases like cancer. I think that this trend will not end unless the people who use these products change their views on what they perceive as the standard of beauty and develop a sense of self-worth as dark-skinned African people.


Fihlani P. 2013. Africa: Where black is not really beautiful. Retrieved on 13th 2014 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-20444798

Exploring Japanese Whiteness

Photo by Robert Moorehead

by Wang Xinyi

美白 (bihaku) is a Japanese commercial term that refers to beauty products with functions of skin whitening or brightening. Aiming at prevent or reverse skin imperfection and provide a clean and fair complexion, bihaku has becoming very desirable among Japanese women since the late 1980s. I’m very surprised to find out that the skin-whitening market in Japan essentially is way more massive than I had thought. Products are comprehensive from head to toes. Regardless of using cosmetic products such as BB cream to create a lighter skin, Japanese women have been also purchasing whitening skin-care products like whitening toner and cream that not constrained to target on face but also other parts of body. Despite of that, quasi-drugs that contain vitamins and other ingredients to promote skin regeneration are also very popular. Japanese women will also go to clinic for whitening their skin. What’s more, with newly developed technologies, nowadays people can also do whitening injections either in a clinic or by themselves.

Just by walking into any drug stores in Japan, it won’t be hard for you to find skin-whitening products. Therefore people start to question why Japanese women have been so obsessed with a lighter complexion? Some people claimed admiration for Caucasians should be the vital factor, whereas objection voices argued ‘white’ has been a significant standard of beauty historically.

Ashikari (2005) pointed out, such a Japanese whiteness idea which based on Japanese identity as a race should not be devalued simply as a beauty issue nor as western mimicry. First and foremost, throughout the whole representation by mass media including tv programs, idol image-building, magazines, etc., light skin tone has become an important feature for defining beauty.

Secondly, Japanese people turn out to believe that they originally share a special Japanese skin that is soft, resilient and slightly moist, which is highly related to racial factors. Therefore, they consider people without that kind of skin are either of other races or are Japanese who have been tanned by sunshine. In this sense, white skin tone then works as one medium to express and represent Japaneseness. By being a “proper” Japanese, you need to have a light skin tone, and the same goes for being beautiful in Japan. Hence, to be a pretty and proper Japanese woman, light complexion turns out to be crucial.

Nevertheless, why is that the consumption of whitening cosmetics boomed around the late 1980s? From my perspective, it could be linked with Japanese political as well as economical conditions at the time. After the economic bubble burst, the Japanese government decided to be more liberal and international, both politically and economically. This means that cross-cultural communication had been also stimulated. Is it possible to say that, by sensing so numerous foreigners Japanese people then gained a crisis awareness of their own culture so that began to cultivate tons of “Japanese uniqueness” to separate themselves with others? If that could be taken into account, in such a globalized world how long can Japan maintain such a unique Japanese whiteness concept without being influenced by global trends?

Another question is that, why there is only a “Japanese whiteness” which is marked as unique from all other types of whiteness? As a Chinese, I don’t think there is anything specifically defined as “Chinese whiteness”. Or I’ve also never heard people talk about “special Korean whiteness”. Why do we only see this in Japan?


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

White Skin Covers The Seven Flaws

photoby Nana Tsujimoto

The old Japanese proverb “white skin covers the seven flaws [iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu]” means that a fair-skinned women looks beautiful even if her features are not good enough. As this proverb describes, Japanese women have been passionate about getting fair skin throughout the centuries. In addition, in contemporary Japan bihaku [beautiful and white] skin should be moist, elastic, smooth, free of blemishes and wrinkles. In the article “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness”, Mikiko Ashikari (2005) argues that the white skin is represented as a symbol of beauty and that of Japaneseness; moreover, this is authorized in public in contemporary Japan.

photo2The custom of face-whitening in Japan goes back to Nara period (710–794). At that time, women belonging to the upper class started to put white powder called oshiroi on their faces due to be more beautiful. According to research conducted by Miho Sato (2002), a professor of the Human Science department of Waseda University, compared to people in other countries, Japanese prefer whiter colors. Sato pointed out that Japanese people have seen the color white as holy [shinseina] and mysterious [shinpiteki] for a long time. Therefore, Japanese women’s preference for a white face was not constructed by westernization but it was emerged from inside of Japanese culture. Experiencing globalization, a white face became not only a Japanese standard of beauty but also an international standard. White skin has been a symbol of beauty for Japanese women. Actually, that is why many Japanese women avoid getting tanned.

Ashikari (2005) says that the dichotomy of white and black leads to division of people: “us” and “others”. She also mentions that Most Japanese unconsciously believe that they are members of Japanese group (racial group) and they share the same skin that is white skin (this differs from the white skin that white people describes). This leads people to have a membership of “us” and also this is linked to the exclusion of people with different skin color as “others”. However, in my opinion, skin color does not help distinguish Japanese people from other people; for example, I cannot say whether my skin looks like Japanese skin or Chinese one. The reason why Japanese think that they have the same skin and other racial groups do not is that Japanese have not enough opportunities to meet someone from other countries or they merely go abroad not just for trip. I think white skin is not so important to examine people’s Japaneseness.

It is common for women in other Asian countries such as the Philippines to bleach their skin due to get more whiter skin. However, in Japan, Japanese women do not try to do that but they use various skin-whitening stuffs including bihaku cream. Do you think agree that Japanese women practice skin-whitening to keep their white face that is a symbol of beauty and Japaneseness? Japanese whiteness is quite complex, but it is really interesting to think about this topic.


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

Shikisaishikou to kokorono kankeiwo gakusaitekina shitende tuikyu [Pursuing the link between color preferences and heart from interdisciplinary perspective](April18, 2002). Kenkyusaizensen [the forefront studies]. Retrieved on Oct 30, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.waseda.jp/student/weekly/contents/2002a/960o.html

The Fair Face of Japanese Beauty (Oct 31, 2013). Nippon.com. Retrieved on Oct 30,2014. Retrieved from http://www.nippon.com/en/views/b02602/