Skin tone and self-esteem: Impacts of colorism

by Keisuke Yamada

In “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women”, Verna M. Keith examines the relationships between skin tone, social and economic achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. Keith briefly mentions the history of slavery and how lighter-skinned blacks were more accepted than darker-skinned blacks because they had similarities with white people. As history clearly shows, colourism existed in the past when the skin tones you were categorised in decided what you can do and how you are treated. Even after the period of slavery, colourism continued to affect education, occupation, and income of African American women. The graphs the authour provides clearly show differences in education, occupation, and income among groups of people with different skin tones.

Then, Keith moves on to look at the relationship between skin tone and self-esteem, which I personally thought very interesting. Keith provides two graphs which show the relationships between the level of self-esteem and skin tones in adolescents and adulthood. There is not a huge difference in the level of self-esteem in adolescents. However, as they become adults, self-esteem of very dark brown people drops, although the author says that the results may have been different depending on when you were born. More interestingly, Keith mentions how skin tone is not related or ignored in predominantly white environments. One suggestion was that in predominantly white environments, there is only a distinction between black and white. I had a discussion in the class whether this can be applied to other cases. For example, in a country like US where Asian people are the minority, it is often ignored which part of Asia they come from. However, from the perspectives of those Asian people, it is of course a big of deal where they originated.

As we discuss the issue, I heard that the ratio of ‘black’ and ‘white’ people is changing in some parts of the US, and I guess that some parts of the world may be experiencing similar shifts as well. So my last question was whether colorism would still matter for some people, considering this shift may occur in the future. I personally think that it would have less influence on one’s self-esteem and career achievements, but at the same time, it is also possible that there would always be some kind of distinction or differentiation beside the idea of colorism.


Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Double Consciousness at Miss Bronze Contests

by Miyu Fujihara

In “The Color of an Ideal Beauty Queen,” Maxine Craig talks about how Miss Bronze or beauty contests clearly show “systems of representation”, which makes contests such as Miss Bronze significantly different from beauty contests mostly for white women. System of representation can be simply explained as differences of perspective. Specifically skin color is one of the elements that decide representation, as well as other factors like body features. For example, blond hair represents white race and a dark-skinned person evokes the image of low social status, and so on. However, since systems of representation are different depending on the racial group, features can represent anything. Thus the definition of beauty differs a lot among groups, thus making different impressions. What black people and white people think is beautiful can differ.

As Craig mentions in her chapter, at the Miss Bronze Contest, black contestants try to walk carefully so they can show their well-educated behavior, which reminds people of middle class manners or the social representation of whites, and some straighten their hair to be “white” in order to achieve beauty acknowledged by the majority.

However, at the same time, since it is Miss Bronze, the contest which decides the symbol of the race, contestants want to keep their blackness or authenticity in their appearance. This is why some get their hair short in order not to be too white (long hair is regarded as element of being white). The one that meets the both expectations wins the contest, in other words, the one that is regarded as beautiful from both whites and blacks can win. This whole process to be the winner is said to be based on the one’s double consciousness.

From what I’ve mentioned above, this can be applied to Asian American women in the United States. Keeping racial identity and achieving the majority’s standard of beauty for them is to have black hair or Asian hair, but to keep it long like other white people do. Thus this shows how they have double consciousness.

In my opinion, this is something very considerable and profound in a way it shows that there’s more than one standard of beauty exists. Cherishing her race and natural appearance will build self-confidence and stop people from rushing to get plastic surgery whenever they want to change their race. As for the day a black woman won the beauty contest, it’s proved that the one that’s beautiful is not always white, but black or Asian and any other race. However, even recently it seems that  colorism still exists in a form of social hierarchy. This explains how the concept of multiple standards of beauty was established with color-based social hierarchy coming from colonialism. It sounds difficult to change this issue. Nonetheless, people at least are secured to have their own racial identity and are given the environment where they can be respected from each other in disregard of racism.


Craig, Maxine L. 2009. “The Color of an Ideal Beauty Queen” in Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Still Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Colorism, segregation, and beauty pageants

by Shinoko Itakura

In 1977, Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad and Tobago became the first woman of African descent and also the first black woman to be crowned as Miss Universe.

“Miss Universe” is the most famous beauty pageant in which female representatives of each country compete. In 1977, Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad and Tobago became the first woman of African descent and also the first black woman to be crowned as Miss Universe. Until this happened, there had been many attempts to argue beauty of black women against colorism. “Miss Bronze” was one of such attempts, challenging racial exclusion and colorism. Each woman is representative of her own black community.

I was a discussion leader of this topic today in the class of Race and Ethnicity in the Modern World. I have come up some questions and two of those were “if there is beauty pageant TODAY for only white people, do you think this is discrimination against non-white people?” and “What about if it was for only black people or Asian people?” I was expecting that the most of my colleagues would say yes right away to the former question and no or maybe after they consider for the latter question. Yet, one of the colleagues said that this is not about racism nor discrimination but the idea of having different beauty contests of ethnic groups or racial groups are same as segregation. I have realized that the idea I have come up without any concerns was horrific thing which colored people have been suffering. Also “The standards of beauty” including not only skin color but also physical features are based on white standards. For example, in the beauty contest, fat people or short people cannot be seen. Everyone is extremely skinny and tall.

Women always want to stay beautiful. “Beauty” is forever theme for women. However this beauty should not be decided based on one particular “standard of beauty”. There are different styles of beauty. Every woman is beautiful no matter what skin color she has, no matter how tall or how skinny she is. Every woman has right to show how she is beautiful. No one can judges whether the woman is beautiful or not by skin color.


Craig. M. L. (2009) “The Color of an Ideal Negro Beauty Queen.” In Shades of Difference: How Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Color? Look for beauty in its own

by Kanae Mukaihara


When a person sees another person and exchanges a word, they likely have already distinguished the other person’s race according to their appearance. This is the reality. In current time periods, there still is obvious discrimination in the society. For example, in Japan, many foreigners are not able to get a part time job or even rent an apartment. In addition, sometimes, still a sign “Japanese Only” may be seen in shop entrances. This may not be regarded with their skin color, yet people still judge others by skin color. If one is non-white, others would regard one is inferior to those who are white.

“People do not want to be distinguished by their skin color and at the same time people do not want to distinguish others with their skin color.” I wish every single person in the world would think in this way. It sounds simple, yet wheels within wheels, it is more complicated than it first seems to be. Those who have white skin color tend to have better employment, better income, better treatment and even better life (Nakano, 2009). Society is constructed with bunch of people in which discrimination are occurring from color differences. Thus it should have been actively argued for everyone to have equal eyes more than equal society. However, in a sense of beauty, it could be different.

The standard of beauty differs among countries. However, world widely, having lighter skin color, taller nose, bigger eyes, blond hair is considered as beauty in most of the countries, including countries in Asia (Chung, 2011). In Asia, Westerners have been the role model of beauty.  For example in Japan, people would buy cosmetics which is lighter color than their real skin color since they have the idea of white or lighter skin is more beautiful. Korea as another example, it is more severe. In Korea, beautiful women are more likely to be employed and to have better life (Stewart, 2013). Thus, people get plastic surgeries and try to become beautiful to compromise to the society. Regarding white as beauty in the world is more common while has becoming a standard. Yet, in Brazil, they discover beauty in darker skin.

In Brazil, race is classified by skin color, which mainly has category of white, brown and black. In the society of Brazil, as same as other countries, the lighter skin one has, the better employment and income they could get (Nakano, 2009). In Brazil, there is discrimination in society. However in Brazil, not like Japan or Korea, women want to have golden and tanned skin. Thus women with lighter skin color use darker cosmetics to make their skin color darker than they have now (Stylist, 2014). In addition, in comparison with Korean more focuses plastic surgery in face, yet Brazilians more focuses on shape of their body. There are not many countries which find beauty in darker skin.

From these findings, I consider that one should not be treated based on the skin color they have or their looks. In a sense of beauty, the standard of beauty should be created by countries and create the standard of beauty from cultural aspect and also careful consideration in the society. Every race has its own charming point in every single part of their body and personality. From doing this, I believe more women in the world would be able to find much more confidence as who they are. Respecting others, respecting cultures, respecting one’s looks will lead to brighter future I believe.


Chung, C. (2011). ‘Westernizing’ surgery on the wise. Retrieved from

Stylist. (2014). Made in Brazil: Why Brazil leads the way with beauty trends. Retrieved from

Stewart, D. (2013). I can’t stop Looking at these South Korean Women who’ve had plastic surgery. Retrieved from

Telles, E. (2009). “The Social Consequences of Skin Color in Brazil.” In Shades of Difference: Why skin color matters, edited by E. N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Race, Color, and Beauty in Brazil

by Deanne Walters

First Flag of the United States of Brazil (Nov...

First Flag of the United States of Brazil (November 19, 1889 – April 14, 1960). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brazil is a country with a long history of racial mixing, so the common system of classification for people is not one by race, but one by color. The three main categories that are used in the census are white, brown, and black. Even with the long history of mixing there are still benefits given to people with lighter skin and beauty is racialized.

To start off by looking at economic disparity can show how race and color play out in a society. When looking at economic benefits, in 1980 people who were black in Brazil made only 40 percent of what someone who was white made, and someone who was brown made only 44 percent. Looking at the data from the 2010 census there is a similar divide. Someone who was black earned 48 percent of someone who was white and someone who was brown earned 49 percent.* People in economic power often reinforce that privilege in other ways, such as with beauty.

So there are clearly economic benefits for being white, but are there also benefits in terms of beauty? This is where race still plays a part; facial features and hair are racialized often with white features and hair being seen as more beautiful than black features and hair.  Brazil does promote the ideas of a mixed race person being seen as beautiful in Brazil, but it only goes so far. While people with darker skin tones are seen as beautiful they are still held to the western standards in other regards such as with hair and facial features.

An example of how this manifests is with plastic surgery. When looking at why people get plastic surgery they are trying to make themselves more beautiful, but the kind of features they are going for is more similar to someone who is white; the features that they are getting surgery on are often the one they think they get from their nonwhite parents or grandparents. So while Brazil promotes this myth of mixed race beauty. The reality is that this myth just reinforces very similar beauty standards with a slightly different skin tone.

*Disclaimer I analyzed this data myself and did not control the data for other factors, so it can give  a rough idea of the situation, but the actuality may be slightly different.


Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful’: Cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13(2):363-381.

Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística [The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics] (2010). Tabela 1.3.5 – Pessoas de 10 anos ou mais de idade, por cor ou raça, segundo o sexo e as classes de rendimento nominal mensal – Brasil – 2010. Retrieved from http://

Telles, Edward. 2009. The social consequences of skin color in Brazil. In Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 9-24). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Blackness in Brazil: ancestry, skin color, and race

by Hiroki Matsuyama

In today’s modern world, there are many types of injurious racisms all over the world. However, the elements to discriminate against people are different, and they are depending on countries. There are several interesting aspects in terms of the way to distinguish people in Brazil according to ‘The social consequences of Skin Color in Brazil’ by Edward Telles.

On the one hand, people in the U.S tend to discriminate against those who are black, on the other hand, people in Brazil do not distinguish people depending on their race, but they do depending on situation, classifier and region. In other words, skin color is more commonly used than race in terms of distinguishing people. The most interesting point in this reading to me is that some U.S blacks may be seen as white in Brazil, only people having very dark skin are considered black. In fact, there are Brazilians who call themselves white, have non-white ancestry, and the numbers of those people is not small surprisingly. In spite of the fact that the U.S does have the ‘one drop’ rule  to discriminate against blacks, you would not be considered black in Brazil if you do not have black ancestry. From this point of view, it can be said that miscegenation tends to whiten the population in Brazil, which is totally opposite idea of the U.S. This is because Brazil was the colony of Portugal, and Brazilian people were born between Portuguese males and African or indigenous females.

Honestly, racial discrimination in Brazil did not seem to be worse than it in the U.S as my first impression. However, there is severe discrimination depending on their skin tones in Brazil. Although, in the U.S, there are color differences within races of Black and Latino, not among white people, there are color differences within the entire population in Brazil. It means that job wage or opportunities in Brazil depend on skin color. Hence, there is the difficulty for policymakers to define racial boundaries, and decide who should benefit from affirmative action even though they try to make a move for low-income citizens.

There are totally different notions between two countries, the U.S and Brazil in terms of discrimination. I would not say which is in better or worse situation; people in both countries are struggling in different ways. As I am an Asian person, I would like to research how Asian people in Brazil are considered. If people in Brazil discriminate against people depending on their skin tone, Asian people might not be discriminated because so-called ‘yellow color’ is close to white color.

Skin Whitening as Social Uplifting and Achieving the Ideal “beauty”

by Moe Miura

There are many skin-whitening products in global markets today. One can easily purchase skin-whitening products even without knowing it, because whitening one’s skin tone is already a big phenomenon in the 21st century all over the world. However, South Africa has significant story about its history of the phenomenon of skin whitening.

In Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (2009), author Lynn M. Thomas focuses on the history and the use of skin lighteners in South Africa. Today, 35% of the South African women are said to be using the skin-whitening products. Then these questions pop up: why do South African women try to whiten their skin tone? Is there a history behind it?

South Africa is widely known for its history of apartheid, where black and colored people did not have the same political or economic rights as white people, and also were forced to live separately from white people. This policy led to the further discrimination of black and colored people, segregation, and the skin color preferences influenced by the European colonialism (Thomas, 2009). Thus it created the idea of lighter skin equals more liberty and less/no discrimination. Historically, the use of skin whitening products had a lot to do with the fact that there was a significant racial discrimination against black and colored people.

pictureAnother reason of using the skin lighteners was “technology of the self”, meaning people decorate themselves to transform themselves, so that they can achieve happiness or perfection. This can range from concealing blemishes to bleaching their faces. Advertisements have played a big role in informing people about this idea that whiter is more beautiful, using musical stars and beauty contest winners. Capitalism also pushed this idea because the more difficult the thing to achieve, the harder people try; concealing flaws and having lighter skin was difficult thus people would purchase more stuff to achieve this “ideal beauty”. The market of skin lighteners had become multimillion-dollar-per-year endeavor.

As it can be seen, reasons of South African women purchasing skin whiteners ranged from racial uplifting, capitalist commerce, to making themselves look better as a “technology of the self”.


Thomas, L. M. (2009). Skin Lighteners in South Africa. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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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 (
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” (

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.


“Not Happy Being Black?” – Posted by Editorial Staff.

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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Color complexes in the Philippines

by Lulu Maginde

In ‘Filipinos and the Color complex,’ Joanne Rondilla questions the reader, especially readers here in Asia, what the ‘ideal’ concept of beauty is, and how different people within Asia perceive beauty. As Rondilla focuses specifically on the Philippines and how skin whitening is utilized, or rather highly emphasized, it was interesting to find how skin-lightening products are marketed and sold as well as what these products are saying about beauty.

Rondilla claims that this concept of having a fairer complexion/lighter skin, stemmed from the Philippines’ deep history of colonization, after having been occupied by Spanish for over 300 years. This history most indefinitely influenced the way of life, culture and traditions, not to mention language and the concept of what is deemed beautiful.

After the departure of the Spaniards, then came the Americans, and many Filipinos will claim that until present, the Philippines is still a colony of the US, as most of the way of life in the Philippines has been greatly structured around a more Western way of life. Of course the country still has its rich culture and heritage, as well as its strict religious value system, however it is not hard to deny that US presence has greatly affected life in the Philippines.

This ties in perfectly to my next point of how Rondilla compares standards of skin color between Asian immigrants to the US to Asian Americans born and raised in the US. The main difference between these two groups is that while Asian Americans chose to tan, as it symbolizes wealth and a more luxurious life, Asian immigrants, for instance the Filipinos who immigrate to the US, are more likely to use skin lightening products in order to assimilate  into society. In the Philippines, having darker or more of a tanned complexion immediately reflected what social class one belonged to. If one had a fairer or lighter complexion, they belonged to an a higher social class, simply because they were not as exposed to the sun as working-class laborers.

This notion of a ‘relatable ideal’, or the claim that a certain type of beauty is the shared/common ideal amongst women in the Philippines is what is striking. Consciously or unconsciously, these women buy into an industry, in conjunction with certain media institutions, that greatly influences what may be deemed as beautiful. Thus, they buy into the idea that, due to capitalism, ‘everything can be bought and exchanged’.


Rondilla, Joanne L. (2009). “Filipinos and the color complex.” Pp. 63-80 in Glenn, E. Shades of Difference: Why skin color matters. 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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