Measurement of beauty in the Miss Bronze Beauty Contest

by Moe Miura

The concept of “beauty” is something really strong in many places. If we say a single word “beauty”, though it is just a one single word it have different meanings for each person who hears it. The definition of the idea of “beauty” is now so expanded that people have started to have their own idea of “beauty”. However, if we look at how one society, or even many countries together, define the idea of “beauty”, we see the “trend”, or collective ideas about beauty. Often, the way of promoting or influencing these trends to people is to define “what kind of people is beautiful”; and often, that is done through the beauty contest.

It is not exaggerated when we say the winner of the beauty pageant shapes the idea of beauty that people have. Often, these beauty contests had excluded “black beauty” from the criteria to measure people’s beautifulness. Then there was born the beauty contest called “Miss Bronze”, and it actively recruited a lot of women of color for the contest. Even with this situation, skin color was something to measure one’s beauty, because they still had the idea of lighter skin as better and more privileged than darker skin by various reasons.

However what I want to look close to are elements other than the skin color. Though skin color has been talked about one of the most important elements in defining “beauty”, however there is particularly one thing that I would like to focus on: hair.

As people set the ideal image of skin, people also try to achieve the ideal hair. As for the Miss Bronze contestant, since they were African American, many had short and tight-curled hair. However the ideal hair was “long and straight/wavy/silky” hair. Even until today people have been using hair relaxer to straighten/soften their hair, though it has harmful side effects.

I believe there are a lot of similar points between the action of whitening skin and relaxing hair; first advertisements (magazines, commercials, and so on) played a big role in making people believe that using these product will give them better life or privilege. Also, these two factors strongly connect with social stratification. Both claim that having lighter skin or straighter, smoother hair will result in privilege. With the created ideals and brainwash of the media, people who has too seek beauty (people in beauty peagent) and even others are seeking the way to go close to their ideal image of “beauty”.

Changes in the beauty standard for men and women

by Satona Kato

Jyotsna Vaid’s research shows us that lighter skin is a requirement for marriage. We learned many people think lighter skin is better and is one of the conditions of beauty in various countries.

However, it is also true that the standard of beauty varies by regions or countries. In Japan, it also has changed depend on the generation. There was the time when the skin browned by the sun was seen as more beautiful. For example, in the ‘ganguro’ boom or ‘komugihada’ boom, people preferred dark skin and many people went to tanning salons. When I was 3 or 4 years old, many Japanese high school girls made their skin dark and I longed for their skin and I wanted to be like them. In that time, the models who had sunburned skin were popular and that was the standard of ‘kawaii’ for young girls. But when I became a high school girl, there were no girls who made their skin dark and the standard of “kawaii” was having white skin. Most advertisements of cosmetic products also uses models with white skin.

More and more people come to think we want white skin, not only girls, but also boys. Surprisingly, recently the boys who have white skin are increasing. In the Japanese drug store, there are many sunscreens or whitening lotion for men and many men use that, especially young boys between the ages of 15 and 30. Nippon TV interviewed 55 boys whether use whitening lotions, and 33 boys answered “Yes”.

Then, which do women like better, white skin boys or sunburned boys? The answers about this question were different depending on the women’s age. Young girls (10~30) tend to like boys who have white skin better, but most of women over 30 years old like boys who have sunburned skin. The reason why that difference exist is the influence of media. Today, many young actors and models have white skin. But, it was different 20 to 30 years ago. You can see this difference if you compare the popular actors 5 to 10 ago with actors who are popular now.

As you can see, the trend of skin color has changed. In Japan, both boys and girls become to more and more like the white skin. Last year, we were surprised the publication of the popular young men’s magazine “Men’s Egg” was suspended. When I was a junior high school student, many young boys read this and tried to be “Gyaru-o” by having browned and meshed hair, and tan skin. The reason for suspending the publication was that young people’s trend were changing. Today, most Japanese people like white skin better, and use whitening lotion. But there are possible that standard of beauty “white skin is beautiful’ will change in the future in Japan.

Are such changes in views toward skin color occurring in countries that have a connection between skin color and social status?

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Skin Tone and Achievement in Education

by Sten Alvarsson

There is a clear relationship between skin tone and levels of achievement in education. Lighter skin tones achieve higher levels of education and employment on both a personal and family basis (Keith, 2009). Advantages and disadvantages of skin tone relative to a particular group or individual within a society are based on perceived ideas of beauty and status and their associated connotations. The advantages of having lighter skin can be passed down through family networks, as children receive the privileges of the structure they are born into.

Educational advantages of a lighter skin tone relative to others in their environment can be present from an early stage. Teachers can judge students with greater attractiveness to also have greater levels of intelligence (Keith, 2009). Since skin tone often plays an important role in perceived attractiveness, teachers may have higher expectations, give out more encouragement and give higher marks, amongst other preferential treatment, to lighter skinned students resulting in superior academic performance.

Children are highly perceptive to these socialised messages regarding skin tones. When darker skin tones are devalued the affect can be equally as damaging as the extolment of lighter skin tones are advantageous (Elmore, 2009). Adolescents in particular have a heightened sense of self-consciousness in relation to their physical appearance and the socialised messages they receive in the classroom can have a great impact on their academic performance and opportunities for socio-economic mobility later in life.

Research shows that lighter skin tones are often linked to higher socio-economic status to the extent that, “Complexion operates as a form of social capital that can be converted to human capital assets” (Keith, 2009, p. 29). This is supported in research by Joni Hersch which shows that, “On average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education” in relation to employment earnings (as cited in Nair, 2010, p. 25). In fact, Keith (2009) highlights a direct relationship between lighter skin tones and increased levels of education. Such research has been questioned by academics like Gullickson (2004) who state that, “Colorism itself might still remain, but structural changes in larger race relations have reduced the advantage it previously gave to lighter skinned individuals” (p. 22). However, Keith (2009) argues that both media images and academic research do not show a decrease in the importance of skin complexion as a marker for achievement.

As has been demonstrated, skin tone is an important marker for achievement in education. Skin tone based social messages, behavioral norms and patterns of thought within the classroom are a powerful force in children’s development. Subsequently, skin tones also play a prominent role in later outcomes in areas such as mate selection, economic opportunities, occupational status and health conditions (Keith, 2009). Therefore, there needs to be a focus on education at a young age working towards combatting skin tone bias in order to lessen its prevalence with each new generation. Ultimately, we are all embodiments of living experiences and an end to skin tone bias would be an important step forward toward an existence without discrimination.

References

Elmore, T. G. (2009). Colorism in the classroom: An exploration of adolescents’ skin tone, skin tone preferences, perceptions of skin tone stigma and identity. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from UMI Dissertation Publishing. (3395695)

Gullickson, A. (2004). The significance of color declines: A re-analysis of skin tone differentials in post civil rights America. Retrieved from http://www.demog.berkeley.edu/~aarong/PAPERS/gullick_asa2003_skintone.pdf

Keith, V. M. (2009). A colorstruck world: Skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (pp. 25-39). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Nair, M. (2010). Social awareness in selected films. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Aveiro, Portugal.

Myth of Beauty: Facial Features and Skin

by Sheena Sasaki

In her book Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, Nancy Etcoff (1999) wrote that in many parts of the world, big eyes, high cheekbones, small chins, and full lips are features of beautiful woman, and each of these features combined represented youngness. I believe this is partly true. Cosmetics invented today helps women to have these facial characteristics to raise their self-esteems that they are beautiful. However, the trend of beautiful facial characteristics changes from place to place and time to time. For example, in old time Japan, ‘otafuku-gao’ was considered to be women’s beautiful face which consisted of the followings: round face, thin eyes, low nose, wide forehead, small lips, and very plump cheeks. Nonetheless, less people consider the face with such features to be beautiful in Japan today. There always exists certain trend of beautiful face.

Then, what about skin colors?

Whenever I step into a drugstore in Japan, my eyes always catch the word ‘美白 (bi-haku),’ which directly means ‘beautiful white,’ in cosmetic section for skin.  However, I do not find any word which represents ‘beautiful black.’ This means to me that the concept of beauty, at least in Japan, is naturally tied to whiteness of the skin. Referring back to old literature of Japan such as The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu from the 11th century, women with white skin are considered to be beautiful. Moreover, there exists a proverb in Japan which says, “White skin hides seven flaws.” Thus, beauty of white skin has been practiced for long period of time. This is not only limited to Japan. The world’s famous beautiful fairytale princess Snow White has skin which is as white as snow. Nancy Etcoff (1999) also writes that the beauty of white skin is commonly believed throughout the world and overcomes the beauty of facial features. This brings me to another question. Why is white skin considered to be beauty in the first place?

If it was the period when most of both men and women from the lower and middle class worked outside under the sun, white skin represented wealth.  Hence, it is not hard to predict that men were more attracted to white-skinned women who could spend their money and time on their physical appearance.  Yet, this prediction does not fully fall into the society today where increasing number of people work inside of the office buildings. Many people do not clearly know why they prefer to have whiter skin, or why white skin is beautiful. In this case, I believe “I don’t really know” is the best answer as people say. In this technologized society, media controls one’s sense of beauty and values. As a result, the cycle is created. Women follow similar conception of beauty because someone on the media said it is beautiful, more people follow after because everyone talks of the same beauty, and the media reflects upon and introduces the beauty concept believed by the audiences. The word ‘美白 (bi-haku),’ became too common in Japan to extent that almost no one bother to question the beauty of whiteness.

Reference

Etcoff, N. (1999), Survival of the prettiest: The science of beauty. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Marrying not for One’s Self but for Others: Hinduism in India

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by Aya Murakami

“We believe in Love Marriage. But we cannot marry someone who have different customs, religion, speak different language. ”

Different ethnic groups, religions and language exist in India, where has the 7th largest area and 2nd largest population in the world. In India, there are over eight religions, complex social stratification system called caste, and more than 15 language is spoken in different areas. Since different religions have very different cultures, I will talk about Indian Hindus in this post, which accounts for 80% of the total population in India, and consider their ideas towards marriage. (When I mention “Indian” in this post, it refers to “Hindu”.)

Arranged marriage is very popular in India. There are newspaper ads and internet matrimonial service has been becoming popular. Currently, I live with several Indian students and I asked them about this matrimonial service. Most of them have visited one of these websites and told me which factors they look at when choosing the partner.

  1. Caste
  2. Economic Class of the Partner and his/her family
  3. Job Status for Men/Appearance for Women

The same religion and the same caste are absolute requirement, and better economic class is preferable, they told me. But, the third comes job status for men and appearance for women. Job status for men is related to economic class, however, what is exactly “appearance” means? Which characteristics Indians put importance on?

  1. Fair
  2. Slim
  3. Facial Features

Having “Fair” skin is the most and very important feature of appearance, Neha and Tanushree, two Indian girls told me. Although there is a famous skin lightening cream called Fair & Lovely, Neha who belongs to the highest caste, Brahmins, said that skin-lightening cream is barely used in her caste since most of the people have “fair” skin. General idea of skin tone in India is that the lower the caste the darker people’s skin tone becomes and the darker their skin tone the more likely people use skin-lightening cream.

family

“It is not about how you feel, it is about how it will affect your family and how it will portrait your family in the society.”

Coming back to the Indian Hindu and their marriage, through reading books and talking with my Indian friends, I realized that they often used the word “we” instead of the word “I”. I thought that it represents the idea that first priority for Indian people is not how they feel but how the others feel. Thus, when it comes to marriage, their first concern not whether or not they love someone but how their society and families judge them. That is one of the reasons why arranged marriage is popular than love marriage in India. Religion, caste, economic class and appearance, each factors plays important role in Indian marriage. Marriage determines social status of Indian’s family in their society, thus arranged marriage is considered as necessary to carefully consider how well the partner can represent the family in the society.

No Way To Run From The Influence Of The Media

by Emilie Hui Ting Soh

Reading Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade” brought back my memories on the first time I went to the drug store looking for a suitable skin care product to use. I was a young girl, at thirteen years old, with no prior experience or knowledge, was instantly bombarded with the wide range of brands, functions, benefits. I had no idea where to begin. A sales lady then came up to me and asked if I needed any help. I replied yes, and she began introducing the range of products that she was selling. Words such as moisturizing, radiating, whitening, and beauty were used as she explained in detail about the products and how they are used. I, on the other hand, had no idea and did not understand any of what she was talking about. I was just looking for a product to wash my face with, and did not know that I have to consider so many other problems that I possibly have. That made me felt very troubled and I left. Now looking back, I look at this incident as part of a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of once you get sucked into the industry.

At that time, I did not think that being fair or white was beautiful. I was considered to have dark skin and did not have any issues with my own skin until I began having influenced by consumerism thinking that dark skin is a problem that I need to fix with the use of a skincare product. The media, through advertisements and posters, act as constant reminders to the consumers that we have to do something about the ‘problem’ we have. If not for media portrayal and influence made by businesses and the society, I believe the majority of us would definitely not think that dark skin is anything negative or inferior. It is in fact, through our life we have been constantly ‘programmed’ to think this way, thus it creates such an issue in this present day.

In addition, as I was reading this chapter, I could not help but feel very annoyed and was seriously questioning the reason why are women always the one being objectified by the media and the society? It is ridiculous to compare how much women and men spend per month on their own cosmetic skincare products respectively for themselves. Why should women be made to comply with the beauty standards set by the people trying to sell us the products that they claim can make us beautiful? If we look at some of the tribes in the mountainous regions, who have limited exposure to the media, their standard of beauty is very different from the standard of beauty that we have.

Beauty, I believe, is when you learn to appreciate what you have and not to remake or alter the way you look to try and become someone else whom you are not.

Lighter skin as an escape from discrimination

by Chris Leung

In Hong Kong, it is also popular for women to lighten their skin. Since in the old days, having lighter skin has meant a woman did not have to work, so she was more noble than those who had darker skin. As the result, lighter skin signifies higher social status and eventually it lead to the definition of beauty.

However, in most cases, no matter where you are, I think that instead of saying lightening your skin is a choice, it is more appropriate to say that it is just an exit door in order to escape from discrimination. Let’s say if you have dark skin and you were discriminated against, can you say that skin lightener is a choice for you? Or is it a path towards salvation for you? Can you proudly say that you chose these products ‘freely’? People who want to have higher social status lighten their skin. Although there are exceptions that some dark skin people could also enjoy higher social status, or some of them chose to keep their darker skin even if they would have a poorer life, the outcome of having darker skin and lighter skin are obviously different because of colorism. If most of the people think that lightening their skin could benefit them, can it still be called as a choice?

Further, I think that money cannot justify everything especially moral values. It is true that because of development, we might have to lose some of our traditional stuff in order to fit into society. For instance, we have to give up building traditional architectures in which few people can live, instead we build skyscrapers because of increasing population and limited lands. But lightening our skin is definitely not because of evolution or development, but to fit into a society which is full of discrimination.

In conclusion, I think that reducing the yearning of lightness is not because keeping diversity is important, but the values of everyone living equally is essence. Even though there are people who are rich and people who are poor, the way to wealth you have should be based on your own efforts and abilities, but never should be based on your racial appearances. The main issue about skin lightening is not the huge industry that many people live from it, but fundamentally, it is devaluing certain skin color, which is an act of discrimination.