Skin-Lightening Products in China

by Yuan Mingyang

Rondilla (2009) analyzed the influence of the advertisements of multinational cosmetics companies on the colorism in the Philippines. The company that Rondilla examined, L’Oreal, also has its market in mainland China. Therefore, this paper aims to do a similar study on the cosmetic advertisements of the multinational companies in mainland China, and to analyze whether these advertisements in China have a similar influence on the racial discourse in China as they have on the Filipinos according to Rondilla.

The method of this post is to analyze the websites and the advertisements on the websites of According to Dalal (2002), early definition and classification of race usually include the concept of skin color, and what’s more, “colour becomes synonymous with the notion of race” (p. 18). Rondilla (2009) also discussed about the colorism in the Philippines by analyzing the skin-lightening advertisements, but the cause of colorism is a little bit different from what Dalal discussed. The preference for light skin tone also has a long history in China. According to Leong (2006), there are many kinds of folk remedies to lighten one’s skin color in China, for example, drinking a small amount of pearl powder with water everyday (p. 167). Light skin tone shows “elegance and nobility” in China (Ibid, p. 167).

The desire for light skin tone still prevails in China, as well as many other Asian countries, while a favor of tanned skin appears in the West (Leong, 2006). It might be hard to argue that the contemporary desire for light skin color in China is a legacy from the past or a result of colonialism. Two factors may have great influence on the skin-lightening ideology in contemporary China. The first factor that should be noticed is the role of the Communist Party on skin-lightening before the economic reform in the 1980s. According to Hopkins (2007), the Communist Party at that time “rejected displays of difference of any kind, including gender” (p. 289). The uses of almost all kinds of cosmetic products are prohibited (Ibid). Therefore, skin-lightening products should also have been prohibited during this period, for decades. As a result, the recent desire for light skin might be a new one which emerged after the economic reform in the 1980s.

The second factor is the economic reform in the 1980s. According to Hopkins (2007), the cosmetic industry thrived after the economic reform, especially after China became a member of the WTO, which allowed more multinational cosmetics companies to invest in mainland China. Appearance became more and more important for women, and the cosmetic products started to entail new symbolic values (Ibid). Women use these products in order to “look modern and worldly” (Ibid, p. 302), which shows that the desire for light skin tone in contemporary China is representing some new values coming after the reform, which may be probably influenced by foreign countries and globalization.

Therefore, it is reasonable to discuss about the role of racism, as a result of foreign influences after the 1980s, on the skin-lightening fashion in China. Rondilla (2009) pointed out an ideal model of beauty to be Asian and global in the same time. Hopkins (2007) argued Chinese women use cosmetics to be global. This paper aims to prove the statements made by Rondilla and Hopkins in the context of China, with the concern of a potential racial discourse in China. In the first part, the advertisements of three multinational cosmetics companies on their websites in mainland China and the websites themselves will be examined with some of the criteria used by Barnes et al. (2004) in their research on cosmetics advertising in China. The three companies, Shiseido from Japan, L’Oreal from France, and Estee Lauder from the US, are from different parts of the worlds. Therefore, if they are using similar strategies to attract the costumers in China, a general identity of the dominant social values and criteria of beauty believed by most of the Chinese people can be drawn from these advertisements and websites.

In the second part, the findings in the first part will be compared to the similar researches on foreign advertisements in Hong Kong by Leong (2006), and in the Philippines by Rondilla (2009). The second part aims to detect the racial discourse in the advertisements in China by referring to similar researches in other Asian countries. The second part will also give a general image of the role that the multinational cosmetic companies plays in the ideology of light skin tone in China, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

Advertisements of Multinational Companies in China

At first glance, one could see from the layout of the websites of the three companies, Shiseido, L’Oreal, and Estee Lauder, that the main targets of these companies are women. Most of the products are for women, and if a product is for men, it will be put under a special genre. Products for men usually have the word “men” noted in the title, while there is usually no “women” in the title of the products for women. Also, the advertisements for skin-lightening products prevail in the section of skin protection. On the contrary, there seems to be no product for tanning in these websites. As for the best sellers of these websites, the products for skin-lightening have a place in the lists of both Shiseido and Estee Lauder, while L’Oreal does not have a ranking list. Therefore, the assumption of the multinational cosmetics companies in China, when they are making the advertisements and the websites, may be that women are more willing to buy their products, and almost all of them want light skin color.

As for the models in the cosmetic advertisements, Rondilla (2009) stated that using models “racially ambiguous” is very usual in Asia, since they “have global appeal” (p. 71). In the same time, mix-raced models can also fulfill the need to look Asian (Ibid). A similar phenomenon may be found in the websites of foreign companies in China. Estee Lauder seems to prefer to use western models in its website, which can be considered to be a sign of modernity and globality, which proved the statement made by Hopkins (2007) that women purchase cosmetics to look global and modern. On the other hand, that L’Oreal tend to use both Chinese and Western models, which reflects the statement made by Rondilla, shows that the advertisements are stressing both an Asian face and global feature of the products. The study of Barnes et al. (2004) also showed the similar result that the ethnicity of the models usually does not matter, but Asian models are slightly more preferred by Chinese than Western models are. Therefore, most of the Chinese people may accept both Chinese and global faces, but a little bit more prefer their own identities.

Perception of Skin Tone in China, Hong Kong, and the Philippines

This section aims to analyze the racial discourse in China by comparing it to that in Hong Kong and the Philippines. The reason these two countries are chosen is that China has posed some influences on the criteria of beauty in Hong Kong (Leong, 2006) and the Philippines (Rondilla, 2009). For the Filipinos, they use skin-lightening products not to look like westerners but to look like East Asians (Rondilla, 2009, p. 63), in spite of the fact that the image is influenced by Westerners. Rondilla also mentioned a rise of Chinese in the Philippines, which may further reinforce the notion that light skin tone is better and represents higher status. As for Hong Kong, Leong described it as a place where both Chinese and Western values exists.

The colorism in the Philippines that Rondilla (2009) analyzed may have been influenced by other Asian countries, but in the same time it may also influenced these nations in reverse, but as role of the discriminated ones. Leong (2006) noticed the “scale of whiteness” (p. 172) in Hong Kong. In this scale, the skin tone of Japanese and Chinese women are on the top, and the skin tone of Filipinos and people from some of other Asian countries is considered to be dark and is often described as “coarse” (Ibid, p. 172). Leong (2006) pointed out that “social groups such as the Filipinos and Indonesians were the target for much of the participants’ biases throughout their discussions of whiteness and skin tones” (p. 174). The skin tone of Caucasians is also not preferred by Chinese people in Hong Kong (Ibid). Similar phenomenon may also exist in mainland China, since Leong claimed the Chinese values in Hong Kong. With the findings of Barnes et al. (2004) that mainland Chinese people prefer Chinese models in cosmetics advertisements, one can draw a conclusion that in East Asia and Southeast Asia where China has a strong influence, Chinese or Japanese like skin tone rather than Caucasian like skin tone is on the top of the hierarchy, and people from Philippine might be the ones who are discriminated in the skin tone hierarchy in Asia.

As for the logic under the advertisements of the foreign companies and their role in the racial hierarchy, which is close to what Leong (2006) defined as the “scale of whiteness” (p. 172), Leong argued that they are creating “the myth of whiteness”, which emphasizes “purification” and “whiteness” (p. 171). Hopkins (2007) suggested the advertisements seek help from a pre-existing notion that whiteness means less working under the sun in China, which means high social status, in order to make a preferred model and let costumers believe the importance of their products (p. 302). Rondilla (2009) stressed a racial discourse which comes from the colonial period promoted by the advertisements of multinational companies. The existing racial discourse is merged with and reinforced by the colonial racial discourse promoted by multinational companies. The pre-existing preference for light skin tone, the skin tone hierarchy resulted from the interaction between different Asian countries, and the role of the cosmetics companies in spreading a colonial ideology may all have contributed to the construction of the racial discourse in contemporary China, which turns out to be a preference for light skin tone on the surface. The multinational companies are expected to stabilize, reinforce, and promote this racial discourse, when they “attempt to cater to specific markets” (Rondilla, 2009, p. 80), and “promote an ideal” (Hopkins, 2007, p. 302).

This paper aims to analyze the racial discourse in China influenced by the multinational cosmetic companies. The first section analyzed the advertisements on the websites of three multinational cosmetics companies, Shiseido, L’Oreal, and Estee Lauder, in mainland China. The result proved the statement of Hopkins (2007) that Chinese women use cosmetics to be modern and global. The result also contains a racial discourse that white skin tone is considered better by Chinese people. The second section stressed the role of multinational companies in reinforcing an existing skin color discourse as well as creating a new racial discourse as in China. Other factors are also discussed about in this section, while we can still see that the multinational cosmetic companies contribute much to the colorism in contemporary China.

References

  1. Barnes, B. R., Kitchen, P. J., Spickett-Jones, G, & Yu, Q. (2004). Investigating the impact of international cosmetics advertising in China. International Journal of Advertising, 23(3), 361-387.
  2. Dalal, F. (2002). Race, colour and the process of racialization: New perspectives from group analysis, psychoanalysis and sociology. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
  3. Hopkins, B. E. (2007). Western cosmetics in the gendered development of consumer culture in China. Feminist Economics, 13(3-4), 287-306. doi: 10.1080/13545700701439416
  4. Leong, S. (2006). Who’s the fairest of them all? Television ads for skin-whitening cosmetics in Hong Kong. Asian Ethnicity, 7(2), 167-181. doi: 10.1080/14631360600736215
  5. Rondilla, J. L. (2009). Filipinos and the color complex: Ideal Asian beauty. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 63-80). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
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Tanned skin: the new look?

by Kyungyeon Chung

clarinsToday, open up any international beauty magazine – you will find models that are dominating the colorful pages are not all so pale boasting ‘porcelain’ complexion. Instead, beauty sites and entertainment pages have been filled with new trend – tanning. Just take a look at some gossipy newspaper articles based on curious speculation how Mitt Romney, who must have been so busy at the time, maintained the glowing tanned skin throughout his presidential campaign. Kate Middleton and her sister Pipa Middleton also captured the gossip followers with their bronzed skin complexion. Whether it happens on the stunning Greek beach, or while backpacking in Vietnam, or in a sunbed salon in New York, the result, tanned skin has become the new trendsetting skin complexion.

Among those who can afford and dream of tanned skin, the darker complexion comes with numerous labels: sun-kissed, glowing, bronze, naturally tanned… If you examine, all these words used to describe tan, entail a deep implication that tanned skin is healthy; that it is a product of healthy practice, perhaps swimming in the open ocean, hiking under the sun, or out playing by the beach. No long ago were these associated with toiling in farms under the sun, a mark of laboring, lower class. Yet in 21st century when most of people in industrialized countries, people are usually spending most of their days in their offices, then on cars or public transports, then in shops and their homes, all under the fluorescent lights and hardly under the natural sun rays. And that is exactly why “sun-kissed’ skin is glorified and sought after.

clarins2Popular legend holds that Coco Chanel first initiated this world-wide boom of tanned skin, which she got while vacationing in the Mediterranean in the 1920s. It was a look that signified health and vitality. From then on, tanned skin became associated affluence and luxury of, in short, having enough money to go on holidays and lay under the sun. This was also in such direct contrast with ‘others’ who were unfortunate and had neither time nor money to enjoy such holiday.

However, as mounting medical and scientific studies find the clear link between sun exposure and skin cancer, the trend did not end – instead, it simply turned from ‘natural’ to fake. Today at cosmetics shops, one can find an array of products that promise you evenly tanned skin and beautiful glow. So many different types of products are used to serve different purposed, from tanning lotion to bronzer powder, and fake sprays to imitate tans. You can walk into aesthetic shops and salons in your natural skin color then walk out a few shades darker in a matter of few hours and days of efforts.

The important thing about the logic behind the popularity of tanning, is that, it has fundamentally the same idea as skin brightening. It is the idea that skin complexion is a mark of certain class or socio-economic status, and that can be bought and fixed with money. The idea that beauty queue exists based on skin complexion, and consuming certain products will make you move up along the ladder. So at the end, who ‘wins’ at this game? Think about it – the same company that produces tanning creams and bronzers have different lines for skin brightening and whitening. Whether light skin or tanned skin is the trend of the year, they will never have a problem marketing either product.

Skin Color and Beauty in Japan

by Miyu Fujino

Compared to other countries, there is less racial diversity in Japan. Non-Japanese people who live in Japan for a long time will notice that there are many implicit customs which follow an old Japanese tradition. One of the traditions is to try to be same as people around us and not out stand too much from them. Many Japanese people believe that if they follow the custom, they can live peacefully in the society. This is an element of Japanese culture, and there are many sayings which are related to this idea.

  • 和して同ぜず (washite dou zezu) -coordinate with other people but not do immorality thing or loose independence.
  • 出る杭は打たれる (deru kui ha utareru) -if you stand out too much, people will accuse you.
  • 付和雷同 (fuwaraidou) -do same thing as others

Therefore, for a long time, Japanese people have tended to follow and be normal and try not to stand out. I think that is one of a reason why Japanese people do not prefer dark skin because dark skin is unusual in Japan.

In Japanese society, for a long time, having white skin is one of the features of beauty and regarded as a good thing for women. There is an old proverb (色の白いは七難隠す iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu) which translates to “white skin covers the seven flaws,” meaning a fair-skinned woman is beautiful even if her features are not attractive.

However, there was a period when this idea didn’t fit. Ganguro: An opposition to the idea of fair skin beauty grew. This subculture appeared in the 1990s but died out in the early 2000s. Young girls preferred to be tanned and wore unique makeup and clothes. This Ganguro was started as an anti-tradition movement among young people. Young people challenged to Japanese traditional society and the stereotype that women have light skin, black hair and stay calm and not stand out.

Recently, white skin has been strongly supported by women again. I’m sure you have seen women who wear sunscreen, umbrella, gloves, sunglasses, big hats, spray, and powder. They are trying hard to protect their skin from the sun. But the reason why they are doing is because everybody is doing. Now, the word ‘bihaku’ is getting attention from women. Bihaku is a Japanese marketing term and often used for representing skin whitening products and cosmetics. Bihaku products are highly popular among women. They are also popular with teenage girls and those in their twenties who strongly affected by the information from the internet and media.

Japanese media and cosmetic industries install in women the idea that only small amount of sunshine can damage their skin. Therefore, Japanese women try to avoid to be exposed to sunshine even a few seconds. Many beautiful actress and models who have white and clean skin appear on the TV and that’s also a reason why people use bihaku cosmetics which is advertised by those beautiful famous people. Japanese TV often broadcast many programs to introduce UV care goods and suggest people to avoid sunshine. Media is helping to plant the thought in people’s minds that they should avoid sunshine and should use bihaku products.

Media often make people believe lighter skin is more beautiful by using white skin beautiful actresses or models. And use them to advertise bihaku cosmetic products as if by using the products, people can be like them. As media has a power to affect people (especially young people) strongly, they have to have an awareness and responsibility for their influence and try hard to give correct information to people.

Face lotions and creams from 8brand from kanebo have caused accidents. (September 2013) People who used these got white spots in their skin. All of the products contain skin lightning component called Rhododenol which is treated as a medicine and effective to control melanin in skin. Kanebo is the 3rd highest earning company in Japanese cosmetic industry and most people know the name. Many TV commercials were broadcasted and the company had a pretty high reputation among women. Therefore, people who trusted the brand got damaged both physically and mentally. More than 10,000 people got the white spots.

It is a normal thing for women to try hard to be more beautiful and that means to have lighter skin in Japan. People’s willingness to have lighter skin is one of a reason why this company to cause this accident. In Japan, skin color does not affect social status or salary. People want white skin just because they believe lighter skin is more beautiful and that is what other people say. However, I think Japanese people have to rethink what beauty is for each of them but not only following other people.

Manipulation by Cosmetic Companies Changing Habits towards Skin Lightening

yes, men need whitening lotion, too.

(Photo credit: Sophiakristina)

by Naresh Kumar

People around the world are constant consumers of skin whiteners and different cosmetic products. Even if the products have harmful effects, the consumption of these products is rising day by day. Large cosmetics companies around the world make billions of profits and it is not hard to see how they are using different sources to promote their products and make people use them. The media plays a vital role. The interesting thing is that whatever comes up in mass media, most of it is in favor of these companies. They are profit-motive companies and are strongly engaged into making more profits. It is interesting to see different beliefs in different communities around the world. People relate light skin with social status, money, education, pleasure, wealth, winner, etc. We talk a lot about western ideologies that “white is right”, but the fact is that its us who want to have a peace of that lightness. People like to consume more western culture and products, ignoring their own. More and more emphasis is given to light skin.

Currently the world market is dominated by skin lightening products with billions of dollars of transactions happening each year. Multinational companies are manipulating the market by using media. More and more ads are shown according to different  locations and cultures. The interesting thing is that very less is shown in media about the bad effects and negative side of skin whiteners. If we look at India, it is not hard to see that youths specially women are being obsessed by light skin. In cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, people are trying to accept their natural color tone. They are promoting things such as “dark is beautiful” and “beauty beyond colors”. This is a very slow action but definitely, people are starting to realize that “white is right” ideology is a complete myth.

It seems that people are not just making their face and arms light, but they are going beyond. The intimate skin lightening creams and other cosmetic things are becoming popular. People are going for their intimate areas and are being extreme. Bleaching one’s skin is becoming a common practice.  I wonder how will be the skin lightening trade after 5 or 10 years. Those who are more concerned about racism and discrimination are acting to solve the problems but that is not enough. We need to embrace and appreciate who we are, rather than trying to be who we are not. We need to see the problem from a different side. With the increase in intimate skin whitening, I wonder what will be the next, would it be lightening of your eyeballs or feet or something else.

Who is described as an attractive person?

by Sakiko Yasumi

Every single month I buy fashion magazines to check what this season’s trend is. I recognize myself as one of the fashion industry’s consumers. The magazines I always buy are imported from US or UK to check the lovely clothing and make-up products introduced in the magazines. Of course all of fashion models appearing in magazines I have are foreigners. If someone had asked me this question before taking this class, “Are you yearning to whiteness?” I might have said “probably, because I think they are beautiful”.

In today’s Japanese society, it is no exaggeration to say that we are not watching TV programs and checking fashion magazines without seeing ‘hafu’ models (in this essay, when I say a “hafu”, it means the mixed person with Caucasian and Japanese). “Hafu” fashion models have been required for TV industries, and girls watching TV programs and checking fashion magazines started to yearn to hafu models due to their “attractive-looking”. Here are three questions: what is “hafu”?, why are Japanese yearning to whiteness?, and what is the definition of “attractiveness” for people in Japan?

According to Wikipedia, The word hafu is used in Japanese “to refer to somebody who is biracial, i.e. ethnically half Japanese”. This definition is that hafu people have two identities but each identity is forced to cut in half to fit in one person, then the person with mixed races becomes considered as a “hafu”. Because Japan is an island nation, had closed the door to foreigners almost for 200 years, and forced Ainu and Okinawa to assimilate into central Japan, there were few mixed people of Japanese and other countries’ ancestries. I think its Japan’s past foreign policy is a main cause of a stereotyped concept which many of Japanese still have.

To answer the second question: “why are Japanese yearning to whiteness?”, we have to think with the third question, “what is the definition of attractiveness for people in Japan”. I found the typical idea of attractiveness for Japanese from the reading “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference” by Terry Kawashima, who mentions that girls with “the round eyes and shortish, smallish noses with vertical height are defined as symbols of attractiveness” in Japan. This type of thinking is sticking into our head, and it is a cause of our one-sided idea of attractiveness and having the feeling of yearning to whiteness which is applicable to our general ideal of attractiveness. This could the reason why hafu models become greatly popular in our society, especially for girls.

However, the concept of person’s attractiveness has been changed through reconsidering of Japanese beauty. From 2006 or 2007, two enterprises, Shiseido and Kracie, started to deal in the hair-care products which emphasize Japanese beauty called “TSUBAKI”and ”ICHIKAMI”. These two products stress their concept “Japanese women are beautiful” by using many famous and popular Japanese actresses and models. It has been highly effective. I think this is one of the best ways to make people to realize that Japanese beauty promotes our attractiveness.

To sum up, I don’t mean that whiteness is not attractive, but instead of claiming that, all kinds of skin color, hair style/color, face, body shape are attractive. Thus, there is no need for Japanese women to pursue and yearn to the whiteness. Being yourself and having confident of being Japanese women are the best.

Media create the image of “the lighter the better”

by Yoon Jee Hyun (Jee Jee)

With my iPhone and unlimited 3G services, whenever I feel bored, I unconsciously surf on the Internet to check updated Facebook newsfeed, look up at my Kakoatalk messages, and search for time-killing YouTube videos. As usual, as I was checking updated Facebook newsfeeds, I came across contents regarding skin-lightening issues that caught my attention. The contents were about famous celebrities who have light skin color. Furthermore, videos were posted teaching people how to make “even” skin tone by doing “natural” make-up. In YouTube, over 108,000 results about skin lightening can be discovered when typing in “skin brightening.” However, when typing in “skin darkening,” only 13,900 results can be found in the same social media. To be specific, most of the results found when typing in “skin darkening” related to the opposite of the search word. In my perspective, in today’s world, the media possess such power that affects and surrounds people’s daily life.

Among the effects of the media, it is definite to find traces of the media among Filipinos in terms of skin-lightening issues. To elaborate, wider access to the media resulted in the increase of desire to have lighter skin, as Filipinos became to admire celebrities showing up in the media. For example, K-pop and J-pop are famous pop culture in the Philippine society such as Girls Generation and AKB48. The increase of commercials and advertisements are also alluring Filipinos to buy skin-lightening products by advertising that people can have flawless skin like celebrities on the media.

Skin Lightening issues in the Philippines exemplify how the media can hold huge impact within the society. In other words, people can be tricked and attracted by the words that the media says. Eventually, the easy access to plenty of information all around the world contributes to the notion that “light skin is the better.” White people have abused the media as a means to create a false image of white skin such as portraying white people more intelligent and innocent, while people with darker skin are less educated and evil. There is no doubt that the advancement of media will brain wash people thinking that “the lighter skin you are, the better” which would increase more consumption on skin lightening products.