Colourism in the Philippines: Behind the Veil of Whiteness

by Adelle Tamblyn

A few days ago, my mother, who is of Filipino and Spanish origin, told me some events that happened to her not too long ago. At church, my mother had met another Filipino woman, but much older. This woman was half Filipino and half Spanish. This woman, on hearing that my mother was also Filipino, started asking about my mother’s background: “Are you 100% Filipino?”. “No”, my mother replied “I’m half Spanish”. The older woman apparently looked at her in a disbelieving manner: “Then why are you so dark?”, she questioned.

Why are you so dark?  What a silly, churlish question, I thought. It seems so odd, I thought. You don’t just ask someone that. But the more I thought about this woman’s question, the more I thought about why she asked it, and what significance does skin colour hold amongst Filipinos?

I began to rack my brains for signs of fair-skin preference amongst the Filipinos I know, whether it was something they said or did. There is one saying in Tagalog: “She could be beautiful; it’s just a pity she’s dark”. I have heard harsher comments on other Filipinos: “Look at her skin colour, and her NOSE! She looks like a maid”. I know one woman who uses a concoction of bleaching creams and soaps religiously. Are these all signs of colourism amongst Filipinos?

Colourism is evident not only in India, but also in the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan and in South American countries, to name a few. In the Philippines, Television programs are saturated with light-skinned people, a great majority of whom are half-Filipino, typically of the highly-sought-after mestizo/mestiza variety (“mestizo/mestiza” meaning a half-Filipino with fair skin and Spanish-like features). Furthermore, there are shopping malls filled to the brim with skin whitening products in the Philippines. However, this does not necessarily reflect the look of the average Filipino. Nonetheless, the saturation of white-skin ideology in a society whose natural skin colour is typically brown are marginalising Filipinos into thinking that there is only one type of beauty: white.

In the Philippines, skin colour and nose shape are of high importance. In a country where the majority of the people are naturally dark, why are people equating white to beauty?

Whilst some would argue that having mestizas in the media and selling and producing skin whitening products is simply a reflection of what Filipinos want, others would argue that the root of this issue goes much deeper than that. In an interview by Al Jazeera’s ‘The Stream’, Yaba Blay, the Co-Director of Africana Studies at Drexel University, suggests that the desire for whiteness in many countries is due to colonialism. The colonialism argument is not a new one: the idea is that during the time of colonialisation, manual labourers would get dark as they worked all day in the sun; the wealthy and powerful lived a life of leisure indoors, therefore staying fair. The Philippines is no stranger to colonialism: the country has been colonised by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese. In line with Blay’s argument, fair skin ideology is linked to power, civility, social mobility and beauty.

The white ideology from colonial times has been passed on from one generation to the next: today, it is perpetuated in the selling of skin-whitening products and constant media exposure to the equation that white equals beautiful. But does it really matter so much that countries like the Philippines see white, fair skin as beautiful? On the surface, fair as beautiful may not seem like such a big issue; however, in a country where the skin colour of its people are naturally of a darker skin tone, sending messages of “white is better” only seeks to suppress its people, simply for being dark.

Link to video referred to: http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201308212347-0022992

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.

Recursion of ‘Japanese Beauty’ through Globalisation

by Eriko Maruyama

Back to ‘Japaneseness’

Since Japan opened its door to the world in the end of 19th century, Japan has been trying to surpass the Western world. In order to achieve modernisation, Japanese society copied Western style. As a result, from the 1960s and 1970s, Japan was successful in growing its economy and now, we are the one of the richest countries in the world. With economic modernisation, Japanese culture has been changing as well. I think that the Western culture has firmly established itself into Japanese society from late-1980s and 1990s. Simultaneously, the sense of beauty has changed as well. Through movies, TV dramas and fashion magazines, Japanese women were attracted to actresses and models in Western world, so they tried to copy the Western beauty. However, the more Japanese people imitate Western beauty, the more they realise the goodness of Japanese beauty. In this paper, I will argue how the sense of beauty has changed in Japanese women’s mind, and how they reinterpret the Japanese original beauty.

With the inflow of Western culture, traditional Japanese lifestyle disappeared and people adopt their lives into the Western style. From late 1970s, the ladies fashion changed dramatically in Japan. With the great trend of Twiggy’s mini skirt, Japanese women started to wear more Western fashionable clothes. In this period, Western TV dramas were broadcasted on TV in Japan, so there were more chances to get image of beauty in Western world. From 1990s, women began to imitate not only clothes but also making-up. Women yearned big eyes, long eyelashes, sharp nose and white and light skin of Western women. All cosmetic companies promoted the Western beauty and used Western women in advertisement and TV commercial. Moreover, when we open Japanese fashion magazines, there are many foreign models or half-western and half-Japanese models on the magazines. Cosmetic companies produced fake eyelashes and whitening skin care products and women buy them and ‘remake’ their faces into Western looking. Behind this trend, I think that Japanese women feel inferior to Western women. Thus, Japanese women have been influenced a lot by Western culture and they have been trying to get closer to the images of beautiful Western women.

However, this movement looks to have calmed down recently. Women look back at the goodness of Japan. This is because that the sense of Japanese beauty has been praised by people in foreign countries. For example, Kurara Chibana and Riyo Mori got Miss Universe. Some foreigners say that black hair, almond eyes and pure skin of Japanese women are so beautiful. Through these compliments, Japanese women realised the original beauty of Japan again. With this trend, some cosmetic companies changed the way of their promotion. Shiseido promoted ‘Tsubaki shampoo’, with the phrase ‘Japanese women are beautiful’. This marketing was successful. Thus, Japanese women have overcome the inferiority complex to Western beauty and begun to feel confidence as Japanese women.

In short, with globalisation, Western beauty came into the Japanese society and Japanese women copied the Western style. However, as globalisation proceeded further, the Western society realised the Japanese beauty and paid great attention to Japanese women. Japanese women are now able to notice the good points of their own beauty and feel confident as being Japanese women. Thus, globalisation changed the sense of beauty of Japanese women, but at the same time, thorough globalisation, Japanese women realise and reinterpret that traditional Japanese beauty is great.

Filipinos and Asian Beauty

by Hsinmin Wang

Compared to other Asian countries, Philippines might be the most multi-colonial country. Successively occupied by China, Arabia, Spain, the U.S., and Japan, constructing the special attitude toward Asian aesthetic and global market. According to a report made by UNEP, in 2004 nearly 40% of women surveyed in the Philippines used skin lighteners. Compare to 61% in India, 77% in Nigeria, the figure seems nothing to be surprised at. But when we started to investigate the reason behind Filipinos using skin lighteners, we will discover the role of Asian beauty in Philippines beauty market. Not just pursuing for Eurocentric phenotype, but more likely to follow the step of East Asian countries, and trying to emerge in immigrant society. But how is these beauty standard constructed?

Joanne Rodilla discusses the use of Michele Reis’s racially ambiguous face in L’oreal advertisements. In fact, the endorser of L’oreal  changed to Fan Bingbing in 2010. Once you look at her picture, you can easily discover that she has the typical face Rondilla describes: glowing white skin, jet-black, and large, double-lidded, almond-shaped eyes. Though I can’t jump to conclusions that the fashion style inclines to Chinese aesthetic, but it does reflect more or less the changing marketing strategy.

There is a wide-spread saying, “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” This reflects the idea that once you are away from the sun, you won’t get dark; and with this kind of slogan “high technology to repair, illuminate and brighten your skin,” women with darker skin become a symbol of lacking of self-control, self-discipline and will power. Thus, skin color becomes a reflection on job prospects, earning potential, and social status.

In skin lightener advertisements, we are continually watching Asian girls get skin color discrimination in their life, jobs, and family circles; then it all magically disappears after she uses the product. Sometimes we feel ridiculous, sometimes we feel unbelievable, sometimes we feel overstated; but what if these stories truly happened in your daily life? I think while these advertisements are trying to affect people’s aesthetic, somehow it reflects the real life situation.

The appeal of skin lighteners in South Africa: a racial and gender issue

by Joana Ito

In 1991, most skin lighteners were banned from the South Africa’s market, as a result of the Black movements’ criticism against the structural racism, allied to the arguments of health concerns. However, as a report of UNEP showed in 2008, the racial and medical arguments were not sufficient to erase the appeal of the skin lighteners: 35% of the women in South Africa were still regular users of skin lightener products.

The racial/color discrimination element regarding the use of skin lighteners can be clearly identified, as the lighter skin is valued more, while the darker skin is considered less desirable. For that reason, consumers of skin lighteners in South Africa are in many occasions described as “sellouts”, who act against the interests of black as a whole, by denying their own “blackness”; and often accused of committing “racial betrayal”. It is relevant to note however that, as the consumption of skin lighteners is concentrated in the female population, the discussion around the use of these products cannot be limited to the issue of political awareness of race, nor in terms of racial pride and shame.

The behavioral change regarding the use of skin lighteners faces many obstacles, as the appeal of these products is based on multiple factors. According to Thomas (2009), the use of skin lighteners is mostly related to utilitarian motivations (such as for better social position, job and marriage opportunities) and to abstract perceptions of beauty, influenced by both traditional pre-colonial values, and the values rooted in the historical past of colonization, segregation and apartheid. Consequently, when the question of the use of skin lighteners is presented in narrow terms of white-black discrimination, it may exclude the consideration of constraints and limitations that many of those women could face, if they were not to confirm to the socially constructed ideals of beauty. According to Glenn (2008), while men are more likely to be considered valuable when they have wealth, education and other forms of human capital, women are considered valuable when they are physically attractive, even if they lack other capital. For that reason, the relative cost to “not betray the race” and not use skin lighteners, in this case, can be considered higher for black women, as their life opportunities may be more affected by the beauty standards of their society.

To modify the individual perceptions of self-esteem and pride regarding their own race is a first step to tackle the remaining racial discrimination challenges in South Africa. Nevertheless, when the parameters of physical attractiveness and beauty defined by the society can strongly influence the life opportunities of the women, the problem is not only about race, but also about gender. If the aesthetic parameter (determined by a male dominated society) were less relevant to determine the social position and value of these women, wouldn’t they feel less compelled to use skin lighteners and have more incentive to become more “loyal” towards their own race?

References:

Glenn, E. N. (2008). Yearning for lightness: Transnational circuits in the marketing and consumption of skin lighteners. Gender & Society, 22(3), 281-302.

Thomas, L. (2009). Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Commodities and Technologies of the Self.” In Evelyn Nakano Glenn, ed., Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters. Palo Alto: Stanford University of Press, 188-209.

UNEP (2008). Mercury in products and wastes. Geneva, United Nations Environment Programme, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, Chemicals Branch.

Sources of preferences for whiter skin

by Kana Masaki

The main discussions in the chapter by Lynn Thomas are the use of and opposition to skin lighteners in South Africa. Skin lighteners were used by people in America at first to conceal blemishes and whiten their skin tone, and skin lighteners spread to South Africa too. Skin lightener advertisements in magazines spread it even more. South African women bought skin lighteners for higher status. In interwar South Africa, segregationist emphasized white skin supremacy. This led to the racial categories and this historical background is the reason why some women in South Africa bought to get a higher status. On the other hand, some people argue that they use skin lighteners, because they simply want to look beautiful and attractive and tend to prefer lighter skin traditionally. The author says that it’s difficult to discern whether lighter skin preference comes from precolonial conceptions of beauty or they come from racial hierarchies brought during colonialism. There are political opposition and medical opposition. The political opposition was using skin lighteners are a racial betrayal and self – loathing. The medical opposition was a health concern. People knew that these whitening or lightening creams contain toxic ingredients such as ammoniated mercury.

Same as South African women’s case, Japanese women also prefer white skin. Does white skin preference in Japan also come from the country’s historical background, or is just a traditional conception of beauty? Japanese women spend a lot of money on buying so–called bihaku cosmetics. Why do they spend so much money on such cosmetics? I guess having white skin was a traditional conception of beauty. There is a famous proverb, “irojiro wa hichinan kakusu,” meaning having a white skin can make you look attractive even though you have other faults. In other words, white skin can hide your faults and make you attractive. Also, it’s said that geisha has a really white skin as an exaggeration of Japanese beauty. These may prove that a white skin preference is just a traditional conception of beauty. On the other hand, I guess maybe it is not. The introduction of westernization during Meiji period could be a cause of white skin preference in Japan. The government tried to westernize everything in Japan at the time. For example, they made all men cut off chonmage to catch up with the West. They tried to westernize Japan to make a civilized Japan. I guess this made people think that looking like western people are cool, therefore having a white skin is the best.

Tomorrow in class, Karen and I want to have a discussion about whether light skin preference in South Africa comes from precolonial conceptions of beauty, racial hierarchies during colonialism or the mixing of both.

Unquestioned assumptions in skin lighteners

by Jun Sakakibara

This chapter showed that how the Philippine’s skin color consciousness reminds uniqueness since it is influenced by its historical background and shaped by the media’s effects caused by globalization. It was explained that in the Philippines, “skin lightening” does not always refer to “skin whitening”, and because East Asian or Chinese Asian looks are considered as ideal images of beauty, “being Asian” should be respected. However, I found it contradicting that the fact some people keep complaining that they are not white enough yet. If “being Asian” is fine, shouldn’t we represent our yellow skin color?!

By pointing out the characteristic of skin lightening companies’ strategies on advertisements in Asia, we can see how they have been spreading the market with using and brainwashing people with “unquestioned assumptions”. They emphasize the idea of “Euroasian” as promoting half-European, half-Asian models in advertisements, however, it is actually making concept of beauty so ambiguous. It was mentioned that “Euroasian” would be a new beauty regime. The paradox here is that there is nothing “new” about since its idea is very exclusive and Eurocentric. The models are European-looking women who are just covered with Asian straight black hair and are representing very much of their whiteness. In addition to this repacking of white-is-beautiful concept, skin products companies justify themselves by arguing “lightening” and “bleaching” are different thus there is nothing wrong to consume skin lightening products. Yet it is questionable whether there is an absolute difference between these two words. For the companies, wave of globalization is very great profitable source to spread their market worldwide, though, we have to understand that due to negative effects of globalization, our images are totally controlled so that we are being those who strengthen the racism or discrimination towards skin color and push the whiteness into much higher social status in fact.

When we discuss about whether this worldwide skin lightening phenomena is needed to be stopped or whether we are even able to stop that, I always think since such “unquestioned assumptions” remind “unquestioned” or are tend to be ignored to discuss, the situation itself would never be changed. I guess people are now realizing the paradox or problems behind the assumptions little by little, however, because usage of skin lightening products somehow lead us to happiness, we cannot get rid of them. Although it is a very complicated issue, the first thing we have to do is to accept the existence of “unquestioned assumptions” and to bring them into the discussion. We do not need to go straight for the discussion of the necessity of skin lightening products. We need to understand what we are exactly doing by investigating our money on those products and to learn how they can be problematic at the same time. I assume that this process holds very important key for the discussion of not only the skin lightening products but also of skin color consciousness in general as well.