Symbiosis in the World of Beauty: The Cosmetics Industry and the Western Beauty Ideal

English: Super Skin Lightener skin lightening ...

English: Super Skin Lightener skin lightening cream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kyungyeon Chung

Upon walking into a drug store in Japan, one will find an array of cosmetic products that promises hopeful transformation into what today’s Japanese society perceives as beauty. These end results the products promise – fairer, whiter skin, brighter teeth, bigger eyes, and longer eye lashes – all embodying the ideal that originated from the Western, Caucasian-centric beauty standards.

The cosmetics industry, even on a global scale, operates on the platform provided by Western standards of beauty, and especially by the colorism ideology that has penetrated into deep corners of modern society. At the same time, the beauty ideal and colorism are not self-sustaining. Their presence and growing prevalence are made possible by numerous industries that profit from the growth, with the cosmetic industry being a major stakeholder in play. By constantly being made to consume products designed with a limited set of objectives and outcome, the consumers are constantly reminded of the beauty ideals behind the products. The global cosmetics industry and the Western beauty standards based on colorism, mutually reinforce each other’s existence and influence.

In order to fully understand the core of modern society’s beauty standards, it is imperative to know the colorism ideology that frames the entire discourse. Colorism refers to “the preference for lighter skin and social hierarchy based on skin tone”, and has been widely expanding throughout the globe (Glenn, 2009, p.166). Being one of the main axes behind inequality today, it occurs at societal, systemic level through social structure that permits systematic discrimination towards darker skinned people. In many different regions and nations around the world, light skin tone has historically been preferred to dark skin tone, and given higher social status and easier access to social and economic resources (Keith, 2009, p.25). Although the beauty ideal does include other phenotypic aspects than skin complexion such as desirable weight, body shape, and facial structures, skin tone does hold significant importance, if not the most.

This ideology of colorism has been directly translated into the Western beauty ideals. Up high on the list of what composes the ideals is ‘fair’ skin. Having lighter, fairer, and whiter skin gives a great advantage in one’s life, and is central to the very definition of beauty. Having been spread as part of the ideological rationale for slavery and colonial imperialism of the European powers (Keith, 2009, p.27), the “white is better” or “white is right” idea still pervades modern societies thanks to mass media. Today, these ideologies are strongly embedded in ways we admire, desire, and look upon fair skin. Its importance can be easily understood and highlighted by the popular practice of skin whitening, which will be elaborated further later. It is also important to note here that females are subjected to these standards much more frequently and strictly than males (Keith, 2009).

In modern societies with capitalist economic system, the beauty standards manifest themselves as profitable industries whose products promise the achievement of ideal beauty via consumption. As societies are deeply instilled with consumerism, selling and buying beauty have been a huge, popularly sought-after business than ever. Plastic surgery is one of the most common and provocative examples. Cosmetic surgeries have spiked up in number and scale around the world: 14 million surgery procedures were performed in the US in 2011 (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2012); close to 7% of the population has undergone knife in South Korea in 2010 (Bates, 2013). A wide range diet-support programs, machines, and food products are readily available to help people lose weight.

Among many industries that thrive on our search for beauty, the cosmetics industry deserves particular attention. For instance, unlike plastic surgery, which may seem invasive, dangerous and rather extreme, putting on makeup is seldom-questioned practice for women. While showing up at school after a holiday with larger breasts may cause a stir, putting on mascara would hardly be an issue. For many, it is a daily routine, an ordinary and even expected behavior. It is also continuous – women who use skin care products will probably continue to do so for years to come. While it may seem trivial at first, considering the commonality and regularity of skin care and makeup, the cosmetics industry is massive, universally pervasive, and commercially successful.

The cosmetics industry owes much of its existence and enduring popularity to the beauty standards. An impressive array of products is available to help people achieve beauty as prescribed by the Western ideal. Eye makeup products are a great example. A dozen different types of products are readily available to make one’s eyes look bigger and more defined: mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, eyelash curler, eyebrow shaper, highlighter, etc. In East Asia in particular, the desire to have the Western look has also led to the popularity of double eyelid (Bates, 2013). In Korean and Japanese cosmetics shops, one can easily find glue or sticker-like products that hold the skin of upper eyelid together, creating an illusive double-lid. For those unwilling to undergo surgical procedures to create double eyelids, those products are a way to go.

Yet, the segment within the cosmetics industry that is perhaps the most influenced by, shaped by, and reflective of the Western ideals, is skin whitening products. Colorism has effectively produced a social view that associates whiteness with superiority and darkness with primitiveness, something to be avoided and fixed. In her book Shades of Differences, Evelyn Nakano Glenn argues that light skin has come to hold symbolic capital that furthers one’s life chances (2009, p. 166). This relates to the concept of beauty queue in society, whereby the level of beauty and social status are judged by the shades of complexion, the lightest at the top and the darkest at the bottom. For such reason, men and women from all parts of the world have strived for lighter complexion by consuming copious amounts of skin whitening products, supporting a multibillion-dollar global industry.

In the Asia Pacific region, the skin lightening market was valued at over US$13 billion in 2012 (Tan, 2012). In African continent, studies have found that up to 50% of population use skin lightening products in Dakar, Senegal; and even up to 77% in Lagos, Nigeria (Ntambwe, 2004). Almost all major cosmetic brands have a product line specifically dedicated to brightening care: Estée Lauder’s ‘CyberWhite’, Shiseido’s ‘White Lucent’, Clarins’s ‘Bright Plus’, Vichy’s ‘BiWhite’, Chanel’s ‘Le Blanc’. The list is endless. The prevalence and magnitude of the industry indicate how the widespread Western ideal of beauty and reverence for lighter skin tone has led to increasing demand for skin whitening products. The unabated expansion of the skin whitening products is a clear manifestation of colorism in action.

The highly interrelated relationship between the cosmetics industry and the Western beauty ideal can also be traced back from the other way around. The cosmetics industry work to constantly and persistently reinforce the ideal into the mindset of people, making it into an accepted social norm. Commercials by cosmetic firms continuously remind the consumers of what they should look like, and thus eventually what they should consume in order to achieve the said goals. These commercials tactically employ models that will spark the feeling of desire, which make the viewers think the goal – of looking like the model – is attainable. In essence, the models will look Caucasian enough to fit the White beauty standard, yet still possess enough ‘local’ features not to alienate the viewers too much. For instance, in Japan, half-Japanese and half-Caucasian models have rose to prominence for such reasons, brining the ‘ha-fu boom’ in entertainment and media (Krieger, 2010). In such manner, the constant bombardment of strategically produced advertisements on TV, magazines, and in shops, works to ensure the beauty ideal is here to stay.

As seen in the case of skin whitening products, the industry ushers consumers to fix their blemishes and dark spots, to get rid of undesirable features, and to become closer to the ideal beauty. Prominent cosmetic manufactures reveal supposedly bettered, new products every season. The products are ‘upgraded’ in a sense that they claim to produce better results, such as longer eyelashes, darker eye lines, more durability, brighter effects, to name a few. Consumers absorb such ideas: those results are good; those results are better; those results are what they should seek after. Through this process, the beauty standard gets repeatedly ingrained in the subconscious of society as a whole.

There is a wide range of factors at play that help maintain the global obsession with the White ideal of beauty, and especially that of light skin tone. One of the perpetuators is the cosmetics industry. In modern capitalist economy in which consumerism has become the social norm, the cosmetics industry prospers, thanks to the consumers’ ceaseless quest for beauty as dictated by the Western ideal. The quest for fairer skin, in particular, embodies the reality of colorstruck world – to borrow Verna Keith’s words – where colorism is firmly established as part of social structure.

The cosmetics industry and the White beauty ideals function as lifeline to each other. The ideals condition society for the industry to profit from, while the industry works to reinforce the ideals. It is a mutually interdependent, symbiotic relationship. If we want to start tackling the racially charged foundation behind the White ideal of beauty, we must first understand how it is perpetuated and internalized by consumption of products that cement the said ideal. Only when both ends are understood and questioned, can the process of deconstructing the colorstruck world begin.


  1. American Society of Plastic Surgeons (2012, September 2). 13.8 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed in 2011. Retrieved from:
  2. Bates, C. (2013, January 31). 15 million people worldwide had plastic surgery in 2011. Daily Mail Online. Retrieved from:–SOUTH-KOREA-leading-way.html
  3. Glenn, E. N. (2009). Consuming lightness. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters. (pp. 166-187). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  4. Keith, V. (2009). A colorstruck world. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters. (pp. 25-39). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  5. Krieger, D. (2010, November 29). The whole story on being ‘hafu’. CNN. Retrieved from:
  6. Ntambwe, M. (2004, March). Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Science in Africa. Retrieved from:
  7. Tan, D. (2012, September 18). Who’s the fairest of them all? Asian Scientist. Retrieved from: 
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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.

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:

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.

Dark and light skin as fashion

by Emina Miki

From this week’s presentation, I realized interesting similar situation between South Africa and Japan. In South Africa, they tried to have lighter skin by using skin lightener, in contrast, in the past in Japan a lot of young girls tried to have darker skin by using cosmetics. Their ideal skin colors are different from each other, but it is same that they try to be different skin color from their natural skin color.

In about 2000, there were a lot of young people especially girls with darkened skin and white lips in Shibuya, Tokyo. They changed their hair to gold, burned dark their skin again and again at the tanning salon and put on almost same figures because that style was the vogue at that time. Japanese young women would think darker skin is more beautiful as same as that South Americans have thought lighter skin is beautiful. Moreover, Japanese women painted their eyes using pens. In general, young Japanese girls with dark skin have been called “yamanba” ironically. “Yamanba” means the ugly old woman who lives in the heart of a mountain. However, they didn’t change their figures. On the contrary, they made a community and one culture at that time. The center of the trend was absolutely people with dark skin. So this age ended cause of the current of the time, but in South Africa they banned to use skin lighter because that was bad for face and they might lose pride in being black. I think this is a big difference between them. In Japan, though there were some people who don’t like their looks and their looks caused a lot of fuss, it wasn’t punished. Actually I thought they lost their natural identity because the face after making up and tanning was too different from the face without makeup. Also they didn’t want to make appearance in natural face, but people with dark skin were some of Japanese, so it might not ban their behavior.

In conclusion, I think the use of skin lighter in South Africa was considered as bad thing to face and the product which was promoted of hating the color of their skin, so many opposition movements occurred there. In contrast, young women’s behavior such as tanning their skin and painted their face by pens was considered as just the vogue. So I thought many people have thought that it would end in the near future though their behavior affected their healthy bodies.

Skin Colour, Gender and Marriage in India

by Isabel Cabaña Rojas


When the moment comes to look for reasons of why Indians conceive beauty as they do, it seems that nobody can come up with a clear explanation. Many argue that the ideal of fairness has existed since ancient times, manifested in the stories and myths from Indian gods and spirits, where darkness and light were in battle for the primacy of the world. Whereas some others state that, more than that, the presence on history of British colonizers, and the socio-economic structure they established in India, pervaded all the cultural spheres, including the ideals of beauty. But, regardless of the origins of this particular and powerful feature of Indian culture, is interesting to notice how deeply rooted is in the daily life of Indian, especially women, who define their life according to this value, the value of being ‘fair’. As Philips (2004) points out, fairness has become a ‘symbolic capital’ that is ‘disempowering’ women, particularly in their freedom and election to marry someone. The fact that in India marriages are arranged emphasises more the power of skin colour on their lives, because both are things, at the end, women cannot choose.

For men the things are not much different either. For them, white skin is also a value and an attribute worth to fight for, but the responsibility of achieve this colour is less strong than in women. A dark-skinned man can still have chances to marry a fair-skinned woman… the other way around, no way! So when thinking on the relevance of race in the contemporary Indian culture, and its linkage with marriage (and all the industry surrounding it) one should necessarily connect it with gender. And somehow with social class. Inasmuch as I wonder how strong this really is in the general culture in India: is this situation in all the regions of this country? Are people living in rural areas really concerned about their skin colour? Is it a middle/high class issue? As, supposedly, a post-colonial heritage, fairness is at some point linked with belonging to a certain social level, that of the ruling class in opposition to the darker working class of Indians.

But, what seems very important here is the role that new generations, especially those of Indian descent abroad (as Indian Americans, for example) will have in the perpetuation of this custom. There are people already criticizing what this perception of colour is doing to the culture, especially to women (and not only in the social sense, but also in health, considering the massive use of bleaching creams). According to Vaid (2009), in the Indian Diaspora, at least in the United States, there are no signs that this is something to be left behind.


Gosai, A. (2010, July 19th). India’s myth of fair-skinned beauty. The Guardian online.

Guha, S. (2010, March 23th). India’s unbearable lightness of being. BBC News.

Philips, A. (2004). Gendering Colour: Identity, Feminity and Marriage in Kerala. Anthropologica, 46(2), 253-272.

Vaid, J. (2009). Fair Enough? Color and the Commodification of Self in Indian Matrimonials. In E. Nakano Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Why Skin Color Matters (pp. 148-165). Stanford University Press.

Vaidyanathan, R. (2012, June 5th). Has skin whitening in India gone too far? BBC News-Magazine.

Fair Skin and Marriage in India

by Cherry Zhou

In marriage advertisements, there are numerous ways to describe yourself or your desired partner. Detailed information can be divided in to non-physical factors and physical ones. This chapter (“Fair Enough? Color and the Commodification of Self in Indian Matrimonials,” by Jyotsna Vaid) shows that skin color matters in Indian matrimonial over time. Although there is no single origin of the conscious of fair skin being beautiful, one possible explanation is that British colonization led to a preference of lighter skin and the introduction of Western notions of beauty. In India, fair skin was and probably still is considered as an indicator of belonging to a higher caste, social standing and hierarchy in society. People are likely to link fair skin tone with wealth and education, whereas those with dark skin may be perceived as low-income workers.

Through the reading, I also found that there exists a gendered pattern of mentioning skin tone in marriage ads. Women mentioned fair skin more than twice as often as men. Figure 9.5 shows that the the percentage of mentioning fair by women increased a lot overtime.

It may also be possible that Indian women are more sensitive to messages about social norms than men; they fully understand that to highlight fair skin in marriage ads is advantageous for themselves. On the other hand, however, men are less conscious about the importance of their physical appearance, skin color in particular. Men face far less pressure than women to have fair skin. Darker skin tone in men may be compensated by assets such as having a well-paid job, overall economic security and a good personality, whereas women are likely to be evaluated and judged only on their physical appearance

But there may be a change in this idea since more and more cosmetic companies like fair&lovely are staring to sell products targeting male customers. With more and more male celebrities endorsing skin products, male’s consciousness about fair skin may change in the future.

What this chapter didn’t mention much is that whether fair skin really improves marriage prospects, especially for women. So I did some research about this question.

The author is right about the fact that a large percentage of marriage in India is arranged marriage, even nowadays. Since the socially constructed idea is that fair skin is ideal beauty so it certainly can influence a person’s chance of finding suitable partner. For women, marriage is considered to be extremely important for lifelong economic security within Indian cultures. Sahay and Piran (1997) suggested that: ‘In many Indian languages, the words fair and beautiful are often used synonymously, and there is often a preference for a female with light complexion in marriage, if other considerations are equal’ (p. 162).

Moreover, this chapter argued that there basically is no resistance or critique of the emphasis on fairness as a marker of beauty even over periods of time. So through the diaspora, future generations of immigrated Indian people still remain to have their traditional ideals about skin tone. Overall speaking, what I found shocking is that there’s so much emphasis on looks in India, especially about being fair. In Indian culture, fair skin was perceived to increase one’s likelihood of an arranged marriage, and this suggests that some aspects of physical appearance are more important than others factors.


Sahay,S., & Piran, N. (1997). Skin-Color Preferences and Body Satisfaction Among South Asian-Canadian and European-Canadian Female University Students. Journal of Social Psychology,137, 161-171.

Globalization and the image of success

by Asako Morita

Globalization brings us so much information by mass media such as TV and Internet. Historically, America and other western countries have led world economy and therefore they who have succeeded in business and living sophisticated life became the model of success. Whether they are actually happy or not, media especially TV dramas which shows how free city life were broadcasted all over the world and people tend to think this would be the life when they become rich. The scariest thing is globalization even change typical life style and people’s life aim.

Especially, I was interested in women’s global beauty. The globalization made the ideal women and people take it as a big market. This global market and the typical ideal beauty invades society and culture, and sometimes people think it can destroy tradition and originality, I think no one can stop it in this capitalism leading world economy and even it influences a lot, the basic identity and tradition would never change.

For instance, since pale became the image of success among worldwide women, whitening products were targeted by multinational companies and sold thousands of them. These advertisements such as TV commercials also created the image clear and even more penetrate in society.

Not only whitening products but also choice of clothes is influenced. When I visited India, I was so surprised when I saw TV programs. Most shows broadcasted totally western lifestyle. Women are dancing at dance club wearing sexy dresses. Even woman wear a sari which is a traditional Indian dress was exposing shoulder and the breast. It was like Indian actors and actresses imitate part of American culture. I remember that I felt so strange the pictures I saw on TV were completely different from what I saw on the street outside.

However the fact TV programs, other multinational products and other factors affect on different countries and culture, I think this is the result of globalization and capitalism. As long as America which is a capitalism country leads the world economy, we can never stop the image formation and marketing of multinational companies. It may influence on different cultures, but it does not ruin each culture. Traditions and basic cultural morals cannot be changed easily since they have taken over for long time. The western influence may create different life aims but culture and lifestyle have changed in each time and I think people are just adapting how to live the present age.

All that you can be

by Hsinmin Wang

As a woman, what do you want? The eternal desire of beauty, to satisfy self-esteem, getting better occupations and a happy marriage? Believe it or not, you can get all of these as long as you have a light skin tone. Just spending several pennies buying a bottle of skin lightener, woman can achieve whatever you want. “Because you’re worth it.”

It is the message we get from our daily life, a image constructed by beauty merchandisers.

In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses three questions: 1) “How is skin lightening interwoven into the world?” 2) “What are the media and messages, cultural themes, and symbols used to create the desire for skin-lightening products among particular groups?” 3) “How do consumers learn about, test and compare these products and what they seek to achieve?”

I’d like to categorize the attitudes toward global trade of lighteness into three discourses: beauty discourse, public health discourse and global marketing discourse. Assuming you have already read this chapter, this article composes of criticism of the book.

Shall we regard there is an invisible manipulation of people’s aesthetic?

Beauty discourse

The main idea of aesthetic comes from each country’s culture and ideology. “White is right” is comprised of culture and ideology, though nowadays scholars tend to assert that people’s preference on lighter skin is the outcome of colonial racial ideology, but I want to highlight the importance of culture influence here. In fact, we can also discover the highly valued “white is good” culture in history. White means noble, purity, innocence and intellect whereas black means lazy, evil, and ignorant, isn’t it just like the image of angel and satan? Angel can give anything you want and ask nothing in return but Satan will take away one’s soul.

Public health discourse

Obviously frights over mercury, hydroquinone, corticosteroid and peroxide couldn’t beat up the eagerness on demolishing black pigment and melanin. When authority severely banned the toxic in skin lighteners, it neglect the reason behind the demand on these products—color discrimination.

Yes, I swear I know the importance of healthy skin., but what if I can only get what I want from lighter skin color? I admit that I don’t like when scholars talk about skin lightener always trying to emphasis the toxic chemical ingredients in cosmetics and skin care products. It made me feel that they view woman trying to lightening their skin as a ridiculous behavior. In my personal opinion, toxic skin productions are not only a public health but connoting social hierarchy problems.

Global marketing discourse

It’s impossible not to mention the role of mass media and internet in global markets. Especially with the rising of social media, in one hand it enhances the influence of mass media, on the other it spreads the concept of western aesthetics to the world and changes people’s outlook. Under marketing strategy, audiences believe we can control our own body, the body is changeable. Look at those celebrities, they must have done something to make their skin tone so different. I recognize the beauty industry’s marking strategy is not only to change the aesthetic but to provoke a concept that one’s body is one’s property which can accumulate social capital. In a way encouraging people to chase the “improvement” of body.

To summarize the pursuit of skin lightening, I regard these behaviors more likely to fulfill Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For safety (employment); belonging (sexual intimacy) and esteem (confidence), and unfortunately the beauty merchandizer penetrates it.