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.

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