by Jiyang Shin
Skin bleaching has become such a steady market across the globe that without even trying, one may end up purchasing a skin product that contains substances that make your skin tone lighter, brighter, thus “healthier”, as some cosmetics companies advertise. What this phenomenon signifies is that the majority of society values whiter skin over their natural skin tone.
A colleague of mine, who is Japanese and has a relatively darker skin tone, once went to a cosmetics corner of a department store and asked the store clerk which shades of eyeshadow would match her color. However, instead of getting her an eyeshadow that she expected, the store clerk recommended her a product that will make her skin glow and bright. I was stunned when she shared her story because the beauty industry (and other political factors) not only succeeded in creating the image of beauty, but it has come to a point where it is socially acceptable for a store clerk to force her skin bleaching worship on individuals who are perfectly confident with their natural skin tone. Skin bleaching has established a firm position in our society that it is almost as if we are given no other option but to turn white.
It is a common theory that the phenomenon of global skin-whitening obsession largely is due to colonial occupation by European nations, and this could also suggest the possibility that our perception of beauty is significantly determined by the distribution of power and wealth among the various racial groups (the whiter, the superior). In recent years, tanning has become a new trend among the young population in the US, and even politicians such as Mitt Romney. Karen Sternheimer (2010) argues that the emergence of the middle class and the automation of labor after World War I re-identified being outside as more with leisure than with work. Being able to afford a vacation in tropical islands is the new richness, so to say.
However, I believe that the current wave of tanning trend, although still dominant, is more complex than the shift in social perception of being outside. Ethnically ambiguous models are frequently featured in advertisement of fashion retailers such as H&M in recent years. It is reasonable to argue that being multiracial is becoming the new definition of beauty, signifying that having white skin will no longer be a necessary criterion to be perceived as pretty.
Sternheimer, Karen. 2010. “Lightness and whiteness.” Everyday Sociology. http://nortonbooks.typepad.com/everydaysociology/2010/05/lightness-and-whiteness.html