Seeking Whiteness: For Asian Women Only?

by John Wang

As Ashikari (2005) mentions in “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening‘ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity”, in contemporary Japanese society, the strong preference for light complexions and skin tone was actually expressed as a dichotomy of ‘white’ and ‘black’. Another interesting result coming from the survey she conducted was that although in contemporary Japan the dark skin was spoken of negatively, “many informants, both men and women, insisted that white skin was the ideal only for women, and that dark skin was the ideal for men.” I found similar arguments in many Chinese media, although recently I was actually against this argument since I felt that seeking whiteness is no more a social phenomenon, which just limited to the Asian women. Asian men are also gradually involved.

According to International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the sales of skin care products for men increased 30 percent to over $280 million in China. Some industry giants including L’Oreal from France and Shisedo from Japan are looking forward to the boost of their business in China. China is going to account for half of the global growths in the men’s skin care market within the next five years.

Personally I did not realize this tendency until I met one of my roommates in my high school. In the first day of entry, the small bags he brought to the dormitory surprised all of his roommates, including me. There were so many bottles of cosmetics that we had never heard about and there were also some foreign cosmetics. He was always the last to go to class since he usually spent around twenty minutes to put on makeup. We were even more surprised that after a month, some female students started to ask him for advice on choosing the right white-lightening cosmetics. His skin was truly lighter compared to most male students, due to long-term use of different kinds of cosmetics. After I came to study in Japan, I also found male students using white-lightening cosmetics in order to keep their skin looking good and white. Some of my classmates in my high school have also started to use whitening cosmetic products.

So question here is whether lightening cosmetics are also “must-haves” for Asian men?

Research conducted by Zheng (2010) shows that the main reason for the increase in men’s use of cosmetics is that cosmetic use has become a symbol of men who care about their appearance, while previously this use had been regarded as feminine. Zheng argues that this change is due to the influence of mass media and advertisements. Meantime, rapid economic development has made cosmetics affordable for more men. Being able to using cosmetics is also one way to show one’s social status. These factors have made whiteness more appreciated. However, Zheng also pointed out that this tendency does not challenge the idea that tanned skin is a proper skin color for males. These two standards have become parallel in Asian countries.

The spread of whiteness as a standard of beauty seems unstoppable in Asian countries. With globalization and the spread of western aesthetics, whitening cosmetics are becoming must-haves for both men and women. It is creating massive business chances as well as changing people’s taste of aesthetics. I feel it is interesting if Ashikari can do her survey again, this time focusing on the opinions of Japanese men. They result might be similar as it was for women in contemporary Japan.

References

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity. Journal of Material Culture, 10 , 73-91.

Cosmetic market for men in China booming – Media Centre – International Enterprise Singapore (2011). Retrieved from International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, Web site: http://www.iesingapore.gov.sg/Media-Centre/News/2011/2/Cosmetic-market-for-men-in-China-booming

Zheng, J. (2012). 男士护肤品掀起热潮. 日用化学品科学, 10 10-16.

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