Colourism, plastic surgery, and trying to look Caucasian

by Tommy Pass

In class we talked about the ongoing trend of lightening ones skin to appear more attractive as well as where this trend in doing so may have come from. Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses the origins of what seems to be global obsession with having whiter skin. Glenn argues that the obsession, especially from women’s point of view, stems from the fact that women are judged very strongly based upon their appearance while men are judged on other capital, such as education, income, etc.

Let’s just say hypothetically that these cultures are right and that whiteness equals beauty and that we accept this as fact, when can we see a limit to this obsession where it is taken to the extreme and skin whitening products are not the only thing women are after to look more beautiful. What about the plastic surgery trend going on in countries such as South Korea, should there be a limit to the extent that this beauty trend is taken?

A libertarian may argue that people should do as they want. Let’s assume this is correct, when does this also go too far? What about when this is forced onto children who don’t have a say in the matter at all, and who are just being told by their parents what to do. Should this be allowed? The argument to this being that this will benefit them for the future in terms of job opportunities, etc. Does this not take the obsession with looking more beautiful to the extreme when children are forced against their will by their parents to have their face permanently altered to look more “beautiful”?

To me personally it seems very much as if people are not trying to just make their skin whiter, but trying to become more Caucasian looking. I believe that historically, people saw it as a more attractive feature to be pale as this meant that you were wealthy enough to stay inside and now work in the fields, though in more recent years I believe that wanting to look Caucasian is very much a goal which women are trying to achieve.

Glenn gives the example of how the African American community had the paper bag test in social events to see who was acceptable or not, the reason for this being that those slaves who were mixed race were given the higher status jobs amongst the slaves, such as staying indoors as opposed to picking cotton and other field work. This created the illusion of prestige to those who had Caucasian ancestry and hence the mentality stayed within the community long after slavery was abolished.

African Americans getting their hair straightened, skin bleached and other alterations are in a sense aiming towards Caucasian features. This same phenomenon can be seen in East Asia. People of mixed Caucasian ancestry, in other words those with one Asian parent and one white parent, have a much easier time becoming models and are often made into TV personalities solely due to their looks. One could ask the question, why does the media use mixed-race people and not people who are 100% Caucasian if that’s what they consider beautiful? The answer could be that having a white person modelling can feel too farfetched for an Asian audience and potential customers.

Someone of pure Asian origin knows that they cannot look exactly like a white person, and will thus not put much effort into trying. Not trying means that they do not buy skin whitening creams and other cosmetics, thus cosmetic companies are unable to make a profit.  If people of mixed race who possess both Asian and Caucasian features are used within the modelling industry, then this creates something potential customers can relate to and will thus make them try—trying meaning spending money.

Hence it is obvious that the cosmetics industry wants this kind of obsessive mentality to circulate within society, doing so keeps this issue in continuation and thus giving their business profit, even while the result of all this leads to some parents wanting plastic surgery for their children. Without this kind of pressure from cosmetic companies and the media, I doubt that plastic surgery and skin whitening would be as prevalent as it is today.

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2 thoughts on “Colourism, plastic surgery, and trying to look Caucasian

  1. I don’t think there there is a global obsession with white skin. I think the beauty industry works on making women feel they aren’t good enough, that they need to be something other than who they are. Of course, that is how they make their money.

    Being white and growing up in Australia, I was ridiculed for my pale skin. Fake tans, tanning salons and bronzing products are so heavily pushed because white skin is seen as unattractive.

  2. Black women straightening their hair is not them doing it to look more Caucasian. There are people of African descent in the world who have straight hair.

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