Why do people prefer whiter skin?

By Ye Tiantian

I chose this topic because I myself am a part of the skin whitening market, as I have been consuming skin lightening products since I don’t even remember when. But for all that time, I never asked myself the question of why do I want to whiten my skin? Well, go to any drug store or large mall and ask those purchasing the skin whitening products this question, I am pretty sure that most, if not all, of them will tell you, because they want to be beautiful. But why is white beautiful? That’s the point.

Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s research introduced the skin whitening markets in different regions and among different consuming groups. Glenn used the word “colorism” to explain the growing and even illegal skin whitening markets in African nations which is related to colonialism and the so-called “white privilege”. I don’t know much about the skin whitening market of Africa, African America, India, Southeast Asia or Latin America. Actually, I didn’t even know that there exist such huge skin whitening markets outside Asia until I had read Glenn’s research, since I had always assumed that it is the traditional Asian aesthetic that lead to the practice of using those products. But I do know the whitening market of East Asia or more specifically China.

It is true that I cannot represent all of the consumers in the skin whitening market, but I am pretty sure that I and most of the people I know buying those products are not trying to make ourselves look like white people. We don’t want to be white, we want to be what in Chinese we called “白里透红”, white with rosy touches, like the skin of a newborn baby—an Asian baby, not necessarily a white baby.

As we have discussed before, race is a socially constructed category. It is not like only white people have the biological gene to have white skin. Compare the skin color of a newborn Asian baby with a white person, they are not that different. I cannot tell you for sure that it has nothing to do with white privilege that people like me buy skin whitening products. But at least, I believe this is not the whole story behind the growing skin whitening market in at least China.

If it is all about the white privilege, how can we explain that the practice of skin whitening in China could date back to Qin Dynasty (221-206BC)? Women in China at that time already learnt to make their face white using lead powders, changing their diets and consuming certain kinds of herbals. If you know a little bit about Chinese history, you will know that China used to be one of the most powerful nations of the world; it was even more powerful than Western European nations. If it was only about white supremacy, as it was believed for the African market, it won’t make any sense because there was no such thing as white supremacy in ancient China.

There is one explanation which I highly doubt, but might be true, that the first ruling class of China as a nation, though not united, is white Indo-Europeans. Thus, white skin is linked with the ruling class. But this cannot be entirely proved and for most time of the Chinese history, the rulers were not white people.

My guess is that Chinese want to be white because whiter skin (not pure white skin like white people) is linked with higher social classes inside the Chinese society. From the Qin dynasty, there is this a social ranking in which scholars and officers were always on the top of the social class. What’s the characteristic of scholars or officers? They work indoors, not outdoors. Thus, they are not exposed to sunshine as other farmers, workers, merchants are, and as a result they must have skin more like that  of newborn babies. We even have a word for it in Chinese, “白面书生”. Thus, in the traditional stereotype of Chinese society, whiter skin is linked with higher social class.

This is even true for contemporary Chinese society. We may be educated to treat all kinds of jobs equally and be taught that there is no such thing as better jobs and worse jobs. But the unconscious bias of our mind still to some extent controls our behaviors. And from my observation, there must be such bias and sometimes even conscious ones.

Sometimes, this kind of discrimination is even institutionalized. In the Chinese hukou system, people possessing a rural hukou receive a lower standard of social welfare compared with people with an urban hukou. Those people with rural hukou are normally those working as agriculture farmers or construction workers and other labor intensive jobs. People working in the offices normally have higher social status compared with people working outdoors in construction sites or agricultural fields. A typical image of a successful person working a decent job would be like this, while “migrant workers” or farmers are usually associated with this kind of image and are usually considered as poor, not well-educated and with bad manners.

So my argument is that the preference of white skin may be linked with power and privilege, but it doesn’t need to be privilege of other races and ethnic groups. While white privilege might be an explanation for the skin whitening market in some parts of the world, some times it could because of the privilege of social classes inside the same race and ethnic group. Being whiter doesn’t need to be imitating white people.

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The Pervasive Nature of Skin Lightening Products

by Olivia Katherine Parker

Skin lightening products are a really interesting topic due to their pervasive nature. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. Not only are they used within Asian cultures but all around the world. In America, the Black and Mexican populace tries to embody the “perfection” of clear, smooth, and light skin. Women of color constantly compare themselves to white washed celebrities and models. Ultimately, it creates a very disturbing mental image that makes cosmetic companies big bucks.

After going online to check out social media websites, specifically Tumblr and Twitter, I found that there are entire categories of the beauty hashtag devoted to skin lightening products. Young women chat with each other about the effectiveness or dangers of a certain product. What upsets me is that these girls know they’re damaging their skin. More importantly, the companies that make these products know this as well. Lead, hydroquinone, and other dangerous chemicals are still used in some products that go unregulated.

Even the women who don’t purchase skin lightening products are negatively affected by the cosmetics industry because they’re looked down upon by other women. I have overheard Black mothers talk about how lucky their daughters are to have lighter skin. A recent blog post by Indian author Monisha Rajesh says that India has an “unfair obsession with light skin”. She claimed she had an experience with a respected Indian newspaper that published a white washed image of her. When she confronted the art director he said he believed he was doing her a favor by whitening her skin.

With Japan’s female populace being so overly presentable, you can imagine how popular skin whitening products are. For crying out loud, they walk around in the summer with umbrellas and long sleeves. Young women wear makeup two or three shades lighter than their actual skin color in the winter and wear coats with scarves to cover up. It’s expected to use a skin lightening lotion or cream. Light skin is desirable, light skin will make you popular, light skin will get you a husband.

Bihaku is one of the leading Japanese skin lightening producers. The work Bihaku translates to “beautifully white” their products claim to reverse damage and create perfectly clear and fair skin. Bihaku products run adds in pop culture magazines directed at girls as young as 10. Other companies include Hanae Mori, Shiseido, and Kanebo. The demand for skin lightening products increases every year. The mentality towards these products in most Asian cultures is positive. It’s implemented in the infamous Japanese women’s skin care regiment which is usually a six to twelve step process.

So the question is: will this issue ever be widely recognized as an unnecessary product being pushed on people by society? Is this something that needs to fixed internally by women of the same culture accepting their original skin tones and supporting their fellow females or are we past the ability to do that? Do we need to run campaigns in the media telling ladies that they’re beautiful as they are? Or should more people be told the truth about what these products actually do to their skin? Unfortunately, I believe that the first step is for the producers to take a stand and stop selling lightening products and that’s not going to happen while these products remain their best sellers.

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.

Is the real goal of Japanese whitening cosmetics to be white-skinned?

by Umene Shikata

When you walk around Japan in the summer time, no matter whether it is in the city or rural areas, you will see women wearing long sleeves, hat, sunglasses, or long gloves that reach their elbows. You may also see those ladies (most of the time above their 20s) using a parasol also on a sunny day. These behaviors of Japanese women are understood as an indication of their preferences for white skin.

Ashikari Mikiko, a social anthropologist who studied at Kenbridge University, argues that the Japanese white-skin preference does not have anything to do with being like westerners, but rather cultivate “a Japanese form of whiteness which is based on the Japanese identity as a race” (2005:73). This means that she does not think Japanese people have this tendency for white skin because they have a complex towards their ‘yellow’ skin (since Japanese are often seen as a yellow-skinned race), neither do they have a desire to get westerners’ white skin. They want to be white because being white is a demonstration of belonging to ‘us’, which in this case means ‘being Japanese’.

I agree that Japanese people do not try to be western through whitening their own skin. However, the relation between white skin preference and sense of belonging to the ‘us/Japanese’ remains unclear to me. I asked my Japanese friends (a total of 15 people, both men and women, 20 to 22 years old) what they thought about Ashikari’s connection of being white and belonging to ‘us’, and all of them thought it was not fully explaining their feeling towards whitening their skin.

Then, to understand better what they are actually thinking and feeling, I made further question whether they prefer white skin or black skin, the reason of feeling in such way, whether white skin preference was based on admiration for westerners and, in the end, what is a ‘beautiful skin’ for them. All of them answered me that, as Ashikari mentioned in her article, their, or Japanese people’s white skin preference has nothing to do with westerners’ skin color, neither with a race issue. Rather, all of them answered that people doing whitening care are doing so for their own preference and happiness, in the other words, to be “cute” (kawaii) or “beautiful” (kirei). What should be underlined, however, is the fact none of them brought up ‘white color’ or ‘white skin’ to their idea of ‘beautiful skin’ image.

Their concept of beautiful skin, including boys’ opinions as well, could be divided in three categories; smooth (nameraka na hada, sube sube shita hada), no skin trouble (hada are no nai hada) such as acne, dry skin, and blotches, and finally transparency (toumeikan no aru hada). If you research ‘essences for beautiful skin’ (bihada no joken) on the internet, the results are the same.

It seems that Japanese people, both women and men, put skin condition above actual skin color. Some of my friends who answered me mentioned that they do not really care whether the skin is rather white, yellow, or well-tanned as long as it is healthy looking with no skin troubles. For instance, if you read Shiseido’s whitening product haku’s promotion page you may realize they are talking more about how to avoid blotches, or to make smoother skin condition rather than to actually having white-colored skin.

Moreover, Shiseido’s answer to the question “what is the containment of skin whitening products” is “active ingredient which suppresses the generation of melanin and prevent a blotches or freckles”. This means that when Japanese says white skin, they are not talking about actual skin color. However, they are talking about skin without any blotches, clean and beautiful skin condition.

If you take this assumption as the real fact, then it might be easier to understand Japanese women’s preferences, opinion and behavior. They prefer “white” skin, because it is clean, literally beautiful in the way there is no skin problem, and also shows they care about their own selves which in Japan is considered as a “high womenness” (joshi ryoku ga takai). They try to avoid being tanned because with the sun, tan skin tend to have more blotches and is drier (kasa kasa). It also may cause skin problems. This is why many people, including my own self, felt the reason of whitening as demonstration of belonging not appropriate to explain their tendencies and feelings.

Indeed, there may be some culture which considers blotches as a good thing, or something that has no importance. However, in this case we are talking more about cultural differences to see the world. However, it can be said that, at least Japanese whitening tendencies are not related to racial issues or belonging to us/Japanese, but rather to a pure cultural beauty concepts.

References

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetic Boom and the Japanese Identity”, Journal of Material Culture 10(1):73-91.

Watashi by Shiseido, Questions and answers: https://www.shiseido.co.jp/faq/qa.asp?faq_id=1000000335

Watashi by Shiseido, Shiseido no bihaku tokusyuu: https://www.shiseido.co.jp/beauty/bihaku/

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.

Color? Look for beauty in its own

by Kanae Mukaihara

“Hey!”

When a person sees another person and exchanges a word, they likely have already distinguished the other person’s race according to their appearance. This is the reality. In current time periods, there still is obvious discrimination in the society. For example, in Japan, many foreigners are not able to get a part time job or even rent an apartment. In addition, sometimes, still a sign “Japanese Only” may be seen in shop entrances. This may not be regarded with their skin color, yet people still judge others by skin color. If one is non-white, others would regard one is inferior to those who are white.

“People do not want to be distinguished by their skin color and at the same time people do not want to distinguish others with their skin color.” I wish every single person in the world would think in this way. It sounds simple, yet wheels within wheels, it is more complicated than it first seems to be. Those who have white skin color tend to have better employment, better income, better treatment and even better life (Nakano, 2009). Society is constructed with bunch of people in which discrimination are occurring from color differences. Thus it should have been actively argued for everyone to have equal eyes more than equal society. However, in a sense of beauty, it could be different.

The standard of beauty differs among countries. However, world widely, having lighter skin color, taller nose, bigger eyes, blond hair is considered as beauty in most of the countries, including countries in Asia (Chung, 2011). In Asia, Westerners have been the role model of beauty.  For example in Japan, people would buy cosmetics which is lighter color than their real skin color since they have the idea of white or lighter skin is more beautiful. Korea as another example, it is more severe. In Korea, beautiful women are more likely to be employed and to have better life (Stewart, 2013). Thus, people get plastic surgeries and try to become beautiful to compromise to the society. Regarding white as beauty in the world is more common while has becoming a standard. Yet, in Brazil, they discover beauty in darker skin.

In Brazil, race is classified by skin color, which mainly has category of white, brown and black. In the society of Brazil, as same as other countries, the lighter skin one has, the better employment and income they could get (Nakano, 2009). In Brazil, there is discrimination in society. However in Brazil, not like Japan or Korea, women want to have golden and tanned skin. Thus women with lighter skin color use darker cosmetics to make their skin color darker than they have now (Stylist, 2014). In addition, in comparison with Korean more focuses plastic surgery in face, yet Brazilians more focuses on shape of their body. There are not many countries which find beauty in darker skin.

From these findings, I consider that one should not be treated based on the skin color they have or their looks. In a sense of beauty, the standard of beauty should be created by countries and create the standard of beauty from cultural aspect and also careful consideration in the society. Every race has its own charming point in every single part of their body and personality. From doing this, I believe more women in the world would be able to find much more confidence as who they are. Respecting others, respecting cultures, respecting one’s looks will lead to brighter future I believe.

References

Chung, C. (2011). ‘Westernizing’ surgery on the wise. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/beauty/westernising-surgery-on-the-rise-20110905-1jsye.html

Stylist. (2014). Made in Brazil: Why Brazil leads the way with beauty trends. Retrieved from http://www.stylist.co.uk/beauty/made-in-brazil

Stewart, D. (2013). I can’t stop Looking at these South Korean Women who’ve had plastic surgery. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/5976202/i-cant-stop-looking-at-these-south-korean-women-whove-had-plastic-surgery

Telles, E. (2009). “The Social Consequences of Skin Color in Brazil.” In Shades of Difference: Why skin color matters, edited by E. N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Marketing lighter skin in South Africa

by Yusuke Shiga

Lots of cosmetic companies have globalized their markets by using ingenious marketing strategies, and the number of consumers of these products has proliferated. Especially skin whitening products are purchased in many countries and the inclination for whiter skin is so prevalent, yet the causes of this social phenomenon are complicated. In this writing, I’d like to focus on this trend in South Africa.

In this complicated discourse, there are two main factors, social structure and marketing strategies, specifically advertisements. First of all, as for advertisements, companies have sold the products by highlighting their great effects on the skin with pictures of consumers who successfully achieved the whiteness and nice skin condition, and also emphasized that having whiter skin improve their dating and marriage prospect. In fact, the winners of beauty competition were chosen for the models of many advertisements and encouraged people to buy the products. Moreover, these ads stressed the healthy aspects, the commodities protect your skin from the harsh rays of the sun and make your skin smooth or brighten. Most importantly, these ads said “manufactured for black by their brothers/sisters in U.S.”, this phrase tremendously encouraged them to use cosmetic products.

Concerns about social structure, racial hierarchy, and apartheid have played significant roles on seeking whiteness. The social stratification/class were determined by one’s racial category, and lower class, colored had limited access to occupation, education, housing, and so on. Therefore, for them whitening skin tone means racial uplift and getting chance to become wealthier. Within the society, white skin implicated modernity and progress, because during that time, not only wealthier people and whites but people who looking for better jobs migrated from rural area to urban area.

However, in the 1960s, an anti-skin whitening movement occurred, because black politicians and nationalists criticized this trend as “betraying the race.” They insisted to be proud of their skin color. Plus, the fact that scientists proved that ingredients in skin whitening products were harmful to skin fostered this anti-movement.

While after it was proven that using these products might cause serious skin troubles like “chubabas,” which are purpled patches of skin, some continuously put these chemicals on their skin. The struggle black Africans faced is depicted in the film “Skin” by Sandra Laing. This movie is based on a true story and shows the strong impact of the skin color in everyday life in South Africa. The ironic scene is that parents who are both white rejoiced to hear their child who had been recognized as colored before was authorized as white.

In my opinion, the main reason why these issues still persist is because there is possibility that you can move to higher class after using these products, even though you also have possibility of having “chubabas”. Especially, lower class tend to become addicted to cosmetics, due to the strong racial hierarchy in the society, and this “high-risk high-return” ideology has a powerful effect on whitening products addicts, I think. Yet, various elements are connected to this social matter, we need to analyze more from different perspectives.

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The trend of Japanese whiteness

by Yusuke Shiga

For women in modern society, whitening the skin by cosmetic products is so prevalent, and this trend is becoming more significant in terms of racial discrimination today. The influence of colonialism on not only developing, but developed countries is incalculable in various aspects. Still today, one’s appearance, especially skin color, plays a tremendous role in one’s access to essential stuff, from necessities for life such as housing, food, and clothing, to social security and social welfare. By lightening the skin color, people can more easily get these kinds of advantages and live more comfortably in a society. This social structure promotes the preference of whiter skin, however the skillful advertising and marketing strategies of cosmetic firms also affects this social inclination to white skin. Evelyn Nakano Glenn (2009) argues that the giant multinational corporations have grown by meeting the needs of women in each nation, thus the market for cosmetic products has expanded. When you focus on the Japanese case, the complicated contents can be seen.

Recently, Japanese women have sought white skin, as they think that white skin is beautiful or healthy and they persist in trying to to have whiter skin. There are some arguments about the reasons for this tendency, and some claim that Japanese ideal image of women is almost Caucasian because of the advertisements of media and companies. They insist that in most cases, whites are chosen as the models of cosmetic companies, and regarded as beautiful women, and therefore Japanese women try to mimic Westerners. On the other hand, others claim that whitening one’s skin color is part of Japanese traditional culture, because even in the Nara period, people already had customs to whiten their skin tone by using “Oshiroi” (White powder). However, in my opinion, these arguments neglect some important points toward this question “Why do Japanese women seek white skin?”.

Of course, we cannot define the main cause of Japanese preferences for white skin, since there are lots of causes and all of them are associated with each other. Through the discussion of my class, many of the interesting, persuasive ideas are came up and I consider this issue deeply, then I came to the conclusion.

In my opinion, we Japanese all share the misleading idea “Japanese must have nearly same white skin tone naturally”. Therefore, we sometimes discriminate against “Jiguro people (people who naturally have blacker skin compared to other Japanese)” regardless of their birthplace, and draw the line between “naturally white Japanese” and “naturally black Japanese”. Furthermore, because of this premise, “skin whiteness” symbolizes one’s youth or health. Having white skin implies that you make an effort to keep your youth by caring for your skin condition.

In Japan, a proverb says “stand out from the crowd and you just invite trouble for yourself”. Not to be “others”, to keep one’s youth, and to become healthy, Japanese women are paranoid to have white skin, I guess.

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Beauty Standards in the White Imagination

by Shinoko Itakura

The phenomenon of changing skin color has been happening all over the world. Some attempt to get lighter skin and some attempt to get tan skin. The reasons behind those two attempts seem opposite yet, the purpose is the same, “high class”. The symbol of high class depends on where you are, and how the standard of the beauty has been created in your society, because the standard of beauty  includes class status.

But who created the standard of beauty and how? We tend to describe people who have straight jet-black hair, and large, double lidded, almond-shaped eyes as “Asian beauty”. Even though we are Asian, whenever we see people who have those facial features, we say, “You are beautiful like Asian beauty!” In fact one of my colleague just described another colleague as an “Asian beauty” the other day. It just feels weird when Asian people describe another Asian as an “Asian beauty”. This is because the idea of Asian beauty has been created in the white imagination. We do not say European beauty or Latin beauty, because the standard of beauty is already based on European (white) features. What is more, something which is called a “universal standard” or “universal beauty” is just not universal. It always based on physical features of white people.

The standard of beauty seems to be controlled by mass media and the marketing of cosmetic products. Cosmetics companies use many strategies to gain more and more profits. “Relatable” is one of the important key concepts; if consumers find any similarity to the advertising models, for example “Asian-ness”, they believe that they can achieve those models’  look, and the universal standard of beauty. Those advertisements do not directly say “you guys can be like this model, if you use this products!” yet they are implying this by using racially ambiguous models. In order to sell the products, they also give us images of dark skin as dangerous, unhealthy, bad, and wrong by using terms such as aging or skin cancer. But what really matters is “skin color”.

I feel wrath about how skin-lightening products are marketed. It is so depressing that somehow we have to feel pressure of skin color or looking, and have to try to look like someone else, just because we are not white. This situation must be stopped and there should be the world which do not judge you by your skin color.

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Selling whiter skin for beauty

by Kohsei Ishimoto

In Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (2009), Joanne L. Rondilla looks at the different techniques are used in the cosmetics industry. When looking at the Philippines, advertisements focus on ‘whitening’ the skin, because the people in the country tend to have darker skin. On the other hand, when looking at European countries, advertisements look at ‘brightening’ the skin, for there is the idea that people in these countries naturally have light skin.

When looking at these advertisements, it can be seen that to be beautiful, you must have white skin. Rondilla explains that there are many people in the Philippines who buy skin-whitening products to look beautiful, but is being ‘white’ really being beautiful? The main answer to why ‘white’ is thought to be ‘beautiful’ is colonization. To the countries that had been colonized, the European countries had been superior, fixing the image that ‘whites’ are ‘better’.

When reading Rondilla’s chapter, however, it can be seen that there are various ‘types’ of white skin. One is the European beauty that was mentioned earlier, and the other the ‘Asian beauty’. This refers to East Asian countries, such as China and Japan. Filipinos are actually looking at ‘Asian beauty’, possibly because these countries are closer to them. In Japan’s case, the country looks at being ‘white’, trying to achieve the European look. This statement can be said to be wrong however, for recently Japanese people want to be seen as individuals.

When looking at various advertisements, it can be seen that models of different skin tones are used. For advertisements that use ‘white’ women, companies state that they are the ‘result’ of the product. On the other hand, companies that use models of a darker tone state that it does not look ‘right’, telling the consumers to change by buying the product. It is a fact that many purchase skin-whitening products to gain their ‘beauty’, but exactly how close are they to their ideal image? Will consumers ever believe that they are beautiful enough? The answer to this is probably no. The cosmetics industry has control over the consumers, by selling only a small portion of a product, or changing advertising techniques to trick us into believing that our images are not yet satisfactory. When thinking about this, it is interesting to wonder why people use cosmetics in the first place. Can not having any make-up on be considered beautiful? The answer to this can be explained through society; how people see you, and how you want to be seen.

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