Skin whiteners and beauty: the impact of global markets

Royal Siam natural skin whitening products

Royal Siam natural skin whitening products (Photo credit: RoyalSiamBeauty)

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.

Reference

Sternheimer, Karen. 2010. “Lightness and whiteness.” Everyday Sociologyhttp://nortonbooks.typepad.com/everydaysociology/2010/05/lightness-and-whiteness.html

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White is right: Body decoration, skin color, and beauty in Japan

Nivea Skin Whitening

Nivea Skin Whitening (Photo credit: kalleboo)

by Saki Miyata

Body decoration is a term that describes how people change how they look from how they looked originally. This decoration of the body seems to be conducted by people in order for them to symbolize or fit into a certain group. Skin lightening is also one kind of body decoration which can be practiced worldwide. In Japan, it is not difficult to find women who use skin whitening products. The practice of skin whitening has become a very “natural” thing for women in Japan.

It has become “natural” for woman to seek whiteness since the ideal beauty of Japanese is to have a white skin. The unconscious notion of “Japanese people are originally white” creates an image of white skin as pure, young, and healthy. Which drives women to practice skin lightening as an anti-aging process.

As Mikiko Ashikari (2005) notes, in Japan, “white skin” is also seen as dominant, since having tanned skin is something to be ashamed of, unless the tanned skin is a result of some leisure activities. This could be the result of thinking “Japanese skin is originally white and expected to be white”. An example of white being dominant is when talking about skin in Japan. Saying “Your skin is white (light)” is taken as a compliment. However, saying “your skin is black” is never connected with a positive image. It is also a taboo to point out to someone that they have black skin.

Japanese usually separate their whiteness from Caucasians’, and find uniqueness in Japanese whiteness. It is true that Japan has a tradition of seeing white as a symbol of purity and beauty. However this is not the only reason for this massive boom of skin whitening in Japan. By globalizing, Japan interacted with societies that were white dominant and white superior. This dominance of Caucasians has also affected the notion of universal beauty, which sees white as beautiful. However, even though this idea was imported to Japan, it is not recognized by people that they are trying to look white, since the idea of white=beautiful was already there. The globalization of cosmetic markets has also encouraged more women to practice skin lightening.

Personally I found it interesting to find out that Japanese unconsciously think we have white skin. However when I think about it, the “fresh colour” pencil crayon is light beige, which is lighter than the average Japanese skin. Although the pencil crayon does not represent Japanese skin tone, children colour their skin with this colour. When I was in Canada, I was drawing each other’s face with my Caucasian friend. I remember feeling really offended when she used light beige colour for her and dark yellowish brown colour on mine. Although I was only 8 years old when this happened, this shows how the sence of “Japanese skin” is deeply rooted in our minds.

Reference

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

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Symbiosis in the World of Beauty: The Cosmetics Industry and the Western Beauty Ideal

English: Super Skin Lightener skin lightening ...

English: Super Skin Lightener skin lightening cream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kyungyeon Chung

Upon walking into a drug store in Japan, one will find an array of cosmetic products that promises hopeful transformation into what today’s Japanese society perceives as beauty. These end results the products promise – fairer, whiter skin, brighter teeth, bigger eyes, and longer eye lashes – all embodying the ideal that originated from the Western, Caucasian-centric beauty standards.

The cosmetics industry, even on a global scale, operates on the platform provided by Western standards of beauty, and especially by the colorism ideology that has penetrated into deep corners of modern society. At the same time, the beauty ideal and colorism are not self-sustaining. Their presence and growing prevalence are made possible by numerous industries that profit from the growth, with the cosmetic industry being a major stakeholder in play. By constantly being made to consume products designed with a limited set of objectives and outcome, the consumers are constantly reminded of the beauty ideals behind the products. The global cosmetics industry and the Western beauty standards based on colorism, mutually reinforce each other’s existence and influence.

In order to fully understand the core of modern society’s beauty standards, it is imperative to know the colorism ideology that frames the entire discourse. Colorism refers to “the preference for lighter skin and social hierarchy based on skin tone”, and has been widely expanding throughout the globe (Glenn, 2009, p.166). Being one of the main axes behind inequality today, it occurs at societal, systemic level through social structure that permits systematic discrimination towards darker skinned people. In many different regions and nations around the world, light skin tone has historically been preferred to dark skin tone, and given higher social status and easier access to social and economic resources (Keith, 2009, p.25). Although the beauty ideal does include other phenotypic aspects than skin complexion such as desirable weight, body shape, and facial structures, skin tone does hold significant importance, if not the most.

This ideology of colorism has been directly translated into the Western beauty ideals. Up high on the list of what composes the ideals is ‘fair’ skin. Having lighter, fairer, and whiter skin gives a great advantage in one’s life, and is central to the very definition of beauty. Having been spread as part of the ideological rationale for slavery and colonial imperialism of the European powers (Keith, 2009, p.27), the “white is better” or “white is right” idea still pervades modern societies thanks to mass media. Today, these ideologies are strongly embedded in ways we admire, desire, and look upon fair skin. Its importance can be easily understood and highlighted by the popular practice of skin whitening, which will be elaborated further later. It is also important to note here that females are subjected to these standards much more frequently and strictly than males (Keith, 2009).

In modern societies with capitalist economic system, the beauty standards manifest themselves as profitable industries whose products promise the achievement of ideal beauty via consumption. As societies are deeply instilled with consumerism, selling and buying beauty have been a huge, popularly sought-after business than ever. Plastic surgery is one of the most common and provocative examples. Cosmetic surgeries have spiked up in number and scale around the world: 14 million surgery procedures were performed in the US in 2011 (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2012); close to 7% of the population has undergone knife in South Korea in 2010 (Bates, 2013). A wide range diet-support programs, machines, and food products are readily available to help people lose weight.

Among many industries that thrive on our search for beauty, the cosmetics industry deserves particular attention. For instance, unlike plastic surgery, which may seem invasive, dangerous and rather extreme, putting on makeup is seldom-questioned practice for women. While showing up at school after a holiday with larger breasts may cause a stir, putting on mascara would hardly be an issue. For many, it is a daily routine, an ordinary and even expected behavior. It is also continuous – women who use skin care products will probably continue to do so for years to come. While it may seem trivial at first, considering the commonality and regularity of skin care and makeup, the cosmetics industry is massive, universally pervasive, and commercially successful.

The cosmetics industry owes much of its existence and enduring popularity to the beauty standards. An impressive array of products is available to help people achieve beauty as prescribed by the Western ideal. Eye makeup products are a great example. A dozen different types of products are readily available to make one’s eyes look bigger and more defined: mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, eyelash curler, eyebrow shaper, highlighter, etc. In East Asia in particular, the desire to have the Western look has also led to the popularity of double eyelid (Bates, 2013). In Korean and Japanese cosmetics shops, one can easily find glue or sticker-like products that hold the skin of upper eyelid together, creating an illusive double-lid. For those unwilling to undergo surgical procedures to create double eyelids, those products are a way to go.

Yet, the segment within the cosmetics industry that is perhaps the most influenced by, shaped by, and reflective of the Western ideals, is skin whitening products. Colorism has effectively produced a social view that associates whiteness with superiority and darkness with primitiveness, something to be avoided and fixed. In her book Shades of Differences, Evelyn Nakano Glenn argues that light skin has come to hold symbolic capital that furthers one’s life chances (2009, p. 166). This relates to the concept of beauty queue in society, whereby the level of beauty and social status are judged by the shades of complexion, the lightest at the top and the darkest at the bottom. For such reason, men and women from all parts of the world have strived for lighter complexion by consuming copious amounts of skin whitening products, supporting a multibillion-dollar global industry.

In the Asia Pacific region, the skin lightening market was valued at over US$13 billion in 2012 (Tan, 2012). In African continent, studies have found that up to 50% of population use skin lightening products in Dakar, Senegal; and even up to 77% in Lagos, Nigeria (Ntambwe, 2004). Almost all major cosmetic brands have a product line specifically dedicated to brightening care: Estée Lauder’s ‘CyberWhite’, Shiseido’s ‘White Lucent’, Clarins’s ‘Bright Plus’, Vichy’s ‘BiWhite’, Chanel’s ‘Le Blanc’. The list is endless. The prevalence and magnitude of the industry indicate how the widespread Western ideal of beauty and reverence for lighter skin tone has led to increasing demand for skin whitening products. The unabated expansion of the skin whitening products is a clear manifestation of colorism in action.

The highly interrelated relationship between the cosmetics industry and the Western beauty ideal can also be traced back from the other way around. The cosmetics industry work to constantly and persistently reinforce the ideal into the mindset of people, making it into an accepted social norm. Commercials by cosmetic firms continuously remind the consumers of what they should look like, and thus eventually what they should consume in order to achieve the said goals. These commercials tactically employ models that will spark the feeling of desire, which make the viewers think the goal – of looking like the model – is attainable. In essence, the models will look Caucasian enough to fit the White beauty standard, yet still possess enough ‘local’ features not to alienate the viewers too much. For instance, in Japan, half-Japanese and half-Caucasian models have rose to prominence for such reasons, brining the ‘ha-fu boom’ in entertainment and media (Krieger, 2010). In such manner, the constant bombardment of strategically produced advertisements on TV, magazines, and in shops, works to ensure the beauty ideal is here to stay.

As seen in the case of skin whitening products, the industry ushers consumers to fix their blemishes and dark spots, to get rid of undesirable features, and to become closer to the ideal beauty. Prominent cosmetic manufactures reveal supposedly bettered, new products every season. The products are ‘upgraded’ in a sense that they claim to produce better results, such as longer eyelashes, darker eye lines, more durability, brighter effects, to name a few. Consumers absorb such ideas: those results are good; those results are better; those results are what they should seek after. Through this process, the beauty standard gets repeatedly ingrained in the subconscious of society as a whole.

There is a wide range of factors at play that help maintain the global obsession with the White ideal of beauty, and especially that of light skin tone. One of the perpetuators is the cosmetics industry. In modern capitalist economy in which consumerism has become the social norm, the cosmetics industry prospers, thanks to the consumers’ ceaseless quest for beauty as dictated by the Western ideal. The quest for fairer skin, in particular, embodies the reality of colorstruck world – to borrow Verna Keith’s words – where colorism is firmly established as part of social structure.

The cosmetics industry and the White beauty ideals function as lifeline to each other. The ideals condition society for the industry to profit from, while the industry works to reinforce the ideals. It is a mutually interdependent, symbiotic relationship. If we want to start tackling the racially charged foundation behind the White ideal of beauty, we must first understand how it is perpetuated and internalized by consumption of products that cement the said ideal. Only when both ends are understood and questioned, can the process of deconstructing the colorstruck world begin.

References

  1. American Society of Plastic Surgeons (2012, September 2). 13.8 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures performed in 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/News-and-Resources/Press-Release-Archives/2012-Press-Release-Archives/138-Million-Cosmetic-Plastic-Surgery-Procedures-Performed-in-2011.html
  2. Bates, C. (2013, January 31). 15 million people worldwide had plastic surgery in 2011. Daily Mail Online. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2271134/15million-people-plastic-surgery-world-just-year–SOUTH-KOREA-leading-way.html
  3. Glenn, E. N. (2009). Consuming lightness. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters. (pp. 166-187). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  4. Keith, V. (2009). A colorstruck world. In Glenn, E. N. (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters. (pp. 25-39). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  5. Krieger, D. (2010, November 29). The whole story on being ‘hafu’. CNN. Retrieved from: http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/life/whole-story-being-hafu-722376
  6. Ntambwe, M. (2004, March). Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Science in Africa. Retrieved from: http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2004/march/skinlightening.htm
  7. Tan, D. (2012, September 18). Who’s the fairest of them all? Asian Scientist. Retrieved from: http://www.asianscientist.com/features/skin-whitening-products-asia-2012/ 
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Changes in the beauty standard for men and women

by Satona Kato

Jyotsna Vaid’s research shows us that lighter skin is a requirement for marriage. We learned many people think lighter skin is better and is one of the conditions of beauty in various countries.

However, it is also true that the standard of beauty varies by regions or countries. In Japan, it also has changed depend on the generation. There was the time when the skin browned by the sun was seen as more beautiful. For example, in the ‘ganguro’ boom or ‘komugihada’ boom, people preferred dark skin and many people went to tanning salons. When I was 3 or 4 years old, many Japanese high school girls made their skin dark and I longed for their skin and I wanted to be like them. In that time, the models who had sunburned skin were popular and that was the standard of ‘kawaii’ for young girls. But when I became a high school girl, there were no girls who made their skin dark and the standard of “kawaii” was having white skin. Most advertisements of cosmetic products also uses models with white skin.

More and more people come to think we want white skin, not only girls, but also boys. Surprisingly, recently the boys who have white skin are increasing. In the Japanese drug store, there are many sunscreens or whitening lotion for men and many men use that, especially young boys between the ages of 15 and 30. Nippon TV interviewed 55 boys whether use whitening lotions, and 33 boys answered “Yes”.

Then, which do women like better, white skin boys or sunburned boys? The answers about this question were different depending on the women’s age. Young girls (10~30) tend to like boys who have white skin better, but most of women over 30 years old like boys who have sunburned skin. The reason why that difference exist is the influence of media. Today, many young actors and models have white skin. But, it was different 20 to 30 years ago. You can see this difference if you compare the popular actors 5 to 10 ago with actors who are popular now.

As you can see, the trend of skin color has changed. In Japan, both boys and girls become to more and more like the white skin. Last year, we were surprised the publication of the popular young men’s magazine “Men’s Egg” was suspended. When I was a junior high school student, many young boys read this and tried to be “Gyaru-o” by having browned and meshed hair, and tan skin. The reason for suspending the publication was that young people’s trend were changing. Today, most Japanese people like white skin better, and use whitening lotion. But there are possible that standard of beauty “white skin is beautiful’ will change in the future in Japan.

Are such changes in views toward skin color occurring in countries that have a connection between skin color and social status?

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Skin Color and Beauty in Japan

by Miyu Fujino

Compared to other countries, there is less racial diversity in Japan. Non-Japanese people who live in Japan for a long time will notice that there are many implicit customs which follow an old Japanese tradition. One of the traditions is to try to be same as people around us and not out stand too much from them. Many Japanese people believe that if they follow the custom, they can live peacefully in the society. This is an element of Japanese culture, and there are many sayings which are related to this idea.

  • 和して同ぜず (washite dou zezu) -coordinate with other people but not do immorality thing or loose independence.
  • 出る杭は打たれる (deru kui ha utareru) -if you stand out too much, people will accuse you.
  • 付和雷同 (fuwaraidou) -do same thing as others

Therefore, for a long time, Japanese people have tended to follow and be normal and try not to stand out. I think that is one of a reason why Japanese people do not prefer dark skin because dark skin is unusual in Japan.

In Japanese society, for a long time, having white skin is one of the features of beauty and regarded as a good thing for women. There is an old proverb (色の白いは七難隠す iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu) which translates to “white skin covers the seven flaws,” meaning a fair-skinned woman is beautiful even if her features are not attractive.

However, there was a period when this idea didn’t fit. Ganguro: An opposition to the idea of fair skin beauty grew. This subculture appeared in the 1990s but died out in the early 2000s. Young girls preferred to be tanned and wore unique makeup and clothes. This Ganguro was started as an anti-tradition movement among young people. Young people challenged to Japanese traditional society and the stereotype that women have light skin, black hair and stay calm and not stand out.

Recently, white skin has been strongly supported by women again. I’m sure you have seen women who wear sunscreen, umbrella, gloves, sunglasses, big hats, spray, and powder. They are trying hard to protect their skin from the sun. But the reason why they are doing is because everybody is doing. Now, the word ‘bihaku’ is getting attention from women. Bihaku is a Japanese marketing term and often used for representing skin whitening products and cosmetics. Bihaku products are highly popular among women. They are also popular with teenage girls and those in their twenties who strongly affected by the information from the internet and media.

Japanese media and cosmetic industries install in women the idea that only small amount of sunshine can damage their skin. Therefore, Japanese women try to avoid to be exposed to sunshine even a few seconds. Many beautiful actress and models who have white and clean skin appear on the TV and that’s also a reason why people use bihaku cosmetics which is advertised by those beautiful famous people. Japanese TV often broadcast many programs to introduce UV care goods and suggest people to avoid sunshine. Media is helping to plant the thought in people’s minds that they should avoid sunshine and should use bihaku products.

Media often make people believe lighter skin is more beautiful by using white skin beautiful actresses or models. And use them to advertise bihaku cosmetic products as if by using the products, people can be like them. As media has a power to affect people (especially young people) strongly, they have to have an awareness and responsibility for their influence and try hard to give correct information to people.

Face lotions and creams from 8brand from kanebo have caused accidents. (September 2013) People who used these got white spots in their skin. All of the products contain skin lightning component called Rhododenol which is treated as a medicine and effective to control melanin in skin. Kanebo is the 3rd highest earning company in Japanese cosmetic industry and most people know the name. Many TV commercials were broadcasted and the company had a pretty high reputation among women. Therefore, people who trusted the brand got damaged both physically and mentally. More than 10,000 people got the white spots.

It is a normal thing for women to try hard to be more beautiful and that means to have lighter skin in Japan. People’s willingness to have lighter skin is one of a reason why this company to cause this accident. In Japan, skin color does not affect social status or salary. People want white skin just because they believe lighter skin is more beautiful and that is what other people say. However, I think Japanese people have to rethink what beauty is for each of them but not only following other people.

Manipulation by Cosmetic Companies Changing Habits towards Skin Lightening

yes, men need whitening lotion, too.

(Photo credit: Sophiakristina)

by Naresh Kumar

People around the world are constant consumers of skin whiteners and different cosmetic products. Even if the products have harmful effects, the consumption of these products is rising day by day. Large cosmetics companies around the world make billions of profits and it is not hard to see how they are using different sources to promote their products and make people use them. The media plays a vital role. The interesting thing is that whatever comes up in mass media, most of it is in favor of these companies. They are profit-motive companies and are strongly engaged into making more profits. It is interesting to see different beliefs in different communities around the world. People relate light skin with social status, money, education, pleasure, wealth, winner, etc. We talk a lot about western ideologies that “white is right”, but the fact is that its us who want to have a peace of that lightness. People like to consume more western culture and products, ignoring their own. More and more emphasis is given to light skin.

Currently the world market is dominated by skin lightening products with billions of dollars of transactions happening each year. Multinational companies are manipulating the market by using media. More and more ads are shown according to different  locations and cultures. The interesting thing is that very less is shown in media about the bad effects and negative side of skin whiteners. If we look at India, it is not hard to see that youths specially women are being obsessed by light skin. In cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, people are trying to accept their natural color tone. They are promoting things such as “dark is beautiful” and “beauty beyond colors”. This is a very slow action but definitely, people are starting to realize that “white is right” ideology is a complete myth.

It seems that people are not just making their face and arms light, but they are going beyond. The intimate skin lightening creams and other cosmetic things are becoming popular. People are going for their intimate areas and are being extreme. Bleaching one’s skin is becoming a common practice.  I wonder how will be the skin lightening trade after 5 or 10 years. Those who are more concerned about racism and discrimination are acting to solve the problems but that is not enough. We need to embrace and appreciate who we are, rather than trying to be who we are not. We need to see the problem from a different side. With the increase in intimate skin whitening, I wonder what will be the next, would it be lightening of your eyeballs or feet or something else.