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.

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.

White Normality and the Mass Media

by Marcel Koníček

Before I took my international sociology class, I had never heard about skin lightening and the issues connected to it. I did not even imagine that something like that could even exist. Well, my ignorance is not as surprising considering I am a man coming from ethnically uniform Central European country not really interested in recent trends in cosmetics in other parts of the world. However, after reading about the issue I have quickly realized how widely spread and dangerous this trend is.

For those of you who have not heard about skin lightening, it is a practice done in many parts of the world, where people (mostly women) use cosmetics, containing usually either heavy metals or hormones, that change the skin tone towards the fair end of the skin tone spectrum. Prolonged use can lead to many illnesses and can permanently damage the skin. However, many are willing to pay the price.

Of course, people all over the world are doing many different beauty practices that are not good for their health, so this might be somewhat unsurprising. What is so interesting about it is that it is a phenomenon that connects many dissimilar cultures such as Philippines, African countries, African Americans, and even Japan and Korea. Why would people in all these places want to appear whiter, even though import of the whitening substances is banned in their countries?

Evelyn Nakano Glenn is saying that this is comes from mixing of preexisting preferences for fair skin, relicts of colonial supremacy and modern consumer capitalism. Being whiter gives them better chances at getting a job or being a better match for marriage. I agree with this statement and it is quite eminent, that we actually live in an age of “white normality” where any other skin colour than Caucasian white is considered something undesirable, something that you should and can change about yourself. It is true that for example Europe is full of tanning beds but tanning does not influence your racial identity, which does not have to be true for somebody like African Americans.

The huge rise in the industry of skin whitening and the idea of white normality in the current world is in my opinion tightly connected to two things: globalization of pop culture and rising buying power of the middle class in third world countries. The rise of relatively affluent middle class in countries such as India has created hundreds of millions of consumers of skin lightening products, who previously did not have enough disposable income to buy them. The globalized pop culture is what keeps the trend accelerating. All summer blockbusters that Hollywood sells to us are full of unrealistically attractive white women and the smaller entertainment industries all over the world have already adopted the American ideals of beauty – this is clearly visible in the Korean pop scene, where all the young idols have the same surgically altered face – face that is maybe less Asian and more Caucasian.

English: Nicki Minaj live on Femme Fatale Tour...

English: Nicki Minaj live on Femme Fatale Tour in 2011.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We do not have to go as far for a good example – let’s have look at an African American pop star, Nicki Minaj, and the cover of her new single. Her hair looks very Caucasian and her skin tone actually looks almost whiter than my own skin. I am sure that this is not an accident but a careful choice of background, lighting, cosmetics and photo editing. Everything with the goal to make her look as white as she can without losing too much of her racial background. If even the artist of what some people call “black music” has to look white on the cover of her single to give the right impression, how white must be an Indian woman to be considered a good match for a preferably wealthy husband?

This question is very worrisome and I do not know how to solve this problem or even if it can or should be solved in some reasonable way. However, it shows the ways how media, economic development of third world countries and perception of beauty can influence the behavior of people worldwide.

When You Determine if a Woman is Beautiful, Does Skin Color Matter?

by Nana Tsujimoto

Belva Davis, founder of the Miss Bronze pageant

“You are beautiful.” This phrase can always make a woman really happy and let her be more confident about herself. Winning in a beauty contest is one of the ways of receiving wide recognition as being beautiful by society. This enables not only the winner but also people in the same social categories, especially in subordinate groups, to gain confidence in their beauty, including their skin color.

Numerous kinds of beauty pageants, including Miss Universe USA pageant, are held every year all over the world. As you might have known, there was the beauty contest called Miss Ritsumeikan Collection at Ritsumeikan University last month. Although competing in a beauty contest is quite widely popular in the world up to now, people in dominant group have been getting more chances to win in contests; one the other hand, people in subordinate group have fewer chances to do so.

Miss Bronze California is a beauty contest for African American women which lasted from 1961 to 1968, during the time when many African-American social protests such as the Civil Rights Movement occurred. The producer of this contest was Belva Davis, who was really making an effort to make African American women, especially dark-skinned African American women, to have more confidence in their beauty as African Americans. This contest was one of the great tools to expand the idea of “Black is Beautiful” in the US society at that time. The contest played an important role in fighting against colorism, racism, and discrimination against African American.

Moreover, because of the existence of dark-skinned winners of the contest, the definition of black beauty was expanded. However, there is an important point to consider in this contest: double consciousness. According to the concept of double consciousness, which was introduced by W. E. B. Du Bois, the standard of beauty in the whole African American community can be categorized into two parts: a white standard of beauty and an African American standard of beauty. This is because dominant views are internalized in the community, so to choose either a light-skinned African American woman (a white standard, which also shows privilege) or a dark-skinned woman (an African American standard, which also shows authenticity) for a winner depends on which standard the judges applied.


Vanessa Williams (left) and Nina Davuluri (right)

While Miss Bronze California was a contest only for African American, Miss America is now opened for people of all races in the U.S., including African Americans and Asian Americans. The first African-American winner of the contest in 1984 was Vanessa Lynn Williams, who had light skin and blue eyes. Following after her, seven African-American women have been crowned. In addition, this year, Nina Davuluri won the contest as the first Indian-American woman. Both Vanessa and Nina have had to face negative attitudes toward them because of their skin color after they won the contest. For example, Nina has received numerous negative descriptions of her, such as “Too ‘Indian’ to ever be Miss India”. Moreover, she was described as a terrorist on Twitter. Those are not acceptable in the society with racial diversity.

When you determine if a woman is beautiful, does skin color matter? I would answer “No” because I believe all of skin colors are beautiful. Although people’s attitudes toward skin color are shaped in the societies where they grow up, I hope there will be no discrimination on skin color in the near future.


Broderick, R. A Lot Of People Are Very Upset That An Indian-American Woman Won The Miss America Pageant (Sept. 16, 2013). Buzzfeednews. Retrieved on Dec 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/a-lot-of-people-are-very-upset-that-an-indian-american-woman

Chaudhry, L. Miss America Nina Davuluri: Too ‘Indian’ to ever be Miss India (Sep 16, 2013). F.LIVING. Retrieved on Dec, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/living/miss-america-nina-davuluri-too-indian-to-ever-be-miss-india-1111477.html

Craig, Maxine Leeds. 2009. “The Color of an Ideal Negro Beauty Queen: Miss Bronze 1961-1968.” In Shades of Difference, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Davis, B. Fighting Racism, One Swimsuit at a Time (February 10, 2011). Ms. Blog Magazine, Retrieved on Dec 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/02/10/fighting-racism-one-swimsuit-at-a-time/

Stern, M. Vanessa Williams, the First Black Miss America, On Nina Davuluri and Racism (Sep 21, 2013). The Daily Beast. Retrieved on Dec 11, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/21/vanessa-williams-the-first-black-miss-america-on-nina-davuluri-and-racism.html

Watson, E. The Miss America Pageant Has Been Beneficial for Women of Color (Sep 12, 2013). The New York Times. Retrieved on Dec 11, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/09/12/is-the-miss-america-pageant-bad-for-women/the-miss-america-pageant-has-been-beneficial-for-women-of-color

The Meanings of Lightness

productsby Lin Tzu-Chun

In “Consuming Lightness,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses how skin lightening products and the value of lighter skin are different in various regions around the world. Based on that, different marketing strategies may be planned because of the different formations of the ideology of beauty and the meaning of lighter skin. In Glenn’s work, we can find that among the regions that have a history of colonization, for example Africa, Latin America, and India, lighter skin is recognized as the representation of the elite, higher social capital, and education. Besides skin tone, the people also migrate to regions with more light-skin people to be socially whiter.

In Asian areas, the Philippines is an example of a colonized country. However, instead of taking white people as the beauty standard, people tend to make themselves like Japanese or Koreans, as the standard of beauty. For Japan, makeup has become a basic manner for woman, and some men also use cosmetic products.

In the following part, I will discuss specifically my observations of what whiteness means in China. To end Glenn’s work here, I want to mention that as a whole, Glenn argues that the ideology of “white is right” is due to “the workings of the Western-dominated global system”.

The very first reaction of my friends from China or Taiwan when visiting a Japanese drug store is “How could these brands sell in a drug store at such a cheap price?” These similar reactions told me that this brand must be more expensive and may not be simply found in drug stores like in Japan, which is actually true. Back before I came to Japan, I actually held an image of Sekkisei or KOSE as luxury goods, but now I have gotten used to seeing them in every drug store and seeing them as normal goods with a little bit higher price but still goods that everyone may consume. That is a dramatic transition in my values.

products2In China, for example, you have to go find some exclusive shops to buy a KOSE products, but here in Japan they are put at the entrance of many drug stores. This different marketing strategy reminds the Chinese phrase “Bai, fu, mei” or “White, Rich, Beauty”, is that white means you are rich because you are able to consume expensive lightening products. Does that mean that the products might be more effective? If we compare the income difference, it may be true that you really need money to buy expensive cosmetics but there is no guarantee they will be effective. For whiteness, I refer to a common saying in China, “one white covers hundred (three) ugly”, which means that if you are white and make it the focus point of people’s sight, people won’t care much about your other problems.

In conclusion, whiteness seems the representation of education, status, beauty, wealth, and more. But it is nearly impossible to stop the lightness consuming as long as the huge profitable industry still runs, argues Glenn.


Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2009. “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade.” In Shades of Difference, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Whiteness vs. Lightness: Advertising Happiness

by Chelsea Mochizuki

In “Consuming Lightness”, Evelyn Nakano Glenn describes research that suggests there is a correlation between light skin and socioeconomic status, and that lighter-skinned individuals are perceived to be more intelligent, trustworthy, and attractive. Skin tone, she writes, is a form of symbolic capital, and the lighter the skin the more social privileges you are awarded, such as increased job and marital prospects, as well as the concession to shop at “white” stores without being followed around by a security guard who profiles you as a shoplifter because your skin is dark.

Why is light skin favored over dark skin?

Glenn writes about 6 regions where light skin has been and continues to be favored over dark skin: Africa, African America, India, the Philippines, East Asia (Japan, China, Korea), and Latin America. She attempts to identify the origins of the preference for light skin over dark skin in these regions. In Africa, she says, women with red or yellow undertones to their skin were traditionally considered more attractive, and European colonization created a hierarchy based on skin tone, in which the social privileges of lighter skin became institutionalized. In this way, she describes the origins of preferring lighter skin in these regions as based more on a traditional beauty ideal than on the influences of colonization. Lighter skin preferences in the United States and the Philippines were due to racialization and colonization, and especially slavery in the United States. In East Asia, she writes, there are instances of preferring white skin long before the threat of colonization. In India, however, she writes that the origins of skin preference are lesser known, but most likely became ingrained into social hierarchy due to colonial influence.

So was the preference for light skin mostly created by colonization and/or contact with Western European powers? According to Dr Premen Addy, a senior lecturer in Asian and international history at Kellogg College, Oxford, before the Raj in India, good characters from folklore were always described as light skinned, and bad characters as dark skinned. This association of light as good and dark as bad is certainly not unique to India. In many regions, it seems that colonization did not directly influence the preference for light skin, but rather, through institutionalizing the social privileges of having light skin, made having lighter skin socially beneficial.If a new government formed in your country and said that people with green skin do not have to wait in line and get extra income without having to work, people without green skin would suddenly want to have green skin, regardless of whether there was a preference for green skin before the new government formed.

Is the preference for whiteness or lightness?

Glenn was careful to point out that women and men were not trying to emulate white beauty standards or look more like Caucasians. According to Glenn, in all of the regions she described, most women are aspiring to become two or three shades lighter, even out their skin tone, or reduce signs of aging. Even in the case of the Philippines, most women, she says, aspire to look more Chinese or mixed-Spanish, like Filipino celebrities. Using skin lightening products does not necessarily mean that one wants to become “white” or “Caucasian”. Rather, it suggests the opposite. Lighter skin has become the Indian, or Filipino, or South African beauty ideals, separate from the beauty ideals of Europe or the United States. To say that skin lightening is emulating western culture is not only inaccurate (except for individuals who literally aspire to become more Caucasian in appearance), but ethnocentric in assuming that “Caucasian” beauty is the universal ideal and consumers of skin lightening products aim to emulate this.

The “Evils” of Advertising

Glenn describes the types of commercials and advertising used to sell skin lightening products, such as infomercials that associate light skin with modernity, mobility, and cleanliness, and others that bluntly suggest dark skin leads to unhappiness and with only light skin will you achieve prosperity. This insight is nothing new; advertisers, informercials, and commercials often use this “problem, solution” strategy to sell their products– just look at the examples in this youtube video, “hilarious informercial struggles compilation”.

“This skin-lightening product is the solution to your dark skin and the unhappiness and misfortune it brings you!”

In order to sell products using this strategy, advertisers have to paint their skin-lightening product as the solution. In order to have a solution, there must be a problem to solve, and solving that problem must be perceived by individuals as worthwhile. Acne, unwanted hair growth, enlarged pores, cellulite, flabby arms, single-lidded eyes– there is a plethora of media-painted “problems” we must focus our efforts and wallets on “solving” in order to be “happy”. However, how many of these problems have been institutionalized, to the point where it affects anything from social status to the degree in which certain laws are enforced? Has anyone with bad acne ever been barred from entering certain stores or sitting in certain seats? How about cellulite? None to the extent in which skin tone dictates social privilege.

Do you think advertisers created the association between dark skin and unhappiness in order to sell skin lightening products, or rather are introducing a solution to a problem that has already been established in society? What do you think?


Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2009. “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Limited by White

by Ellen Brookes

In a world where the standards of beauty are held explicitly by people of fairer complexion, a damsel, with her ebony hues, would be seen as substandard, under par, or, to put it simply, ugly. Therefore, in order to assimilate into an ideal beauty, she must find a herbal concoction that will lighten her features and allow her to fulfill her destiny.

This sounds like it should be the beginning of a sort of adventure-type fairytale; and yet, this is not the case.
This is the reality faced by many young people around the world today.

This is the reality that many young women feel they have to conform to in order to be successful.

Sure, there are young men who may feel the same, and older women too, but it’s the youth who are having their potential and their self-esteems curbed. Not only is it colorist, but it is gender-based. Women are more likely be targeted by advertising agencies for these reasons; women are more likely to be scrutinized for their looks; women are more likely for their success to be judged on the color of their skin, rather than their individual talents or merit, especially in places like the workplace. Women are the largest target audience for beauty products, because why look at what is on the inside without looking at what is being sold on the outside?

Because of consumer culture, where we are taught to sell ourselves into a market that’s demand is never satisfied, women are turning to any means to become the commodity of the moment. Being beautiful seems to equal employability, marriageability, and long-term success. To achieve this, white skin is a must – in the minds of these affected women.

This mentality of white is right has been around since the times of colonization, the time when the white man decided that having “white” skin was the epitome of civilized, and therefore the lighter you were the more “privilege” you were afforded (Glenn 2009). This mentality still exists today, in its more extreme forms, but this form is rarely ever addressed. The need for cosmetics and procedures to lighten ones skin can be seen as misplaced vanity, or as an unwanted legacy of imperialism, or a strange mixture of both. Despite the fact people realize that discrimination based on looks is universally wrong, there seems to be something keeping this mentality strong in the beliefs of women globally.

Globally is being used here, as cosmetic whitening products are a multibillion dollar industry worldwide. There is effectively no country where these creams and lotions are not sold, no matter legal status (Glenn 2009). This basically implies that, globally, women want whiter skin. This also uncovers a larger problem when someone explains what goes into the creation of the facial scrubs.

The main ingredients include mercury salts and hydroquinone, two highly toxic substances, and a large cocktail of steroids and copious amounts of other highly addictive substances, that work together to artificially lighten the skin (Ravichandran 2013). Women are being told that it is okay to put highly lethal powders onto their faces because society says so. Many women don’t know of the harm they are doing, but many also do. In a twisted form of vanity, these women believe that their health is worth less than their beauty (Anekwe 2014).

These women are vulnerable, already facing different stigmas of being of a darker color in their societies, and the markets are effectively preying on these women. I say ‘targeted’ because that is what it is. These women are being lured into a trap by these marketing agencies and are shown pictures of how their lives could be if they were lighter (Goldstein 2012). If you are put into a position where you can see everything you want in your grasp, you’d naturally do anything to get it.

Essentially we try to preach gender and race equality at the front of the stage, and then we sell the very things we are against at the back stage door. Is the contradiction clear?

But moving away from the social values that dictate the need for light skin and the dangers of obtaining light skin, I came across a speech, given by a woman who, only days later, received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Selby 2014). This speech that took everything that is wrong with what was ‘”safe” and “known” about skin color and turned it on its head. Singlehandedly, Lupita Nyong’o, a Mexican-born Kenya-raised actress who made her film debut in the acclaimed feature film “12 Years A Slave”, managed to raise a question, an opinion, about something that had been shoved under the rug for so long.

As mentioned previously, people never seem to speak out publicly about skin whitening. We never address the often superficial way in which we define what is beautiful. We never speak about the ensuing self-esteem issues, loss of opportunity, false consciousness and stigma that stem from societies where color is more than a shade; it’s a life sentence. Ms. Nyong’o speaks from experience, remembering in her speech a letter from a young girl who was about to purchase whitening cream, because one could not “be so black” in Hollywood, let alone be considered beautiful or successful (Nyong’o 2014). She speaks on the limitations she felt as a young person because she was quite distinctly “not white”, and places a large amount of emphasis on the images she had been force-fed by international media about the ideal beauty. She poses questions about why this is the “reality”, why this is thought to be a “fixed” ideal? For the young girl mentioned in the speech, Lupita Nyong’o was a beacon of hope that girls with “night-shaded skin” could be beautiful, or be a prominent figure in society for reasons other than her body. The message that everyone has potential, that no one standard of beauty is correct, and that is certainly is not worth dying for.

If only Ms. Nyong’o’s message could have come earlier, before the whitening industry became so large, and before the creams and powders and lotions became such a pivotal point of young women’s lives. Yet starting with this one girl, and maybe many more since then, the message that Lupita Nyong’o sends may revolutionize, or even save, many lives – we just need to let it be heard by the over one billion potential users of skin whitening creams for it to work and then we can start to take the “color” out of “colorism” and put it into “colorful”.


Anekwe, O. N. (2014). The Global Phenomenon of Skin Bleaching: A Crisis in in Public Health (Part 1). Voices in Bioethics. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://voicesinbioethics.org/2014/01/29/the-global-phenomenon-of-skin-bleaching-a-crisis-in-public-health-an-opinion-editorial-part-1/

Glenn, E. N. (2009). Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference (pp 166-187). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Goldstein, R. (2012). Time for a reality check on skin lightening creams. The Conversation. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/time-for-a-reality-check-on-skin-lightening-creams-7770

Nyong’o, L. (2014). Lupita Nyong’o Delivers Moving ‘Black Women in Hollywood’ Acceptance Speech. Essence (Magazine). Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.essence.com/2014/02/27/lupita-nyongo-delivers-moving-black-women-hollywood-acceptance-speech/

Ravichandran, N. (2013). Skin whitening creams can cause long-term damage, doctors warn. The Daily Mail. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2384456/Skin-whitening-creams-cause-long-term-damage-doctors-warn.html

Selby, J. (2014). 12 Years A Slave star Lupita Nyong’o on racism in beauty: ‘Every day I woke up hoping my skin was a little lighter’. The Independent. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/lupita-nyongo-on-racism-in-beauty-every-day-i-woke-up-hoping-my-skin-was-a-little-bit-lighter-9171487.html

Skin tone and Self-esteem among African Americans

Malcolm X

Malcolm X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hiroyuki Matsuyama

As Verna Keith says, skin tone is one of central features for determining one’s self image, and it happens a lot that your occupation or income are decided by looking at your skin tone. It is so sad, but it is the fact that we are facing today. From this point of view, mulattos distanced themselves from the larger African American community by excluding darker blacks from their social organizations. Moreover, they were avoiding intermarriage with people with darker skin so as to pass their advantages on to their children. In this way, even within black communities, there was hierarchy and discrimination against other people.

It is truly difficult to eliminate this injurious racism completely, and it would probably not happen that people would evaluate others and give jobs equally, but prejudicially. In spite of this unfairness, I hope people who are discriminated against to keep having self-esteem, at least to a certain extent. Thus, Malcolm X was really great person because he tried to make people have confidence. He claimed a notion “black is beautiful” in order to fight against racism.

Nonetheless, it is not for criticizing or discriminating against white people, but for attempting to undo black-on-black racism. The reason is because black people were brainwashed by white power, so he thought that he needed to remove this structure as a priority concern. By stating this concept, he tried black people to have self-esteem.

In addition to this, there is a famous speech ‘Who taught you to hate yourself’ by Malcolm X. In the speech, even though his words were sometimes inappropriate, he encouraged audiences well by saying features that are supposed to be words for insulting black people, such as lips, hair texture and so forth. This speech was really helpful for those who were struggling, and they started to have Afro hairstyle to show their self-esteem. This hairstyle enabled black people to express their culture and historical identity.

In conclusion, cruel racism is still going on in today’s modern world unfortunately. Even though people have started to think more about it, racism is still harsh and out of control. However, people who are racially discriminated against should try to stand up and claim your opinion without any fear. Every single person should be oneself, not like others. Being another person by imitating others or dissimulating yourself is not the way you are. In my opinion, that is the end of your life when you have lost your self-worth.


Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Skin Whitening as Social Uplifting and Achieving the Ideal “beauty”

by Moe Miura

There are many skin-whitening products in global markets today. One can easily purchase skin-whitening products even without knowing it, because whitening one’s skin tone is already a big phenomenon in the 21st century all over the world. However, South Africa has significant story about its history of the phenomenon of skin whitening.

In Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (2009), author Lynn M. Thomas focuses on the history and the use of skin lighteners in South Africa. Today, 35% of the South African women are said to be using the skin-whitening products. Then these questions pop up: why do South African women try to whiten their skin tone? Is there a history behind it?

South Africa is widely known for its history of apartheid, where black and colored people did not have the same political or economic rights as white people, and also were forced to live separately from white people. This policy led to the further discrimination of black and colored people, segregation, and the skin color preferences influenced by the European colonialism (Thomas, 2009). Thus it created the idea of lighter skin equals more liberty and less/no discrimination. Historically, the use of skin whitening products had a lot to do with the fact that there was a significant racial discrimination against black and colored people.

pictureAnother reason of using the skin lighteners was “technology of the self”, meaning people decorate themselves to transform themselves, so that they can achieve happiness or perfection. This can range from concealing blemishes to bleaching their faces. Advertisements have played a big role in informing people about this idea that whiter is more beautiful, using musical stars and beauty contest winners. Capitalism also pushed this idea because the more difficult the thing to achieve, the harder people try; concealing flaws and having lighter skin was difficult thus people would purchase more stuff to achieve this “ideal beauty”. The market of skin lighteners had become multimillion-dollar-per-year endeavor.

As it can be seen, reasons of South African women purchasing skin whiteners ranged from racial uplifting, capitalist commerce, to making themselves look better as a “technology of the self”.


Thomas, L. M. (2009). Skin Lighteners in South Africa. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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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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