Skin Lightening in South Africa

by Yutaro Nishioka

The trend of skin lightening, especially among women, is getting increasingly common all over the world, including South Africa, where the major part of its population is black. According to a study from the University of Cape Town, as many as one in three African women use bleaching products to lighten their skin.

Skin lightening products often create serious medical complications; many patients suffer from diseases caused by a combination of use of lightening products and sunlight (africa.com).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also mentioned the negative effects of some skin lightening products. Mercury, one of the common ingredients in lightening creams, is said to have harmful effects and could also lead to kidney damage, as well as other side effects such as “skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections” (africa.com).

Why is skin lightening becoming so common in South Africa despite its negative health effects? Professor Lynn Thomas, co-author of the book Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, mentions the history of South Africa being colonized by Europeans. The Europeans and South Africans were not treated equally, and there was the notion that light skin was somehow better, not much unlike Hitler’s idea that Jews were inferior. More recently, apartheid, the government policy of racial segregation against black Africans in South Africa, was renounced officially only in 1992.

The effects of the history of discrimination can still be seen in the current South African society. For example, Nomoto “Mahoza” Mnisi, a famous South African musician, is known for her extensive use of skin lightening products. She says, “I just want to be light skinned… I was tired of being ugly.” She is assuming that dark skin is “ugly” and light skin is not.

People that have heard of this news have reacted differently, but the majority of the comments on the internet do not seem to approve of her changed appearance: “she was so much prettier before; her husband must be blind”, “God created her black and she looked so pretty. She looks pretty now but she looked better before”, “She is insecure and that’s bad.”

As there is a difference between Mahoza’s view and that of her fans, it is questionable to say that the history of the colonization and discrimination is the sole cause of the contemporary trend of South Africans’ skin lightening, but it is probably one of the factors that have contributed to the trend.

Reference

“Not Happy Being Black?” – Posted by Africa.com Editorial Staff. http://www.africa.com/blog/not-happy-being-black/

Thomas, Lynn M. 2009. “Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self.” Pp. 188-210 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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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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Color complex and constant degradation

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...

Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Miho Tanaka

In our class on racism and colorism, we have been talking about how light skin is considered as one of the crucial elements of beauty in and how the idea is fostered all over the world. Not only people with dark skin but also all people, especially women, try to lighten or whiten their skin color without any specific necessaries and reasons to be light. Overall the main issue is how the idea of colorism is getting fostered then racism has taken its place on this capitalism world. As everything can be bought by money, wealth is literally measured by how much economic power people have. “Power of consumption” (Rondilla 2009, p.78) is then directly connected to “economies of color” (Harris 2009, p.1).

Under this condition, people with dark skin would try to be lighter by consuming skin lighteners if they had money to consume these. Therefore impoverished people would stay in a lower status since they wouldn’t be able to buy skin lighteners, and it is the problem that people with dark skin are often needed to stay in poor communities where many problems such as crimes, drugs or robberies exist. According to Rondilla (ibid), “controlling images are designed to make racism, sexism, poverty and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of life” (p.65). Regarding African American communities in Detroit, I’ve heard from my friend the images are so natural that even inhabitants of the community cannot get rid of them. “People are so caught with personal aesthetic and social positions, than actually embracing their own features, cultures and talents” (Brandosoul 2013), and I would call it a “constant degradation of certain racial people.” As Atlanta blackstar (2013) shows, unfortunately it might be true that young African Americans are often targeted as people who resort to violence but the system in which they are stuck should be transformed.

As Angela Harris explains in the introduction to the book Shades of Difference, “[o]ne of the challenges for scholars and activists concerned with colorism is thus to disrupt―and if possible prevent―’Latin Americanization,’ in which color hierarchy is pervasive yet its relationship to racism denied” (Harris, 2009, p.5). Racism exists and the first step we could take is not to deny it and not to be ignorant.

References

Atlanta blackstar. (2013). 5 reasons young black men resort to violence. Retrieved on November 29, 2013, from http://atlantablackstar.com/2013/11/26/5-reasons-young-black-men-resort-violence/2/

Brandosoul. (2013). Colorism: the jaded mystery of race and skin color. Retrieved on December 9th 2013 from http://misedublack.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/colorism-the-jaded-mystery-of-race-and-skin-color/

Harris, A. P. (2009). Economies of color. In Glennn, N, E. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford University Press.

Rondilla, J. L. (2009). Filipinos and the color complex : ideal Asian beauty. In Glennn, N, E. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference : why skin color matters. Stanford University Press.

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.

Women’s Consciousness of Skin Lighteners in Japan

by Mai Kusakabe 

In South Africa, there are a lot of women who want to make their skin color lighter because they try to get better status and become more attractive. Then, how about Japanese women? What are they thinking about their skin color? Actually, we can see a lot of cosmetics and drugs to make their skin lighter in pharmacy. So in order to reveal what they are thinking, I did questionnaire about skin color, and ask ten Japanese girls answer it.

girls

 

The first question of my questionnaire was which girl do you prefer, and which is more attractive for you? And why do you feel the girl is more attractive?

Nine out of ten girls answered that they like or want to be a girl on the left, who looks Caucasian. Another girl said she liked the middle one, who looks more Japanese. She said middle one seems the healthiest of the girls. Most girls have the same answer, and the reason why they choose left girl is almost the same, because she has white skin! She looks Caucasian! So she looks beautiful!

The second question was have you ever used skin lighteners? And do you do any efforts to make your skin lighter?

To this question, every one answered Yes. This result is kind of interesting. Every girl seeks to get lighter skin somehow, for example, using face lotion and take a supplement including a component to make skin white and using sunscreen to prevent their skin from ultraviolet rays. Thus usually Japanese girls do something to keep or improve their skin color.

The third one is do you use a sunscreen? Yes or No. And for the person who answered Yes, is it for which reason, for health or for keeping lighter skin? Two girls answer No, and the rest answer Yes. Five of them said it is for keeping lighter skin, two of them said for both and one said for health.

The fourth one is why do you do such efforts? Why do you want to be lighter skin? There are two types of answer of this question. First type is that they think or believe white skin is beautiful. Second type is that they said everyone insist white skin is beautiful, so I think so too. The biggest differences between two are their opinion influenced by others or not.

So what kind of factors influence Japanese girls’ opinions of skin color? The options are TV, advertisements of cosmetics, magazines, the Internet, status, public opinion and other. The choice which attracted most votes is TV (six points), following public opinion, magazines (four points), advertisements (three points), the Internet (one point). And there is no vote to status. From this result, we can understand that most people don’t realize that there is connection between skin color and status in Japan, for example trying to get lighter skin is to become more attractive, this is kind of trying to get better status. In addition their idea that white skin is beautiful is mostly influenced by media. One girl said my favorite model has white skin, so I want to get white skin like her. Indeed popular models and actress have lighter skin, and many girls long to be like them. Lighter skin has come to one of major factors to be like admired woman.

Thus, as we can see from this questionnaire, Japanese girl prefer lighter skin. And most of them do some efforts to make their skin lighter, for example, about 70% of girls use sunscreen for keeping their skin color lither. They don’t think it’s for their health, just for their own beauty. They regard white skin as beautiful. The biggest factor of their preference of skin color in Japan is media which give us images of popular models and actress who have lighter skin that makes us long to be like them, and give us impression that lighter skin can get more popularity and attractiveness. The important thing is that it is not always right. Sometimes it makes us wrong decision. So we need to judge whether it is right or not.

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.

Structured Values, Inescapable Privileges

by Oscar Manzano

Despite social demand for equality and a society free from racism, prejudice and discrimination, it should come as no surprise that such things remain prevalent. Recently the topic of preference for lighter skin has been bothering me, irritating me, like a metallic screech in my brain that echoes within my skull. Why? Because I, like many others, cannot fathom how such overt discrimination over light skin and the privileges associated with it can still persist. Yet, even in a hypothetical world where preference for lighter skin is crumbled and demolished from our minds and society, the outcome, a society where we are judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character, as Martin Luther King Jr might have wanted, would not seem very different from the world of color. I think at this point my professor would advise me to give an example and go into detail in order to prove my position (and get a good grade).

Let us take an example of skin color and privilege, such as what is considered beautiful in society. In terms of physical beauty for women, many believe that those with lighter skin or with some type of European-associated characteristics, such as blue eyes, are considered to be attractive and beautiful. Women who have acquired these desired attributes can then trade them to find a romantic partner who has other desirable social resources, such as income. Privilege for ‘beautiful’ women may also extend to higher chances of employment. The point I wish to highlight with this example is that as a society we give certain features or social resources certain value that we deem precious and hand out privileges to those individuals who have attained that of value.

When members of society demand the end of discrimination based on race or color and the end of privileges associated with color or race, they demand that society should instead look towards other criteria to judge and handout rewards, for example education or skill. What we are really doing now is simply rearranging the worth and values of attributes or characteristics. We are not changing the framework of how society works we are simply using a new measuring tool. It is the same problem but with a different mask. This fact is what tears me apart. Making the switch from judging based on color to one based on ‘higher’ more moral qualifications does not eliminate discrimination or inequality at all. If we put a higher value on being short and round and see it as more beautiful, don’t we now discriminate against tall and thin people? Or how about handing out employment based on the most qualified and hardworking people? Aren`t we now imposing our definitions of qualified and hardworking to other people, who may or may not hold the same views? I believe that my frustration for all this stems from the fact that we as a society see the problems but don’t want to change the structure. Is there a way to make things fair without discrimination in some other way?

Mestizaje and the social gap

by Yuan Mingyang

Villarreal (2010) conducted research on social stratification by skin color in Mexico, and found that people with lighter skin usually have higher education than people with darker skin. Villarreal also found that people with lighter skin usually have occupations with better social status and higher salary. Navarrette (2012) also noticed that the jobs with higher salary are usually for people with lighter skin. The author suggested that people can see people with lighter skin “on television, in politics, and in academia”, while people with darker skin are often found “on construction sites, in police forces and in restaurant kitchens” (para. 11).

What’s more, the ideology of mestizaje in Veracruz, which makes people try their best to “clean the race” and lighten their skin color (Sue, 2009), may further enlarge the gap of education, financial power and social status between people with lighter skin and people with darker skin in Mexico. According to Sue, many people in Veracruz prefer lighter skin and European body features, even for those who are dating people with darker skin. Therefore, a large proportion of people in Veracruz would choose people with lighter skin as their partners. The author also mentioned that it is not acceptable for everyone to marry someone with lighter skin. The author claimed that many partners of men with darker skin who are rich or have high social status usually have lighter skin.

Since Villarreal (2010) argued that there is a stratification of skin color in Mexico, it is a reasonable conclusion that the number of poor people with darker skin is larger than the number of wealthy people with darker skin. Therefore, the descendants of this relatively small proportion will leave other people with darker skin behind, who are expected to be poor, and become people with lighter skin. As a result, the financial gap between those who have lighter skin and those who have darker skin will be enlarged. The situation in Mexico is not like that in the US where White people tend to get better jobs.

In Mexico, two trends of force enlarge the gap. People with lighter skin can get better jobs in Mexico, which means that they are wealthier. In the same time, the skin color of wealthy people is getting lighter and lighter. The ideology of mestizaje gives no chance to most of people with dark skin color in Veracruz, who are treated unequally while still believing there is only one Mexican, since there is race blindness in Mexico, according to Sue.

References

Navarrette, R. (2012, November 20th). In Mexico, racism hides in plain view. CNN. Retrievd from http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/20/opinion/navarrette-mexico-racism/

Sue, C. A. (2009). The dynamics of color: Mestizaje, racism, and blackness in Veracruz, Mexico. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 114-128). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Villarreal, A. (2010). Stratification by skin color in contemporary Mexico. American Sociology Review, 75(5), 652-678.

The preference for lighter skin in Mexico and Asia

by Han Si Hun (Jake)

In the book Shades of Differences, Christina Sue talks about the categorization of the color in Mexico (especially in Veracruz), and I believe that this categorization of color in Mexico is similar to the discrimination of races. As Sue argues, “Veracruzanos do not embrace their mixed-race status in and of itself: instead, they strive to ‘whiten’ themselves and their progeny.” It can be said that Veracruzanos have a strong preference for white. Sue also argues that Veracruzanos are looking for partners who have whiter skin for the possibility of the next generation coming out with lighter skin, and that Veracruzanos have strong images of black people related to the history of slavery.

This kind of discrimination and the preference of lighter skin color actually happened to my friends when I was staying in Singapore. I never really had an issue with the light skin or dark skin thing in Singapore. However, I went to of those middle schools where most of the black friends (Malaysian and Indians) dated either light-skinned black women or people of another race (lighter skinned people). I did not have a problem with people preferring light skin but sometimes I feel it people are sort of implying “darker” skin is worse. I used to be able to see people’s preferences for things as simple as that. But I remembered the question that I raised to my friend “why are you preferring to meet lighter skin than you?” and my friend was saying, “It is because I want my kids to be lighter than me.” This can be said that the preference of lighter skin is not only happening in Veracruz, but also in Asian countries.

I found out a report from The Asia Market Intelligence (AMI), which showed that the 68 percent of Hong Kong men are more appealing to lighter skin women (Schwartz 2012). In the case of Korea, white skin is also one of the important points for a beauty of women and it is also a part of men`s preference for their partner as well. We Koreans are also having stereotypes of darker skinned people as the people from the countryside. This can be said that the color discrimination on people is not only happening in Mexico but it is also a problem happening in Asian countries as well.

Works Cited

Schwartz, S. (2012, July). Men find fair skin more alluring. South China Morning Post. http://www.scmp.com/article/374509/men-find-fair-skin-more-alluring