Are equality and fairness feasible? A view from Denmark

English: (Green) Denmark. (Light-green) The Eu...

English: (Green) Denmark. (Light-green) The European Union (EU). (Grey) Europe. (Light-grey) The surrounding region. See also: Category:SVG locator maps of countries of Europe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lisbeth Lyngs

Lane Kenworthy poses the question “Is equality feasible?” in his text on income equality, and then continues to answer this himself in the first sentence: yes. A high rate of income equality is feasible, as he mentions is the case in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The Scandinavian model, where the people get many societal benefits in return for paying high taxes is, according to Kenworthy, indirectly connected to the countries’ low income inequality and “fairness” of the system. As a Dane myself I find this view interesting, and I would like to give my input on the Danish welfare model’s good and bad points and further discuss the “fairness” of this system.

Every child, regardless of where they live or what their parents’ occupation and income is, starts off on equal social ground. Free daycare institutions, public schools and education allow them equal possibility to utilize their abilities—not to worry about getting sick either, since universal health care is also free. Parents get payed child benefits from the state until the child is 18 years old, whereafter every Dane over the age of 18 is entitled to a public support for his or her further education—and should they suddenly be without work, they will receive social security benefits regardless of their position.

All this is only made possible by our taxing fee, which is one of the world’s highest. It is nearly 40% for the average wage receiver, and over 50% for the high wage receiver. In other words, the richer you are, the more you also pay in taxes.

Now, I do not think many Danes would argue that this is not “fair”—they give as much as they take from society. Still, problems arise, e.g. when immigrants gets incorporated in this system. Denmark has a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Eastern Europeans tend to cross the border to find temporary work, while the majority of people from the Middle East come to Denmark in the hopes of finding better life conditions for themselves and stay. And as with the Danes, these people are entitled to receive the social benefits too, after having either worked or lived in Denmark for a certain amount of time.

It is then, that the “fairness” of this system suddenly gets put into question because admittedly, a lot of Danes do not like immigrants “leaching” off of their money in this particular manner. The Polish worker, who has a wife and two kids back in Poland, comes to Denmark to work and thus entitles himself to receive child benefits—which he sends straight home to his family, meaning his Danish colleagues are suddenly paying for people outside their country and society. Meanwhile the Middle Eastern families may experience tough times without work, receive money from the state, and thus further revoke the Danes’ question as to what is a fair handling of their money.

This has been an issue in Danish politics for as long as I can remember. More so since the economic crisis broke out, and Denmark’s economy dropped low and the unemployment rate went up, putting even more pressure on the welfare system’s dependency on people receiving wages and paying tax. The system may be good in creating equality and high social security for its people, but I would argue that just as it has its strength in the people, it also has its weakness. It promises to secure the people in its society, but if too many lose their jobs due to e.g. labor cuts, or their will to pay tax becomes poisoned by the “unfairness”, then where does that lead us?

Lane Kenworthy says equality is feasible, and if the Scandinavian model is proof of this, then yes. But even so, this equal society faces its hardships, relying heavily on the people to support it. Immigrants and a higher rate of unemployed people may put pressure on this system by raising questions of what is “fair” and “just”. An equal society may be feasible, but even then its questionable whether it is “just” and what then makes a society “fair”.

Reference

Kenworthy, Lane. 2007. “Is Equality Feasible?” Contexts 6(3):28-32.

Mythologies of Skin Color and Race in Ethiopia

Slave Market

Slave Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Keb Meh

Blumenbach…singled out a particular group as closest to the created ideal and then characterized all other groups by relative degrees of departure from this archetypal standard. He ended up with a system that placed a single race [Caucasian] at the pinnacle, and then envisioned two symmetrical lines of departure from this ideal toward greater and greater degeneration… his ideas have reverberated in ways that he never could have anticipated… (Gates, 2013, p. 5)”

The often told myth of creation in Ethiopia is that God, when He went to create man, placed a lump of clay (or dough) into His oven. God’s first effort was a failure, He had taken out the mixture too early and it was white, and from it white-skinned peoples were created. God, not happy with that creation, would try again but on this occasion He kept the mixture in the oven for too long. Contrary to His previous effort, it was black and from that God made black peoples. God, unhappy still, would place a third mixture in His oven. On this occasion, it would appear that the oft-repeated cliché ‘third time’s a charm’ rings true even for the God of Abraham. It would seem that having learnt from His previous failures that God knew when to take the clay-dough out of the oven and from this well-baked specimen were born the Ethiopians.

Hermeneutical approaches have typically (and rightly) recognized that this creation story should be read as a metaphorical explanation rather than a literal explanation (the literal explanation accepted by the Northern Highlanders of Ethiopia was and is the Orthodox Church’s Genesis Story). However, in this creation story there is an obvious rhetoric vision; the Ethiopian as the racial ideal with two symmetrical lines of departure, on one side stood black people and on the other stood white people – both below.

Slavery had been a custom in Ethiopia since antiquity as it had been for all of the trading empires of antiquity. However, the institution evolved from being a product of trade with other empires of antiquity (Rome, Greece, Egypt, Persia) to a consequence of warfare between the Muslims of north Sudan and the Christians of northern Ethiopia. Slavery, or rather slaves, was tied to warfare as opposed to racial constructs. Nonetheless, the Middle Ages and Early Modern would see Ethiopia enveloped in the extensive Arab slave trade and it is here one can trace the racialization of slavery.

From the Middle Ages, Ethiopian “people made careful distinction between themselves and Negroid people,” this was a consequence of Ethiopian merchants having been at the forefront of fulfilling the insatiable demands of the Indian Ocean slave trade. Ethiopians by being Christians were (technically) not to enslave one another. The result of Ethiopia’s participation in this international slave trade was the creation of what was to become a firmly entrenched pseudo-scientific racial hierarchy which placed the black peoples hunted for sale (denigratingly referred to as barya), who lived on the periphery of imperial Ethiopia’s then expanding boundaries, at the bottom and justified that brutal exploitation. Their intellect, religious customs, civilizations, and, most importantly, appearance would all come to be a racialized phenotype that could not be ‘cleansed’ by being included in the Ethiopian empire nor through inter-marriage.

So potent were these phenotypical delineations that a linguistic culture of slave/non-slave dialectic emerged to describe barya physicality (very dark skin, nappy hair, flat nose, thick lips) and behavior (oversexed, jovial, child-like, stupid). Furthermore, a complex (and ridiculous) racial classification came to be to categorize the children of mixed-heritage (slave and that of their Ethiopian slaveowner). There were names to describe those of 1/16th black heritage.

It is tempting for Western scholars to relate these racial constructs to Western ones. P. T. Tucker described Ethiopia’s racial distinctions between their brown, yellow and red selves from the darker peoples they enslaved as “peculiar kind of prejudiced” because it existed “in both America and Ethiopia”. Tucker makes a truly false comparison, ignoring that Ethiopia’s peculiar prejudices extended to the ‘poorly baked’ white races. The disastrous Jesuit efforts in the 16th century and the interactions of Ethiopian slave merchants with Muslim Arab traders as early as late antiquity had crafted an image of white peoples as ungodly, untrustworthy, mischievous and oversexed. Blackness was equated with a filial piety comparable to beasts of burden but whiteness with jackals, and that was so much worse. Furthermore, in Tucker’s determination to relate Ethiopia’s prejudicial racial structures he ignores the nuances that existed between the dominant ethnic groups of Ethiopia’s Empire (Tigrayans, Amharas, Oromos) and the minority castes that inhabited the middle ground between the black slaves, and the Northern Highlanders.

In our classes, we have critically discussed the use of historical narratives as explanations for the transnational constructs that exist in modernity. In these classes, we have touched upon authors that have discussed the historicity of lightness and its valorization in India, Korea, China and Japan. In this short essay, I wished to discuss the historical narratives behind Ethiopia’s beauty ideals (or rather the beauty ideals of Northern Ethiopia). Ethiopia in many ways makes for a fascinating discussion on beauty. The infrastructure of domestic slavery, black peoples as serfs tasked with menial and agricultural tasks, in Ethiopia existed until the overthrow of the ruling Imperial House of the Ethiopian Empire in 1974. The head of Ethiopia’s Stalinist Junta Mengistu Haile Mariam said, “In this country some aristocratic families automatically categorise people with dark skin, thick lips and kinky hair as ‘Barias’. Let it be clear to everybody that I shall make these ignoramuses stoop and grind corn!”

That system of enslavement was inextricably tied with a racial hierarchy and pseudo-racial myths for many centuries. It is, sadly, still a well-remembered institution among Ethiopia’s war generation, baby boomers and Generation X. Therefore, it still reverberates throughout society. Ethiopia is only now beginning to industrialise, its middle income minority is slowly burgeoning and consuming foreign media content. It is here, at this cross-roads that it will be interesting to see how beauty standards informed by Ethiopia’s centuries old racial hierarchy will evolve.

The Privilege of Beauty

by Ellen Brookes

“Because society is stratified along lines of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, disability status, citizenship, geography, and other cleavages, some bodies are publicly and visually dissected while others are vulnerable to erasure and marginalization” (Casper & Moore, 2007)

This quote is genuinely puzzling as it does not disclose who is being spoken about in which area. Is it all about white people? Or is it whites versus those of ethnic minorities? Or is it even just all about ethnic minorities? And are these bodies that are being dissected being dissected in a positive or a negative way? Are the bodies prone to erasure just fading into the background or are they fading due to “fitting in”?

It is really difficult to figure out exactly who is being talked about in which way.

One thing is for certain, looks are not mentioned here. The aesthetic appeal of one human being is not referred to in this quotation. Yet people seem to believe that beauty is also a level of stratification within societies. The Alexander Edmonds’ article “The poor have the right to be beautiful” (2007) looks at a similar argument, saying that people want to be beautiful because with their status in life, it may be all they have to use in order to move up. This would imply that outward appearance is a form of cultural capital that can be utilized in order to climb the social hierarchy ladder.

It must be noted that this article did only provide a view of one community within Brazil. At first “low self-esteem” is blamed as a major reason to undergo cosmetic plastic surgery, or plástica, in Brazil, but the issue has more to do with class privilege than it does to any one human being. This reasoning, however, goes against the reasoning that would be used in another society.

Trends in the U.S point to the fact that about 4.8% of people will have plastic surgery in a year). Given that the current population of the U.S. is over 317 million people, and plastic surgery in the last year was 15,116,353 surgeries, that number seems rather high (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2013; Schlesinger, 2013).

To put this into further perspective, this is only cosmetic surgeries, not reconstructive for those who were in accidents or had birth deformities.

A person would not say that this number occurred because of economic problems, or need for social mobility. In fact, people would imply that these people were middle-to-upper-class people who either felt the need to look “prettier” within their social circles, or that these people may have had mental issues that were directly linked to their appearance. Admittedly, health care does cost more in the U.S., and cosmetic surgery is not cheap, which would imply that these people were most definitely within a higher class than those in Brazil. Yet, if Brazil and American’s populations were equal, there is only about a ten percent difference in relative poverty levels, so why is the argument for plastic surgery and its implications so different between these two countries? (Hunkar, 2011).

The answer comes down to race and racial preference. Brazil is eroticized in the way it is portrayed globally. It is sold as being a country full of brown-skinned, “sun-kissed” girls in bikinis with almost unrealistic body proportions (Beauty Check, 2007). This is the ideal held within Brazil and most women in Edmonds’ article are shown to aspire to it in order to achieve social mobility; their own personal Cinderella story.

America is stereotyped as being a land of white privilege, and one where being white automatically affords a person a “free pass” to beauty (Luckey, 2013; Jackson, & Greene, 2000). However, via influence of the media, the attitudes are slightly different. Plastic surgery is not noted in a positive light and the media will constantly tear down women who have gone under the knife (Northrop, 2012). White women who undergo cosmetic procedures are shamed, and this could be directly linked to the fact that they could be seen to be abusing the privilege already afforded to them.

It all comes down to racial privilege. For Brazil, fitting the ethnic stereotype is considered the ideal; specifically conforming to the exported idealistic looks is considered paramount. With looks, a majority of Brazilian society believes they would have a higher chance of social mobility. Edmonds’ Brazil is portrayed as a culture that would seem to promote “faking it to make it”.

White people have privilege, so they do not need this plastic surgery for the same reasons, as they can use their “whiteness” to afford them the same treatment the Brazilians are looking for. White people do not have these “ethnic traits” that make them “not beautiful”, meaning they have no dire need to change. Those who do change are considered to be abusing the system, and have a social stigma that follows them. It sticks even if the person tried to use the argument of “low self-esteem” that is shown in the article. Yes, white privilege does offer a person more cultural capital, but it does not protect them from any or all stigmas.

For Brazil, investment in aesthetics is seem as profitable; while in America, it may be profitable for a time, but the social stigma may counteract that profit. It is this that brings us back to the comment on the starting quote – who is really “fitting in” and who is having their bodies “dissected”? In this age of “white is right”, does it really imply that only positive consequences occur to white people?

References

American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2013). 2013 Plastic Surgery Statistics. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/plastic-surgery-statistics/2013.html

Beauty Check. (2007). Beautiful Figure. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.uni-regensburg.de/Fakultaeten/phil_Fak_II/Psychologie/Psy_II/beautycheck/english/figur/figur.htm

Casper, M.J., & Moore, L.J. (2007). Missing bodies: The Politics of Visibility. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 13(2), 363-381.

Hunkar, D. (2011). A Shocking Comparison of Poverty Levels Between The U.S. And Brazil. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://seekingalpha.com/article/306094-a-shocking-comparison-of-poverty-levels-between-the-u-s-and-brazil

Jackson, L. M., & Greene, B. (2000). Psychotherapy with African American women: Innovations in psychodynamic perspectives and practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Luckey, S. (2013). Why Reverse Racism Isn’t Real. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://feminspire.com/why-reverse-racism-isnt-real/

Northrop, J. M. (2012). Reflecting on Cosmetic Surgery: Body image, Shame and Narcissism. London, UK: Routledge

Schlesinger, R. (2013). The 2014 U.S. and World Populations. U.S. News. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2013/12/31/us-population-2014-317-million-and-71-billion-in-the-world

The Era of Plastic Surgery Culture

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate p...

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate photograph; otopexy correction; Woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hanna Byun

This is a very interesting and educative topic entailing the cultural dynamics of different communities regarding beauty and appearance. Plastic surgery has become so standardized that everyone talks about it. Instead of “where did you get your designer handbag?” people might ask you where you got your chin, eyes or nose done. To understand these insights, two sources of information will serve as the basis for ideas of the authors about plastic cosmetic surgery.

The article by Alexander Edmonds titled, “‘The Poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil” discuss the dynamics of the cosmetics industry in Brazil over the last two decades. He focuses on the poor population of Brazil that has recorded a high rate of plastic surgeries, and that has been influenced by the diverse social origins of the general population. According to Edmond, poor people in Brazil have judged their appearance from different social origins as an “aesthetic defect”. The beauty industry, therefore, became a solution to the problem by diagnosing and treating it through plastic surgery. He cites a racialized “beauty myth” in clinical practice and marketing as one of the main motivators for the pursuit of plastic surgery. Outward appearance affects social mobility, glamour, and an individual’s association with modernity. By having plastic surgery, poor people believe that it gives them the means to compete in the Brazilian neoliberal economy. In Edmonds’ perspective, the capital flows of the modern capitalist economy are to blame for the commercialization of beauty and the absence of regulations in the cosmetic industry. The poor are simply doing so to achieve a class body that society has unknowingly decreed as the quintessential appearance of a person who fits in a higher social stratum.

The blog post by Jennifer Bagalawis-Simes discusses about the increasing number of plastic surgery penchants among Asian Americans. She observes that more Asian Americans are going for plastic surgery to improve their appearance without necessarily changing their ethnic appearance. The blog identifies different reasons that prompt Asian Americans to go for plastic surgery. Her reasons are:

  1. Some Asian plastic surgery seekers want to boost the confidence while attending job interviews;
  2. They want to achieve romantic success by looking younger;
  3. It is a way of trying to assimilate into mainstream Americans.

For instance, many want to brighten their eyes a little a bit without altering their ethnic appearance. Others want their nose reshaped just to look better than they think. All they want is to retain their natural looks, but bridge them with the mainstream American appearance. I personally agree with her on the fact that more and more young Asians are getting their faces done. People in younger generations, who are in middle school or high school, and also their parents, accept and believe that earlier they get ‘work done’, the more natural look they look they will have as they grow. And it is very common nowadays get plastic (cosmetic) surgery as a graduation or birthday gift from adults.

Both insights from Edmonds and Bagala, have one thing in common: the tendency of plastic surgery seekers to conform with ‘appearance myths’ in their respective societies. Appearing in a way that conforms to the ‘myth’ improves the seekers’ self-esteem as they move up the social ladder or attempt to fit into contemporary culture. As long as plastic surgery continues to be a psychological issue largely influenced by the ethnographic differences of the society, it is likely to may not end soon.  Furthermore, it is also bolstered by the market economy with massive influential marketing techniques. It is quite difficult to regulate the cosmetics industry without infringing on people’s rights on their bodies.

References

Bagalawis-Simes, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-more-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Expansion of plastic surgery, a new era of beauty culture

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surge...

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surgery Procedure being Performed by Facial Plastic Surgeon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kiho Kozaki

Plastic surgery is a widespread phenomenon today, and is more popular and accepted than ever. Aman Garg once said that plastic surgery is a medical specialty concerned with the correction or restoration of form and function. Now some studies and surgeons insist that plastic surgery is the “correction” of facial features. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) conducted a survey which is the 17-year national data for procedures performed from 1997-2013, and during that period, there was a 279% increase in total number of plastic surgery both surgical and nonsurgical procedures. Though the statistic covers only procedures done in the United States, I assume that same result would be seen in elsewhere in the world.

The survey also shows that the plastic surgery’s popularity among racial and ethnic minorities, who had approximately 22% of all cosmetic procedures: African-Americans 7%, Asians 5%, Hispanics 8%, and other non-Caucasians 1%. The percentages vary depending on the studies, however, as a common observation, racial and ethnic minorities seem to seek out plastic surgery more than Caucasians.

Nadra Kareem Nittle, a race relations expert, said that is because minority groups still feel pressure to live up to Eurocentric beauty norms. They alter traits such as prominent noses or hooded eyelids. Moreover, weaves, wigs and skin whitening creams continue to enjoy mass appeal in communities of color. Then, this phenomenon of plastic procedures raises a question: do they undergo these procedures in order to look like Caucasians? Or just to gain self-esteem and to look good?

Since the standard of beauty seem to be a Westernized ideal, some people are dissatisfied with their ethnic features and believe they are ugly. Angie Rankman wrote that the appearance of mostly unattainable model normalizes certain body images, and then people perceived problems with their own features. The result is that many people are left with deep seated psychological insecurities about themselves and their body image, often resulting in unreasonable expectations in regard to cosmetic surgery.

As Alexander Edmonds, a lecturer of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, notes, mass media uses this ‘market value of appearance’. I argue that is not necessary to conclude that they want to look like Caucasians. Of course there is a big influence by mass media remaining people dissatisfied with their features and the desire for Caucasians may exist but that does always not mean they want to cross racial and ethnic lines. Some people may wish to, but I assume that majority of people still want to remain as who they are.

Dr. Samuel Lam, a plastic surgeon cited in Bagala’s article, called it ‘ethnic softening’. It means the softening of facial features that patients deemed overly ethnic but still preserving their ethnicities. Most of the patients are becoming more willing to work with their ethnic features rather than work against them.

Edmonds says there is a slippage between the national cultural notion of a ‘preference’ and a racial-biological notion of a ‘type.’ So, according to Edmonds, operations like breast surgeries can be linked to national but not racial identities.

Plastic procedures are much complicated that we cannot simply conclude why it gets more popular than ever among racial/ethnic minorities. Now, we are in the era of expansion of beauty culture. Though patients who underwent plastic procedures may insist that was their personal choice, and that they wanted to look better to boost their self-esteem, it is not simple as they insist. We should note that their assumptions and beliefs may be constructed from deep-rooted national cultural norms, racial-biological norms and certain expectations of appearance. Right now we are in the middle of seeking a new way of accepting and dealing with the widespread beauty norms.

References

American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. (2013). 2013 ASAPS Statistics: Complete charts [Including National Totals, Percent of Change, Gender Distribution, Age Distribution, National Average Fees, Economic, Regional and Ethnic Information] http://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/Stats2013_4.pdf

Bagala, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-m ore-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Garg, A. (n. d.). Plastic Surgery. Cite lighter. http://www.citelighter.com/science/medicine/knowledgecards/plastic-surgery.

Nittle, K, N. (n. d.). Race, Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Procedures. About News.  http://racerelations.about.com/od/diversitymatters/tp/Race-Plastic-Surgery-An d-Cosmetic-Procedures.htm

Rankman, A. (2005). Obsessed With Beauty: The Rush To Cosmetic Surgery. Aphrodite Women’s health. http://www.aphroditewomenshealth.com/news/cosmetic_surgery.shtml

Racializing the white nose in Japan

What is it with white noses in Japan? Can Japan get past its seeming obsession with whites as long-nosed tengu?

Racializing white bodies is pretty much guaranteed to make a splash, as we saw with Toshiba’s bread maker (which was so good it would turn you into a white person), and ANA’s new international service (which again could turn you white).

Now we get Proctor and Gamble’s new ad for laundry detergent. The detergent smells so wonderful that it makes white people’s noses grow and flap around. These people were already white, so there’s no race-changing going on, just oddly morphing white faces.

So, what is it with white noses in Japan? As a white person with a somewhat prominent proboscis, I’d really like to know. And I’m definitely not buying this brand of detergent. The last thing I need is a bigger nose.

If your clothes stink, do white noses shrink? Cue the George Constanza reference …

For a more detailed look at this issue, visit Arudou Debito’s site, debito.org.

Do as the Romans Do, Turn the Other Way My Dear We are in The East

by Sarah Aartila

From the many mangas about the pure girl, if she were judged according to western philosophy on the case of chastity she would be described as a ‘slut’. The Western philosophy praises individualism, straightforwardness and linear logic, unlike Eastern philosophy which believes in a circular logic with both sides given equal due, and collectivism which sees what is best for the group as a whole. It is true that trafficking is an issue, but what can be done when poor countries have an ever increasing population and a shrinking of available jobs?

Throughout the world women have been and still are considered second class citizens whose only worth is to be a commodity. From the dagongmei in China who toil away to make home better in the factory via honest work, to the foreign hostesses of Japan who freely or sometimes unwillingly offer extra services. These women have freely left home and while many do it for individualistic reasons, most still send money home. Not all hostesses are trafficked nor are all of them illegal aliens (Parreñas 2011). The returning migrant worker comes home a hero. They are pressured like peers by the bar into getting requests. Requests come via promised sex. Some are forced yet they are not the majority like Noini who was forced into prostitution, yet Noini returned again for hostess work. According to Noini:

“We return from Japan with lots of presents and (are) well-dressed. We are the dream of any girl who wants to help her family. I could never tell a Filipino what I told you. They would consider me the lowest possible person in the world. I could not face that. Everyone here pretends” (Schmetzer 1991).

These women sacrifice themselves for the greater good of making the lives of their families at home better. To them being a hostess is better than being a nanny in a middle eastern country where they have a greater potential to be beaten. The salary of £30 an hour offers more buying power than a professional job (Quinn 2012). Besides such pay is fuelled by the many companies who pick up the tab for their salarymen. Many claim that the reason for such clubs is due to Japanese males who fear rejection from Japanese women and that Japanese men look down on all other asians. Also many Japanese people do not like the idea of Filipino women taking care of their elderly. Besides these views justify the right of these men to harass women on the job.

In order to improve the lives of these workers laws Parreñas suggests that laws should be created to protect such women from sexual harassment. These women shouldn’t even be considered as migrant workers, but rather as contract workers or indentured servants as many now can’t enter without the rigorous training required of those entering with an entertainment visa. What was originally intended to eliminate trafficking; the strict regulations for an entertainment visa has caused more to become contract workers. Perhaps the West is meddling too far into the East, trying to press Western morality into an Eastern mindset.

In the end these women are faring way better than their at home counterparts and are helping their country. No one may feel proud about such work as they keep it a secret from home, but even with the Western morality that has been pressed onto the Philippines Eastern morality still seems to prevail overall.

References

Schmetzer, U. (1991, November 20). Filipina Girls Awaken To A Nightmare. Chicago Tribune, 1-2. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-11-20/news/9104150088_1_recruiter-japan-filipina/2

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Quinn, S. (2012, September 10). The grim truth about life as a Japanese hostess. The Telegraph. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9524899/The-grim-truth-about-life-as-a-Japanese-hostess.html

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

by Umene Shikata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

Seeking Whiteness: For Asian Women Only?

by John Wang

As Ashikari (2005) mentions in “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening‘ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity”, in contemporary Japanese society, the strong preference for light complexions and skin tone was actually expressed as a dichotomy of ‘white’ and ‘black’. Another interesting result coming from the survey she conducted was that although in contemporary Japan the dark skin was spoken of negatively, “many informants, both men and women, insisted that white skin was the ideal only for women, and that dark skin was the ideal for men.” I found similar arguments in many Chinese media, although recently I was actually against this argument since I felt that seeking whiteness is no more a social phenomenon, which just limited to the Asian women. Asian men are also gradually involved.

According to International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the sales of skin care products for men increased 30 percent to over $280 million in China. Some industry giants including L’Oreal from France and Shisedo from Japan are looking forward to the boost of their business in China. China is going to account for half of the global growths in the men’s skin care market within the next five years.

Personally I did not realize this tendency until I met one of my roommates in my high school. In the first day of entry, the small bags he brought to the dormitory surprised all of his roommates, including me. There were so many bottles of cosmetics that we had never heard about and there were also some foreign cosmetics. He was always the last to go to class since he usually spent around twenty minutes to put on makeup. We were even more surprised that after a month, some female students started to ask him for advice on choosing the right white-lightening cosmetics. His skin was truly lighter compared to most male students, due to long-term use of different kinds of cosmetics. After I came to study in Japan, I also found male students using white-lightening cosmetics in order to keep their skin looking good and white. Some of my classmates in my high school have also started to use whitening cosmetic products.

So question here is whether lightening cosmetics are also “must-haves” for Asian men?

Research conducted by Zheng (2010) shows that the main reason for the increase in men’s use of cosmetics is that cosmetic use has become a symbol of men who care about their appearance, while previously this use had been regarded as feminine. Zheng argues that this change is due to the influence of mass media and advertisements. Meantime, rapid economic development has made cosmetics affordable for more men. Being able to using cosmetics is also one way to show one’s social status. These factors have made whiteness more appreciated. However, Zheng also pointed out that this tendency does not challenge the idea that tanned skin is a proper skin color for males. These two standards have become parallel in Asian countries.

The spread of whiteness as a standard of beauty seems unstoppable in Asian countries. With globalization and the spread of western aesthetics, whitening cosmetics are becoming must-haves for both men and women. It is creating massive business chances as well as changing people’s taste of aesthetics. I feel it is interesting if Ashikari can do her survey again, this time focusing on the opinions of Japanese men. They result might be similar as it was for women in contemporary Japan.

References

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

Cosmetic market for men in China booming – Media Centre – International Enterprise Singapore (2011). Retrieved from International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, Web site: http://www.iesingapore.gov.sg/Media-Centre/News/2011/2/Cosmetic-market-for-men-in-China-booming

Zheng, J. (2012). 男士护肤品掀起热潮. 日用化学品科学, 10 10-16.

Exploring Japanese Whiteness

Photo by Robert Moorehead

by Wang Xinyi

美白 (bihaku) is a Japanese commercial term that refers to beauty products with functions of skin whitening or brightening. Aiming at prevent or reverse skin imperfection and provide a clean and fair complexion, bihaku has becoming very desirable among Japanese women since the late 1980s. I’m very surprised to find out that the skin-whitening market in Japan essentially is way more massive than I had thought. Products are comprehensive from head to toes. Regardless of using cosmetic products such as BB cream to create a lighter skin, Japanese women have been also purchasing whitening skin-care products like whitening toner and cream that not constrained to target on face but also other parts of body. Despite of that, quasi-drugs that contain vitamins and other ingredients to promote skin regeneration are also very popular. Japanese women will also go to clinic for whitening their skin. What’s more, with newly developed technologies, nowadays people can also do whitening injections either in a clinic or by themselves.

Just by walking into any drug stores in Japan, it won’t be hard for you to find skin-whitening products. Therefore people start to question why Japanese women have been so obsessed with a lighter complexion? Some people claimed admiration for Caucasians should be the vital factor, whereas objection voices argued ‘white’ has been a significant standard of beauty historically.

Ashikari (2005) pointed out, such a Japanese whiteness idea which based on Japanese identity as a race should not be devalued simply as a beauty issue nor as western mimicry. First and foremost, throughout the whole representation by mass media including tv programs, idol image-building, magazines, etc., light skin tone has become an important feature for defining beauty.

Secondly, Japanese people turn out to believe that they originally share a special Japanese skin that is soft, resilient and slightly moist, which is highly related to racial factors. Therefore, they consider people without that kind of skin are either of other races or are Japanese who have been tanned by sunshine. In this sense, white skin tone then works as one medium to express and represent Japaneseness. By being a “proper” Japanese, you need to have a light skin tone, and the same goes for being beautiful in Japan. Hence, to be a pretty and proper Japanese woman, light complexion turns out to be crucial.

Nevertheless, why is that the consumption of whitening cosmetics boomed around the late 1980s? From my perspective, it could be linked with Japanese political as well as economical conditions at the time. After the economic bubble burst, the Japanese government decided to be more liberal and international, both politically and economically. This means that cross-cultural communication had been also stimulated. Is it possible to say that, by sensing so numerous foreigners Japanese people then gained a crisis awareness of their own culture so that began to cultivate tons of “Japanese uniqueness” to separate themselves with others? If that could be taken into account, in such a globalized world how long can Japan maintain such a unique Japanese whiteness concept without being influenced by global trends?

Another question is that, why there is only a “Japanese whiteness” which is marked as unique from all other types of whiteness? As a Chinese, I don’t think there is anything specifically defined as “Chinese whiteness”. Or I’ve also never heard people talk about “special Korean whiteness”. Why do we only see this in Japan?

Reference

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