Why should I enhance and accentuate my “natural” beauty? On “almond-shaped” eyes

by Chelsea Mochizuki

I’m sure you’ve seen them at one point in time, displayed along the aisle shelves of drugstores in cultural and “racial” melting pots like the United States—makeup and hair products marketed to “enhance” and “accentuate” the “natural” features of certain races. However, there is no one physical trait that all members of a racial group share; all “Blacks” do not have x amount of melanin in their skin, all “Asians” do not have almond-shaped eyes with a curvature of y, and all “Japanese” do not have hair with a diameter of z. So how is it we learn to associate, define, and read physical traits and racial categories?

Let’s see this process in action. Try to imagine a “Black” person. Next, imagine a “White” person. Okay, now imagine a “Japanese” person. How did you draw them? What features do they have? How did you know what features to give each “race”? We learn to expect the way people look like based on our encounters in the social world- through interactions in our daily lives and through popular media representations of “races”. Through this cultural learning process, we internalize how to code race and categorize individuals based on what we think they should and should not look like compared to other “races”.

Terry Kawashima illustrated this social phenomenon using the racial “ambiguity” of characters from Japanese shojo manga. Will a manga character with a small mouth, straight tall but small nose, large “saucer” eyes, and blond hair be recognized as “Japanese” or “White”? According to Kawashima, American audiences tended to view this character as “White” because it had blond hair, while Japanese audiences tended to view this same character as “Japanese” because of its small mouth and nose. Americans were surprised that this character is also thought of as “Japanese” because Americans tend to learn that blond hair is a central indicator of “Whiteness”, while Japanese audiences tend to learn that blond hair does not necessarily indicate being “White” in combination with other telling features of “Japanese-ness”. Different cultures and societies have their own set of rules and criteria for defining and categorizing “races”, which accounts for the differences in the way American and Japanese audiences code the character. We are taught what traits define which races, and what races should or shouldn’t have which traits.

I remember when I was a child growing up the United States, and children would mock Chinese people (this term was all-encompassing to mean anyone of East-Asian “descent”), by pulling the outer corners of their eyes towards their ears to form a more almond-looking shape, and yell “ching-chong” to imitate the “Asian” language. While both my parents and I identify as “White” and are viewed by society as “White”, I remember thinking that both my mother and many other of my “white” acquaintances also had smaller, almond-shaped eyes, so I did not understand why “almond eyes” were a trait associated with “Asian-ness”. As I entered high school and became more aware of and interested in Japanese popular culture, I began to notice differences in the way “Asian-ness” or “Japanese-ness” were represented in the media. When I showed pictures of the Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki to my peers, they said her “orange” hair was weird and here eyes were too “big”; in other words, they came to the conclusion she was trying to be “White”, when she should otherwise be accentuating her “Asian” features because she is racially perceived as “Asian”.

Famous Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki

In comparing Japanese media representations of Ayumi Hamasaki to images of Lucy Liu, who was embraced by American popular media and described by Kawashima, there are noticeable differences in the appearances of these women. Ayumi Hamasaki’s makeup gives her eyes a large and rounded appearance, while Lucy Liu’s makeup leaves her eyes in an “almond” shape- just as “Asians” are expected to look by American audiences. You may speculate that Ayumi Hamasaki enlarges and thus in-authenticates her eyes using  makeup techniques or has undergone plastic surgery, but in arguing so, you are giving in to socialization processes and assuming that “natural” Asian eyes are almond-shaped, and therefore cannot “naturally” be “saucer shaped”.

Lucy Liu, who was generally embraced by American popular media

This blog is not attempting to define or identify any defining physical characteristics of each race; race is in the eye of the beholder- what is authentic, what is natural. Women are often told they should accentuate their natural features—follow the natural curves of your face when contouring, play up your lips if they are naturally plump, and so forth, but this becomes a problem when “naturalness” and “authenticity” are racially coded. If you are “White”, makeup leaving you with deep-set eyes and medium-high cheek bones is viewed “authentic”; if you are “Asian”, any makeup that does not render your eyes in an “almond” shape is “inauthentic”. If there are many physical variations of the same features among members of the same “race”, why does “natural” makeup for each race only portray one set of variation of physical features?

I will be sure to think of Kawashima’s work, the next time I hear someone say “It’s such a waste that he/she is hiding his/her “natural White/Asian/Black/Brown” features”. There are no physical traits “natural” or essential to any one race, so why should one race have just one “natural” or “authentic” form of makeup and beauty alteration? We must re-examine the innate racialization of “natural” beauty.

Reference

Kawashima, Terry. 2002. “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference in Japan.” Meridians 3(1):161-190.

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Black and White in Brazil? – It’s hard to identify race

by Aya Murakami

flagWhile the US has been importing a racial system from Latin America, Brazil is going in an opposite direction. It has imported the traditional US way of classifying race. The system called ‘Black movement’, and it divides people into two categories: black and white. Even though there are another two classification systems, this idea has been rapidly spreading over Brazil and having huge impact on people’s idea of race.

Traditionally, Brazil had been identifying itself as “racial democratic” country. Brazil is one of the most racially mixed societies. It counts 2nd largest black population and the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. There was no legislation to divide people into racial groups and people could claim their own racial categories. As a consequence of these reasons, racial groups in Brazil were very ambiguous and elusive.

However, even in Brazil, the racial democratic country, statistic revealed that discrimination toward darker skin people exists. Although afro-Brazilians occupy at least 50% of total population, there were less than 5% of blacks in the government. Also, nearly two third of poverty was made up by Blacks. The average income gap between white and black was huge, black only gained 40% of which white did in 1980. Moreover, blacks were unlikely to be able to get higher education.

These are some of my Brazilian friends.

These are some of my Brazilian friends.

Since 2001, some of the state and federal universities have provided a certain percentage of seats to blacks. As a result, the number of black students in the university has been bigger and bigger. It has certainly given chance to blacks and in the long run, people are expecting it to reduce the gap between black and white.

However, it is true that these actions are providing equal opportunities for blacks? Or rather, it is increasing the gap between white and black? There remain some questions. Since most of the people are mixed race hence it is very difficult to draw a line between two categories. In fact, it is still ambiguous who is black and who is white. Sometimes family members, such as siblings are categorized in different racial groups.

Also, the system made people to think whether they are black or white whereas most of people have never thought about it. Thinking about it and assigned in a racial group increased awareness of race. As people started to have sense of belonging to either black or white racial groups, some white people felt that the black were taking benefit from the system. Actually, there were some violence attacks toward African students from white students.

Therefore, it can be said that it is difficult to define racial categories especially a country like Brazil where most of people are racially mixed. In my opinion, without clear classification I think it would be very difficult that the system work efficiently. Although the quota system might bring brighter future for blacks, there are still some controversial questions to be answered.

See Also:

Movies

Black in Latin America E02, Brazil: A Racial Paradise http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh7c46U5hhY

WIDE ANGLE | Brazil in Black and White | PBS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g29P3-xj7GQ

Articles

Guardian. (2011, November 17). Brazil census shows African-Brazilian in the majority for the first time. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk

The Economist. (2012, January 28). Race in Brazil: Affirming a divide. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com