Color complexes in the Philippines

by Lulu Maginde

In ‘Filipinos and the Color complex,’ Joanne Rondilla questions the reader, especially readers here in Asia, what the ‘ideal’ concept of beauty is, and how different people within Asia perceive beauty. As Rondilla focuses specifically on the Philippines and how skin whitening is utilized, or rather highly emphasized, it was interesting to find how skin-lightening products are marketed and sold as well as what these products are saying about beauty.

Rondilla claims that this concept of having a fairer complexion/lighter skin, stemmed from the Philippines’ deep history of colonization, after having been occupied by Spanish for over 300 years. This history most indefinitely influenced the way of life, culture and traditions, not to mention language and the concept of what is deemed beautiful.

After the departure of the Spaniards, then came the Americans, and many Filipinos will claim that until present, the Philippines is still a colony of the US, as most of the way of life in the Philippines has been greatly structured around a more Western way of life. Of course the country still has its rich culture and heritage, as well as its strict religious value system, however it is not hard to deny that US presence has greatly affected life in the Philippines.

This ties in perfectly to my next point of how Rondilla compares standards of skin color between Asian immigrants to the US to Asian Americans born and raised in the US. The main difference between these two groups is that while Asian Americans chose to tan, as it symbolizes wealth and a more luxurious life, Asian immigrants, for instance the Filipinos who immigrate to the US, are more likely to use skin lightening products in order to assimilate  into society. In the Philippines, having darker or more of a tanned complexion immediately reflected what social class one belonged to. If one had a fairer or lighter complexion, they belonged to an a higher social class, simply because they were not as exposed to the sun as working-class laborers.

This notion of a ‘relatable ideal’, or the claim that a certain type of beauty is the shared/common ideal amongst women in the Philippines is what is striking. Consciously or unconsciously, these women buy into an industry, in conjunction with certain media institutions, that greatly influences what may be deemed as beautiful. Thus, they buy into the idea that, due to capitalism, ‘everything can be bought and exchanged’.


Rondilla, Joanne L. (2009). “Filipinos and the color complex.” Pp. 63-80 in Glenn, E. Shades of Difference: Why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Enhanced by Zemanta

Banning Sex-Work Backfires

Hostess club sign, Roppongi

Hostess club sign, Roppongi (Photo credit: Susanna Quinn – Book Group Author)

Anonymous student post

In 2004 a newly required Trafficking in Persons Report was released by the U.S. Department of State. The report stated that Filipinas working as hostesses in Japanese clubs constituted the largest group of sex-trafficked persons, making up more than 10 percent of the total worldwide. In response to the deeply embarrassing report, the Japanese government decided to take quick action. New visa requirements and a more rigorous screening process were hurriedly enacted for those seeking the “entertainment visa,” which is how most sex-workers would classify themselves.

The result looked great on paper. The number of Filipina hostesses in Japan dropped 90%, from 82,741 in 2004 to 8,607 in 2006. But in reality sex-workers were still being trafficked into Japan, worse yet they now were rendered “illegal”. The sex workers coming into Japan were coming on their own volition for the most part. But now, they find themselves at the mercy of their employers without any laws to protect them. Since they are no longer legally in Japan, they have little ground to defend themselves from abusive or even dangerous employers. Even though Japan has improved itself in the eyes of the Trafficking in Persons Report, the short-sighted tactic they chose backfired making the matter worse for trafficked workers.

Since required workers are required to prove 2 years of training or internship as performing visual artists, Filipinas have resorted to coming in through illegal means. The new sex-workers are tightly coupled to their employers due to their illegal nature. The problem being they still needed jobs, and there was still a lucrative market to fill. No matter what laws the Japanese government imposes, there will always be loopholes that the illegal market finds around them, and in this case it was at the expense of the victims themselves.

It is no surprise that Japan was at the top of the list of Trafficking in Persons report. As long as the market in Japan for sex-workers exists, the problem with migrant sex-workers will coexist. The market for sex-work in Japan is disproportionately large for a country among the 5 highest in GDP.  If paying for sexual services had the taboo reputation it does in other world powers, the demand for sex-work in Japan wouldn’t be large enough to cause embarrassment. If the Japanese government could convince citizens that paying for sexual services is unpopular, they could do a much more effective job at mitigating the issue, and better yet, it wouldn’t be at the expense of the migrant sex-worker victims themselves. Additionally, new markets for the migrant workers would appear.

Criminalizing migrant sex workers does not aim for the core of the issue. Rather, a reduction of the market for sex-workers needs to take place in order to mitigate the demand. The sexual objectification of women is rampant among males in Japan. Gender inequality in Japan is partly to blame for the sexual objectification of women. The popularity of hostess bars and other payed-for sex work is deeply entrenched in masculine Japanese culture today.  If women were seen equally, the Japanese would begin to see what’s taboo, or even wrong with sex work. Societies view of women leaves migrant workers with little choice outside the uncomfortable opportunity for sex work. The government needs to work from the ground up with education of Japanese youth. The distinct, unbalanced roles of men and women need to be flattened out for society to understand the detriments of objectification of sex.


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

Opportunist Beauty in Japan

Miss Universe Japan 2007 wins Miss Universe 20...

Miss Universe Japan 2007 wins Miss Universe 2007 crown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mitsumi Yamamoto

Every year a number of Japanese students in my university decide to participate in a study abroad program (mainly to the US, Canada, and Australia). They usually start to prepare for the coming life in foreign countries by packing stuff or setting up their goals during spring semester in Japan. It was such a time when I often saw the female students dying their hair black again, although they used to have their hair dyed bright colors such as blonde and brown. I asked some of my friends how come they would do so and they answered, “Obviously that is because black hair represents Asian beauty.” Meanwhile within Japan, there is a huge boom about biracial people referred to as “hafu”, especially referring to people of half-Caucasian and half-Japanese (one parent being Japanese and one parent being of Caucasian heritage) (Okamura, 2009). Recently you can see hafu models and celebrities a lot on TV and in magazines, and many Japanese women try to achieve a western-looking face due to their adoration for hafu’s appearance.

Those two standards of beauty that Japanese women have, “Asian beauty” and “Western beauty,” seem to be the opposites of each other. However both standards exist simultaneously as the dominant viewpoints when thinking about what is beauty for Japanese women. Why?

This phenomenon can be explained with a case of African American women competing in the Miss Bronze or black beauty contests during the 1960s and 1970s, when the Civil Rights Movement flourished against discrimination towards black people. Maxine Leeds Craig, a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of California-Davis, pointed out that  at that time black women in the Miss Bronze pageant would realize views of themselves depending on how whites saw blacks, but at the same time this helped them to see the structure of racism (Glenn, 2009). Therefore in order to accept and reject this hierarchy, contestants who had dark skin tone were crowned as winners of Miss Bronze since the 1960s, rather than those with light skin tone, who were considered as the closest color to whiteness. The black beauty came to be used as a demonstration of the value of black people.

Related to this case, what about the pageant of Miss Universe Japan? In spite of the domestic hafu boom, almost all participants of this contest attempt to show their beauty as Asian with typical images of Asian women (e.g., long black hair, slit eyes) (Miss Universe Japan). The same thing can be said of women who stay in foreign countries outside of Japan. Even if the women used to prefer western-looking (e.g., bright colored hair and round eyes) inside of Japan, they somehow start to focus on “Asian beauty,” showing their Asian features to foreigners.

Hence this coexistence of the seemingly opposite standards of beauty and switch between them depending on the situation look similar to the case of African American women. It seems that Japanese women, as representatives of Asian women, would think of themselves as inferior to whites in racial hierarchy and this consciousness would help accepting and rejecting this hierarchy. Therefore Japanese women who have chances to live in an environment filled with Westerners try to behave as one a representative of Asian beauty, although once they are in Japan, they still tend to have the feeling of inferiority toward white people with an ideal to Western-beauty.


Okamura, H. (2009). ハーフブームと『ハーフ顔』? [hafu boom and hafu face?]. Retrieved from

Miss Universe Japan. Miss Universe Japan Official site. Retrieved from

Glenn, E. N. (Ed.). (2009). Shades of Difference: why skin color matters. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Media and Image: The Influence of Biased Images of Whites and Blacks on TV

by Yukako Ikezoe

Whenever we watch TV, don’t you feel any biased images or pictures are always produced to the audience? Personally, I do. Think about the images you have in your mind when you think of some American dramas or movies. What kind of roles you guys think black people represent mostly? What about roles of white people?

When we think of roles of black people in movies or TV dramas, it is easy for us to picture roles of black people which tend to give audience negative images or not really good images as white characters have. The “Magical Negro,” for instance, is one of the most remarkable characters mostly played by African American men. Those characters are always helping white characters to let them have better lives without considering about their own lives but for white characters. There is also the tendency that black people are regarded as the very actors for playing criminals as we often see them breaking laws such as drug dealers in movies and TV dramas. On the other hand, characters with good images such as a hero, popular students at schools tend to be played by white actors.

When talking about roles of white women, the show “Gossip Girls”, one of the great hits among American teen shows and continuously won many Teen Choice Awards from 2008 to 2010, is also a clear example. All the main characters are white, and white women in the drama are always having fun with guys, fashion, and make-up (, 2011). White girls on screen always make us feel jealous or desire to look like them as we see many articles or tutorials about how to look like them taken up by magazines and blogs on website. Women, especially teen girls, are really sensitive to that kind of information simply because whites seem like they most likely play gorgeous characters on TV and are regarded as role models or as good looking women. The image of white females on TV as roll models of being beautiful women, are repeatedly produced by TV to the audience so much that it is widely prevalent among other races including African American women.

Watching TV does play an important role for African American people, as the data complied by EURweb in 2010 shows that the average of African Americans watching TV was 7 hours and 12 minutes, more than the US average of 5 hours. It also shows Blacks are spending time on TV much longer than other races and its tendency is seen remarkably from the age of 5 up to teen. Based on the fact, TV is obviously one of the most important parts of their daily lives (Burton, 2011).

Hence, as Verna M. Keith says in her chapter “A Colorstruck World” of the book Shades of difference: why skin color matters, whites do not really see shades of difference in black skin, but blacks make a lot of distinctions. The strong desire to have lighter skin for Black women is also to come from the influence from Media. Whites distinguish only between Black and White because they do not have to care about their skin tones. It is easier for them to have similar looks as white women characters in dramas comparing to Black women or other races like Asians. In fact, it is hard for me to have a look like Whites who have completely different looks including different phenotypic characteristics. We do not really have to try to look like them, yet many women think they have to do so to look like whites, beautiful women. The majority of women do still desire to have lighter skins like Whites, which is because of the images and beauty standards of “Whites are beautiful” constantly produced and taught by media on which we casually spend time in our daily lives.


Burton, N. (2011). Nielesen study: Blacks watch more tv than any other groups. Retrieved from Success of gossip girl. Retrieved from

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano (Ed.). (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Look Good, and Get a Job?

by Kyungyeon Chung

One thing I have personally noticed recently while attempting to write curriculum vitae both in English and Japanese is the requirement of attaching a photo on Japanese CV. It was actually a refreshing shock for me that photos – like the type you would attach for passport application – were not a requirement at all when writing a CV in English. I think this may have originated from differences in cultural practice whereby in Japan, more emphasis is put on how ‘appropriate’ and ‘decent’ you should appear. This idea that appearance is quite a big matter in such formal processes as recruitment procedure, however, can result in much more pervasive outcome than simply putting a little more effort in ironing your suits. In South Korea, the ultra-competitive job market has encouraged so many young college graduates, females in particular, to go under knife of cosmetic surgeons.

How has the competitive job race related to the increasing popularity of, and almost-blindsided trend following cosmetic surgery? With much vulnerable and unpredictable economy conditions, it has been more and more widely believed that good looks give you an edge in securing jobs or marriage. According to an article in one mainstream English-language newspaper in Korea, over a quarter of college students are said to consider cosmetic surgery for this reason, according to a recent survey by an online career portal site (Kwaak, 2013). In one survey of over 600 job-seekers, conducted by one clinic reported that around half of the job seekers are getting surgery exclusively to get a job, including non-operational procedures such as Botox or filler injection (The Chosun Ilbo, 2009).

Unfortunately for recent graduates, it is increasingly becoming a very common conception that such procedures are now being perceived as “investment” before entering a competitive race to market yourself better, for your own sake. Amongst the tide of young women receiving the procedure, those unable to afford, those with physical disabilities or with a darker skin are excluded further (Kwaak, 2013). Many of cosmetic surgeries’ ultimate aim is to give the patients certain types of features that are distinctively considered ‘beautiful’ by the set ideal of beauty as perceived in South Korean society today. The definition of ‘beauty’ here is closer to a Caucasian face. One Korean cosmetic surgeon, in a comment on what has been the most demanded facial ‘type’ by patients, said that “(t)hey are seeking to have westernized face, high profile nose, slender nice cheekbone, and mandible bone” (Lah, 2011).

In the chapter “A Colorstruck World” in Shades of Differences, Verna M. Kieth argues that complexion operates as a form of social capital that can be converted to human capital assets (p. 29). Just as light-colored skin is more preferred than darker skin in many aspects in the American society, in case of South Korea, the most-frequent judging standard by which preferences are given is the Westernized standard of beauty. Having phenotypes and skin tone that fit this standard, even by going under knife, are ‘rewarded’ with more stable job opportunities. Whether this hypothesis is true or not will be very difficult to attest – yet it will act like a self-fulfilling prophecy, an ‘assumed truth’ as long as people believe in it.


Kieth, V. M. (2009). A Colorstruck World. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference (pp. 25–39). California: Stanford University Press.

Kwaak, J. S. (2013, June 5). Making a case for cosmetic surgery. Korea Real Time. Retrieved from

Lah, K. (2011, May 24). Plastic surgery boom as Asians seek ‘western’ look. CNN. Retrieved from

The Chosun Ilbo. (2009, November 30). More Koreans pin job hopes on plastic surgery. The Chosun Ilbo. Retrived from

Skin Tone and Achievement in Education

by Sten Alvarsson

There is a clear relationship between skin tone and levels of achievement in education. Lighter skin tones achieve higher levels of education and employment on both a personal and family basis (Keith, 2009). Advantages and disadvantages of skin tone relative to a particular group or individual within a society are based on perceived ideas of beauty and status and their associated connotations. The advantages of having lighter skin can be passed down through family networks, as children receive the privileges of the structure they are born into.

Educational advantages of a lighter skin tone relative to others in their environment can be present from an early stage. Teachers can judge students with greater attractiveness to also have greater levels of intelligence (Keith, 2009). Since skin tone often plays an important role in perceived attractiveness, teachers may have higher expectations, give out more encouragement and give higher marks, amongst other preferential treatment, to lighter skinned students resulting in superior academic performance.

Children are highly perceptive to these socialised messages regarding skin tones. When darker skin tones are devalued the affect can be equally as damaging as the extolment of lighter skin tones are advantageous (Elmore, 2009). Adolescents in particular have a heightened sense of self-consciousness in relation to their physical appearance and the socialised messages they receive in the classroom can have a great impact on their academic performance and opportunities for socio-economic mobility later in life.

Research shows that lighter skin tones are often linked to higher socio-economic status to the extent that, “Complexion operates as a form of social capital that can be converted to human capital assets” (Keith, 2009, p. 29). This is supported in research by Joni Hersch which shows that, “On average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education” in relation to employment earnings (as cited in Nair, 2010, p. 25). In fact, Keith (2009) highlights a direct relationship between lighter skin tones and increased levels of education. Such research has been questioned by academics like Gullickson (2004) who state that, “Colorism itself might still remain, but structural changes in larger race relations have reduced the advantage it previously gave to lighter skinned individuals” (p. 22). However, Keith (2009) argues that both media images and academic research do not show a decrease in the importance of skin complexion as a marker for achievement.

As has been demonstrated, skin tone is an important marker for achievement in education. Skin tone based social messages, behavioral norms and patterns of thought within the classroom are a powerful force in children’s development. Subsequently, skin tones also play a prominent role in later outcomes in areas such as mate selection, economic opportunities, occupational status and health conditions (Keith, 2009). Therefore, there needs to be a focus on education at a young age working towards combatting skin tone bias in order to lessen its prevalence with each new generation. Ultimately, we are all embodiments of living experiences and an end to skin tone bias would be an important step forward toward an existence without discrimination.


Elmore, T. G. (2009). Colorism in the classroom: An exploration of adolescents’ skin tone, skin tone preferences, perceptions of skin tone stigma and identity. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from UMI Dissertation Publishing. (3395695)

Gullickson, A. (2004). The significance of color declines: A re-analysis of skin tone differentials in post civil rights America. Retrieved from

Keith, V. M. (2009). A colorstruck world: Skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (pp. 25-39). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Nair, M. (2010). Social awareness in selected films. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Aveiro, Portugal.

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.


Navarrette, R. (2012, November 20th). In Mexico, racism hides in plain view. CNN. Retrievd from

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.

Whitening in Intercultural Relations: Accidental or on Purpose?

by Yuta Kobayashi

For the longest time, I had always thought to myself that intercultural marriages were no different from any other form of marriage, for the purpose of establishing a family and to understand the unique aspects of one another’s identity. I never attempted to view children anything other than being the natural outcome of their parent’s love and nurture. Chapter 4 of Shades of Difference introduces a unique perspective to racial mixing, one linked with the aspect of social stratification and a reason to racial mixing in the context of Latin America and the United States.

Blanqueamiento, also known as whitening in racial mixing, has been commonly practiced throughout Latin America and the United States. As suggested by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David R. Dietrich (2009), this concept is not only an ideology, but also “a real economic, political, and personal process” that influences an individual’s hierarchal movement. Bonilla Silva and Dietrich argue that the main reason for this “whitening” other than “neutral mixture” is for the children of these mixed racial families to move up the social strata, being given a more mobile identity and greater opportunities for racial promotion.

If the original purpose of whitening was to raise the social status of their children, can the same be said for other forms of intercultural marriage? Some of my “hafu” friends, who possess a mixed race, tell me that sometimes they do not understand why their parents came together and started a family in the first place, for the reason that time after time they encounter cultural barriers and occasional misunderstandings. Based on my assumption, I believe there is a possibility that some parents come together for their looks with expectations of their children to take on a good medium of mixed characteristics and good looks. In places such as Japan, where I live, good looks are an advantage in society. Although the content is slightly different, the point I would like to raise here is that it is not rare to see parents starting a mixed cultural family as a means to be positively recognized by society.

As suggested by Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich, whitening may come with certain social advantages, but at the same time also come with disadvantages. An important question that we should ask ourselves is, if society is to recognize these mixed racial individuals as a part of the privileged race, what are the consequences to racial mixing? My personal approach to this question is that if more and more people start to treat racial mixing as a social norm, there is a possibility of fewer people conserving the “pure blood” of a specific race. Of course, moving up the social ladder is important in reaching equality, especially for those who are facing discrimination in society. However, if more and more people become over-conscious in seeking equality, to the point where they care for social status over understanding their own identity, it will become difficult for themselves, as well as their children to find where they belong and to understand their own identity. Especially in a country where tradition and culture is to be preserved, racial mixing and other forms of cultural integration may not always be socially accepted as compared to countries such as the United States.

Chapter 4 of Shades of Difference introduces the concept of whitening and the logical reasons to why this is significant in modern society. However, in this section, one important question is left out; that is, the reason to the origins of whitening and other forms of racial mixing. This reading by itself still leaves me hanging with the question of whether the origins of whitening was actually with purpose or possibly accidental.


Bonilla-Silva, E. & Dietrich, D.R. (2009). The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: A New Pigmentocracy. In E. Nakano-Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Nekita. (August 24, 2013). Rejected from both: Is mixed race “really” better? Retrieved from on October 17, 2013. From