The Meanings of Lightness

productsby Lin Tzu-Chun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

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Tanned skin: the new look?

by Kyungyeon Chung

clarinsToday, open up any international beauty magazine – you will find models that are dominating the colorful pages are not all so pale boasting ‘porcelain’ complexion. Instead, beauty sites and entertainment pages have been filled with new trend – tanning. Just take a look at some gossipy newspaper articles based on curious speculation how Mitt Romney, who must have been so busy at the time, maintained the glowing tanned skin throughout his presidential campaign. Kate Middleton and her sister Pipa Middleton also captured the gossip followers with their bronzed skin complexion. Whether it happens on the stunning Greek beach, or while backpacking in Vietnam, or in a sunbed salon in New York, the result, tanned skin has become the new trendsetting skin complexion.

Among those who can afford and dream of tanned skin, the darker complexion comes with numerous labels: sun-kissed, glowing, bronze, naturally tanned… If you examine, all these words used to describe tan, entail a deep implication that tanned skin is healthy; that it is a product of healthy practice, perhaps swimming in the open ocean, hiking under the sun, or out playing by the beach. No long ago were these associated with toiling in farms under the sun, a mark of laboring, lower class. Yet in 21st century when most of people in industrialized countries, people are usually spending most of their days in their offices, then on cars or public transports, then in shops and their homes, all under the fluorescent lights and hardly under the natural sun rays. And that is exactly why “sun-kissed’ skin is glorified and sought after.

clarins2Popular legend holds that Coco Chanel first initiated this world-wide boom of tanned skin, which she got while vacationing in the Mediterranean in the 1920s. It was a look that signified health and vitality. From then on, tanned skin became associated affluence and luxury of, in short, having enough money to go on holidays and lay under the sun. This was also in such direct contrast with ‘others’ who were unfortunate and had neither time nor money to enjoy such holiday.

However, as mounting medical and scientific studies find the clear link between sun exposure and skin cancer, the trend did not end – instead, it simply turned from ‘natural’ to fake. Today at cosmetics shops, one can find an array of products that promise you evenly tanned skin and beautiful glow. So many different types of products are used to serve different purposed, from tanning lotion to bronzer powder, and fake sprays to imitate tans. You can walk into aesthetic shops and salons in your natural skin color then walk out a few shades darker in a matter of few hours and days of efforts.

The important thing about the logic behind the popularity of tanning, is that, it has fundamentally the same idea as skin brightening. It is the idea that skin complexion is a mark of certain class or socio-economic status, and that can be bought and fixed with money. The idea that beauty queue exists based on skin complexion, and consuming certain products will make you move up along the ladder. So at the end, who ‘wins’ at this game? Think about it – the same company that produces tanning creams and bronzers have different lines for skin brightening and whitening. Whether light skin or tanned skin is the trend of the year, they will never have a problem marketing either product.

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.

Mzungu and Colorism in Africa

by Miho Tanaka

Reading “Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self (2009)” by Lynn M. Thomas, I was reminded of and reflected on my experiences in Africa. It was inconsiderable that South African care so much about their skin color even though skin lighteners sometimes bring problems to their skin.

However it is true that the people I met in Kenya put value on light skin and they connect it with high social status very much. The other internship students from Europe, the United States, and Asia and I were called Mzungu by Kenyans. I saw Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Americans, Brazilians, Swedes and Germans all called Mzungu. Mzungu is the Swahili word that describes rich and White people from African people’s perspectives. More specifically, not only Caucasians but also people from developed countries with light skin of color are Mzungu. It seems that many Swahili-speaking countries use the term Mzungu, as some websites and blogs show on the internet (Hoff n.d.; Duara 2008). Both Hoff and Duara write that Mzungu is used in central and Southern Africa. When I visited Rwanda this summer Rwandan also called us Wazungu, the plural way to call Mzungu.

Interesting are those African people who are eager to have networks or connections with Mzungu people. For instance, while I and the other internship students were in a community in Kenya and belonged to a Community Based Organization, some Kenyans suddenly joined the organization and many HIV-positive people started to attend our meetings as well. However according to local members in Kenya, they began to be absent from meetings after all of the Wazungu left. However, some of them have tried to maintain their connections with Wazungu. Most importantly, they strongly connect idea of economic and social status mobility with being Mzungu. If they could have been married with a Mzungu woman or man, they would not have to be in trouble of impoverished in Africa anymore. They would be able to get out of their homeland and have a better life.

Considering the case of South Africa, the tendency that they would like to have lighter skin color must be much higher than the other countries since they were harshly segregated by skin color during the period of apartheid. Even though they might have skin troubles from using skin lighteners, upward mobility would be more important for them since it would determine their entire life and success. Therefore, they care more about their skin tone rather than their health. However the status in South Africa must be changed since the abolition of apartheid. Nowadays there are poor Whites going begging in South Africa, and it also might be a factor that changes preference of white or light skin. I suppose the tension between Mzungu and Black Africans, which connects social upward mobility with light skin color, would not change because Black Africans regard Mzungu as coming from totally different background and statuses. However, it might create new black movement as their economic status changes with economic growth.

References

Duara, D. (July, 19th 2008). The Mzungu term : get it right! Retrieved on November, 22nd 2013 from http://pernille.typepad.com/louderthanswahili/2008/07/the-mzungu-te-1.html

Hoff, W. (n.d.). Mzungu Design. Retrieved on November 22nd 2013 from http://www.mzungudesign.com/welcome/

Thomas, M. L. (2009). Skin lighteners in South Africa: transnational entanglement and technologies of the self. In Glenn, N. E. (Ed.), Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.