‘Ideal Asian Beauty’ in Skin Care Marketing

by Kiho Kozaki

In modern societies, we can observe that there are countless advertisements by mass media, companies, etc., in our daily life. It is almost impossible to not get influenced by them. Whether one recognizes it or not, one’s thought, common sense, standard of behavior, or actions are established based on these influences. Especially in the field of skin-lightening, mass media is playing an important role in idealizing the standard of beauty, according to which those who have lighter skin are more attractive and beautiful.

The global market for skin lighteners is projected to reach US$19.8 billion by 2018, based on sales growth primarily in Asia, Africa and the Middle East (McDougall, 2013). In most advertisements of skin products in Asia, we can see the appearance of Caucasian and half-Asian models. As Japanese person, I was always wondering why even Asian companies use Caucasian or half-Asian models in order to promote their products in Asia. For skin care products, I assume that is to give an impression of light-skin beauty, according to which white is more attractive and superior to dark skin. An Asian ideal image of beauty is almost created and controlled as something really hard to achieve in order to create profit, and Asian women are following those images unconsciously.

There is an argument about whether Asian women use skin-lightning products to become like Europeans. Joanne Rondilla, the author of “Filipinos and the Color Complex,” gave a different perspective, writing that many Asian women are satisfied with being Asian or having Asian features. However, they are looking to “clean up” or become “better” versions of themselves. The author repeatedly used the word “uniqueness” and “delicate” to describe Asian skin. These words can be seen in many skin care products’ advertisements in my daily life. It triggers a question for me, what does uniqueness mean in this context? I feel like there is a contradiction between the Asian women’s desire of whiteness, which is the image of beauty companies are trying to sell, and their insistence on Asian beauty and the uniqueness of their skin.

The assumption is the power. Many Asian women, including myself, have not thought about what they really want to be and what beauty means to them before purchasing the products. This is the natural consequence of every single person having a different skin tone, however, the models in skin care advertisements all seem to have the same white skin tone. The widespread phenomenon of the white standard has already become a huge pressure for Asian and other non-white women. I argue that every single person has their own way of beauty, regardless of race and skin color.

References

McDougall, A. 2013. Skin lightening trend in Asia boosts global market. Retrieved from http://www.cosmeticsdesign-asia.com/Market-Trends/Skin-lightening-trend-in-Asia-boosts-global-market

Rondilla, L. J. 2009. Fillipinos and the Color Complex. Pp. 63-80 in Shades of difference: Why skin color matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn.Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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.

Skin Lighteners and the African Illusion

dencia

Nigerian and Cameroonian singer Dencia

by Allan Kastiro

“White means pure. Not necessarily skin but in general, that’s how I look at it, it means pure.” This is a statement made by Nigerian and Cameroonian singer Dencia, who created a controversial skin-bleaching cream called ‘Whitenicious’. In a Television interview with the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News in March 2014, the singer responded to the criticism that her skin lightening product had received. Dencia claimed that her product was not a skin lightener but a dark spot remover however; many of the Whitenicious’ campaign ads presented Dencia’s skin tone as being lighter than her original color and this created a contradiction with her claims.

Lupita-Nyong’o

Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o

Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o, who has on numerous occasions discussed the issue of standards of beauty and why girls should not find the need to use skin lighteners, also addressed the issue of products like Whitenicious in her acceptance speech at the ESSENCE awards. In the speech, Lupita Nyong’o talks about how she has been able to inspire and empower dark skinned girls around the world by showing them that black is indeed beautiful. She talks about one particular girl who wrote to her to thank her for inspiring her to love her natural skin tone otherwise she would have resorted to using Whitenicious since society and western standards of beauty make it seem as though anything less than light is not beautiful.

I think that the biggest problem in Africa today is the illusion that lighter is better. This illusion is rooted in colonialism, western-dominated capitalist culture and western standards of beauty. Many African people believe that they need to have a lighter skin tone in order to improve themselves and their status in society. That is, most African people desire lighter skin because they believe that this will change people’s outlook on them and they will be able to attain their desired jobs, get spouses or elevate to another class in the society. These beliefs stem from the fact that whiteness is viewed as being symbolic capital whereby being white or having a light skin tone is equated to competence, respectability and honorability. African people have unconsciously been taught by the west to dislike their dark skin and instead strive to achieve a lighter skin tone because they believe that it is much more accepted and desired.

Mnisi

South African musician Nomasonto ‘Mshoza’ Mnisi

A number of people who use skin lightening products argue that desiring a lighter skin has nothing to do with self-hate or wanting to be white but is as a result of insecurities and low self-esteem. An example is that of South African musician Nomasonto ‘Mshoza’ Mnisi who changed her skin complexion and is now lighter than she was originally. To her, skin-bleaching is a personal choice and is no different from breast implants or a having nose job. Mnisi says that the main reason she bleached her skin was to see what it would be like to be white as she had been dark for a long time. (Pumza Fihlani, 2013) Although Mnisi says that she is not self-hating and does not aim to be white, her attitude towards her natural skin tone says otherwise. It also leads me to question why she would feel less confident or have a low self-esteem if she was indeed proud to be black as she so often claims.

In conclusion, I believe that Whiteness or in this case, lightness as a symbolic capital has created a generation of African people who lack self-worth and confidence in their natural skin tone and this has resulted into the use of skin lightening products which in the long run damage their skins and might ultimately lead to severe diseases like cancer. I think that this trend will not end unless the people who use these products change their views on what they perceive as the standard of beauty and develop a sense of self-worth as dark-skinned African people.

Reference

Fihlani P. 2013. Africa: Where black is not really beautiful. Retrieved on 13th 2014 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-20444798

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.

“Whitening” manga figures?

by Lyu Dian

mangaIt is easy to recognize Japanese Manga characters from their exaggerated round eyes, small nose, spindly legs and colorful hair. These features that are generally common for most Japanese readers confuse Western readers sometimes because in their eyes Manga characters look like Caucasians but Japanese. In Kawashima’s article, many Westerners consider stylized Manga figure as an expression of “trying to be white” and the idea of “becoming white” is a product of cultural imperialism since the white people were historically dominant in the world. They even express their sympathy to “Asian people” who try to become white by stating that their should stay who they are but not constrained to racial hierarchy thinking. In fact, the thought of regarding Manga figures as white or trying to be white is a symptom of visual production of race and racial privilege thinking.

Different from Western viewers, Japanese readers naturally regard Manga figures as Japanese, blonde hair and round eyes are nothing more than exaggerated factors of Manga, as well as spindly arms and legs. In addition, colorful hair and round eyes are widely used for highlighting distinct personalities and showing emotional performance in artistic works, same as characters in Disney cartoon who usually have oversized head (eyes too) and disproportioned body. As a Chinese reader, it never occurs to me that these characters look more Caucasians since they do not even look like man in reality with their unbelievable shape of hair and limbs thin as stick. The reason why Western viewers especially tend to think Manga characters as white, as Kawashima pointed out, is that they usually hold stereotype of “Asian look” in their mind. In their and mass media’s views, Asian look should be flat face, small and slanted eyes, yellow skin and straight black hair which are actually not correct (see the Disney movie Mulan as a example). In the American drama, The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon’s mother carved a smiling face on a pancake she said “his eyes are little thin but pretend him to be Chinese”. It is really common to see stereotype of “Asian looking” face in mass media, thus it would not be surprise to understand why Westerner viewers cannot accept Asian face with round eye and lighten hair naturally because that against their typical expectation of Asian people. Exactly as Kawashima discussed, the idea of “Asian looking face” or “what Asian people should look like” is a process of picking and ignoring certain features as standards to create and evaluate race. This fixed mind-set is artificially and socially constructed, rigid characters in films, cartoons, dramas are outcome of it and also reinforced it. Even though, mass media are far less racial than in the past but stereotype still exists.

References

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

Matt Thorn. The Face of the Other.  http://www.matt-thorn.com/mangagaku/faceoftheother.html

How come Japanese cartoon do not look like Japanese people. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-77407.html