Intercultural studies 

ANG 160 Fall 2005

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The Westernization of beauty

( by Audrey Mawn)

Plato once said: "The three wishes of every man is to be healthy, to be rich by honest means, and to be beautiful ".

Since the beginning of time the colour white has been associated with good, and the colour black has been a synonym for evil. White has also been associated with power and success where as black with inferiority and failure. It is not surprising that white people colonised and enslaved black people for decades. However, it is interesting to raise our awareness about such preferences and that they do not date from the colonisation era but rather from a much earlier period and in more than one culture. For instance, North African, Indian and Asian cultures had put a great emphasis on whiter skin considering it much more attractive: “ … many North African and Asian cultures had placed a premium on light skin PRIOR to European exposure. Indian folk songs praised the beautiful woman who has "the color of butter" (Indian butter is white, not yellow). Pre-colonial Indonesian women used plant-based skin treatments to make their complexion pale.”  This exemplifies the preference of white skin over darker complexions.

Nevertheless, still today white skin is put on a pedestal for everyone to envy. Indeed, beauty products companies have created skin whitening system for those who wish to lighten their skin tone. How expensive is too expensive? Is life expensive? According to The Observer, many whitening creams are in fact toxic. Many lightening system contain a poisonous chemical hydroquinone which was banned in Britain in January 2001, or even steroids which can damage the skin by making it thinner and therefore more vulnerable.(7) Even though such products are illegal for sale in the UK, it is not illegal to manufacture such products and export them: “The law allows companies here to make the Best Skin Lightening - Hydroquinone System w/ Glycolic Acid and SPF15 UVA-UVB Sun Protectionproducts even though they contain substances banned in Britain as long as they are for export”(7). Now, you must be asking yourself, as I am; aren’t those illegal cosmetics also dangerous for people outside of the UK? Well, of course they are! Yet it is still sold in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa and others(7). The truth of the matter is that an exorbitant amount of money is made each year from the profits of such enterprise. The picture shown above was found on a website selling this merchandise. As one can tell, the person on the picture clearly has Black features although she has white skin (8).

Moreover, skin possessed by Caucasians is not the only envied features, facial features are also admired. Such businesses are very prosperous, an incredible amount of money is spent in such industry. As mentioned; “the white Caucasian model of beauty also promotes cosmetic surgery to change the shape of the face, nose, ears and eyes. It is a business that is worth $160 Billion us annually”(7). Cosmetic surgery is becoming as common as any other procedures in Asia. It is estimated that one person out of ten, in Korea, has undergone plastic surgery, and in Taiwan, the number of procedures has doubled in the past five years.  

This is a small peek of what my essay will be about because let’s face it, we are constantly bombarded by images dictating to us how beauty should or shouldn’t be.  

1. Http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/e/etcoff-prettiest.html

2. http://www.time.com/time/asia/covers/1101020805/story.html

3. http://www.colorq.org/articles/1999/blackwhite.html

4. http://www.colorq.org/articles/2002/colorism.htm

5. www.cccc.org/rd/documents/THE%20RACIST%20QUEST%FOR%20GLOBAL%BE      AUTY.doc.

6. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news_room/press_realeses/Asian-Surgery-Patients.cfm

7. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1593303,00.html

8. http://www.acnedoctor.com/Skin-Lightening-Hydroquinone.html (picture)