White and Beautiful: An Examination of Skin Whitening Practices and Female Empowerment in China

Yeung, Evelyn

In recent years, the prevalence of skin whitening products has increased tremendously among Asian women. The cultural desire for pale skin can be attributed to the phenomenon of colorism, the “discriminatory treatment of individuals falling within the same ‘racial’ group on the basis of skin color” (Herring, 2002). Although social stratification based on skin tone is not a novel concept in China, it has taken on a new dimension in recent decades due to the rise of commercialization and consumerism. As a result, cosmetic companies have capitalized on this opportunity to provide beauty products for women. Although the claims that these products can reduce the darkness of one’s are rather dubiousness, East Asian women have expressed increased interest in skin whiteners (Glenn, 2008). Thus, there seems to be a correlation between colorism and consumerism. The ability to purchase these products provides women the illusion of privilege, agency, and social mobility (Saraswati, 2010).This article examines the role of colorism in contemporary China and the perception of privilege that cosmetic whitening products generate for Chinese women. By analyzing the historical and sociological contexts specific to Chinese society, this article will explicate the ways in which pale skin has become a popularized social desire as well as the perceived agency of Chinese women by consuming and purchasing skin whiteners.

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On Our Terms: The Undergraduate Journal of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies

More About This Work

Academic Units
Athena Center for Leadership Studies
Center for Digital Research and Scholarship
Published Here
October 21, 2015