Association for Asian American Studies Conference

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Hi everyone, I'm writing from Day 2 at the annual AAAS conference in Austin, TX. I will be live blogging both here and at EqualWrites to share my experience with y'all. 

This morning, I just attended an invigorating talk called "Transnational Perspectives on Beauty and Skin Color: China, Indonesia, and the Philippines." Joanne Rondilla of UC Berkeley presented on mixed-race cosmetics advertising in the Philippines. She used the GlutaMax skin-whitening line to explore and challenge the idea that a new global standard of beauty is emerging. Global beauty seems to have arisen as a challenge to White beauty, but according to Rondilla, this "new" beauty simply repackages pre-existing Eurocentric notions of beauty, because those who are considered beautiful exemplify a range of characteristics that are acceptable to Western sensibilities and allow them to pass as ambiguously non-ethnic.

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GlutaMax uses actor Jinky Oda and literally uses the slogan "from ebony to ivory" to market its skin-whitening product. Rondilla discussed how skin-whitening products were not only popular in the Philippines, but they are also marketed in the U.S. under slogans such as "anti-aging" and "skin-brightening." Such products blatantly assert that light skin is superior to dark skin. (In addition, her hair is transformed, eyes look rounder, and facial features appear sharper in her "after" look.) Furthermore, because the models identify as Filipino, this whiteness is achievable through transformation by consumable cosmetic products. 

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Rondilla also gave the example of DJ Mojo Jojo, the second most popular face of GlutaMax. DJ Mojo Jojo is an out gay Filipino, and his sexuality is made literal and explicit in the advertisement. He looks happy as he sensuously slouches over a pillow towards the viewer. The advertisement implies that his gay identity has been made more comfortable, his sex life improved, on account of his newfound literal whiteness. What does it mean when this global standard of beauty and sexuality for gay Filipino men is literally marketed as an embodiment of White characteristics? Rondilla wrote that within a short period of time, this advertisement which was featured on billboards in the Philippines was protested by members of the Catholic Church and removed, not for its racial content, but for its supposed sexual content.

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This idea of a global conception of beauty as defined by Western European/United States standards is extremely interesting; those advertisements are pretty astounding. I actually have just read a terrific article about Asian American women and their decision to undergo cosmetic surgery to adopt features that are considered 'white' or 'American'. Many believe its the only way for them to be truly competitive in any number of areas in their lives including the workplace. What is also very interesting, however, is the notion that certain cultures/races/countries/etc. have essentially 'claimed' these features as their own. In other words, not only is being 'whiter' superior, but its also 'American'; its not just a matter of taking on a new form of beauty within ones own culture, but the complete abdication from ones own culture as an implied requirement for attaining this beauty.

I hope this is accessible to everyone, but here is the link to the full article ('Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian American Women and Cosmetic Surgery', by Eugenia Kaw): http://www.jstor.org/sici?origin=sfx:sfx&sici=0745-5194(1993)7:1%3C74:MORFAA%3E2.0.CO;2-7

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