Beauty: Defined by Race and Gender

Globalization refers to the intensified communication on information on a international scale.  The spread of information is increasing with the rise of industrialization, as phones, internet and varying degrees of social media are becoming more prominent in the social, economic, and even political structures of societies.  Globalization has made many achievements possible, including the sharing of cultures and the efficiency of communication.  However, globalization has also had its negative impacts on societies; the notion of Western superiority is emphasized due to stereotypes and Western control.  Western media is extremely influential because the media is mostly controlled by Western powers.  This notion of superiority continues in the media, in advertisements that display sexuality in ways that promote misconceptions and stereotypes about race and gender.

 

In a “Ponds” commercial, a boyfriend and a girlfriend end their relationship.  When the woman sees the man with another woman who has lighter skin than she, the commercial is sending the message that woman with darker skin are not as desirable as woman with white “Western” skin.  The commercial is an ad for Ponds skin cream that lightens skin and displayed in a way that makes whitening your skin look like the only probable solution in order to achieve love and total happiness.  There are many issues with this message.  To begin, it highlights the problems of “Orientalism”.  A term coined by Edward Said, Orientalism is the concept that constructs the Orient as exotic, mysterious, secret, uncivilized, and essentially a binary opposite to the West.  Said explains that there is a fetishization, a fixation of fascination, of anything associated with the Orient and that the East is consequently feminized in relation to the West.  This perception of Eastern woman becomes extremely problematic when companies, like “Ponds”, interested only in gaining profits with no acknowledgement of the social repercussions from their messages, make commercials that tie misconceptions of gender with misconceptions of race together.   The audience is left with the idea that in order for woman to be desirable they must change the way they look to fit the male standards of beauty.  Gender is emphasized here because it demonstrates how men are in control and women are to be used at men’s disposal. Woman must lighten their skin because that is what men like.   As well, race is emphasized as it displays white superiority by making women with darker skin feel the need to look more “Western”.   The consequences of displaying messages that use the interrelations of gender, race, and sexuality to sell products are impacting societies ever than before, seeing as globalization and the exposure to these images are increasing.

 

Furthermore, globalization has also managed to promote division.  The Western hegemonic perception of beauty creates a sense of “other”, that white woman and woman with dark skin are opposites.  Holding on to this idea, advertisement companies rely on the stereotypes that emerge from this “us versus them” construction to sell their products by using images and symbols that their targeted audience is familiar with.  This sense of “othering” is clearly demonstrated at the very end of the commercial when the women are passing each other, and with their faces side by side in the shot, the statement “to be continued…” comes up, encouraging a sense of hate and revenge between the two.  This cultural dynamic extends the legacy of colonialism, and that by using the social pressures of global capital and consumerism, colonialism and other forms of oppression continue because it “sells!”  Practices and attitudes of colonialism, what we think we have steered away from, had so much impact on the social, economic, and political structures of the world, that it continues to leak into societies today in ways that are more subliminal than imaginable because of the rise of technology and media. What kinds of messages are reinforced in society that we are unaware of?  In what ways are these messages blind to us?  Could it perhaps be Western privilege, in the sense that the West does not pay attention to these images because they do not experience these issues of gender and race that the world continues to link only to the East?  What does that say about how the world might see Western superiority? It’s terrifying to think what messages can be displayed in a 50-second commercial… the ones we are blind to, too.

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3 Comments

  1. I really liked how you related the globalization and western world to the ideas that white is more beautiful because I do find that true. When I was in Italy for a bit visiting my family I found the exact opposite of what we see her in the western world. To me (even though I was only there for 2 months) noticed a lot more diversity in their ads and that was comforting. Also many wanted the darker tanner look, to show that they have been in the sun living life (my cousin would say). I find that there are major differences between what one side of the world (culture) believes is beautiful and another and it is very eye opening to see the discrepancies.

  2. Relating orientalism to this advertisement is a great idea. I wonder if it is actually true that the majority of women in India desire a lighter skin pigment or if it is just the major corporations like Ponds who are publicizing this Western idea of beauty. It is very difficult for anyone to ignore media and societal influences as they are all around us. I am curious as to whether this idea of wishing to be whiter like those in Western cultures was widely present before advertisements like this one brought up the idea.

  3. Yes, this is a perfect example of Orientalism. It really breaks my heart to see that overall, beauty is strongly linked to gender. As Pond’s advertisement trying to aim, women should change their given appearance to be more desirable to the other gender. In this case, the women is changing herself to be more desirable for her ex-boyfriend, and as Pond’s ads portray, it is the men who chooses his desirable women. On the other side, it is very rare to see ads that portray the opposite scenario or men trying to be more desirable for the opposite gender. I totally agree with you that companies like Pond’s is a company that is only interested in their profits, and I am not so sure how long this cream company will last with their objectives.

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