During my senior year at Duke University, I pursued a Graduation With Distinction for both International Comparative Studies and Visual and Media Studies majors by examining skin whitening practices in China and Taiwan.
You may visit my separate thesis website for my thesis abstract, corresponding project images, and updates at www.thesis.elysiapan.com.
I decided to investigate self-worth of beauty in Asian women because of my personal intrigue about my identity and culture. I was born and raised in the States and have always considered myself an American born Chinese. Growing up in Connecticut, my friends were predominantly Caucasian.
During high school, it was increasingly popular for girls to go to tanning salons in order to achieve a “sun-kissed glow” that made them look “hot” and “attractive.” When I went to China for the first time, I was confused as to why Chinese women looked so pale in comparison and why they went to such great lengths in order to shield themselves from the sun’s rays. Instead of using bronzers, I found out that Asian women used skin whitening products to achieve their ideal beauty.
We live in a global world – so why are Eastern and Western beauty ideals seemingly different? I wanted to examine if there were any underlying definitions of female “beauty.” Also, I wanted to research whether or not established ideologies such as imperialism and sexism were at work when multinational cosmetic companies marketed skin whitening products to Chinese and Taiwanese female consumers. Lastly, I wanted to see how consumers receive and appropriate skin whitening advertisements and practices.
For my thesis research, I was able to travel to Taipei, Taiwan and Beijing China on October 12, 2012 to October 21, 2012 and conduct on the ground research for my thesis. I first went to Taipei, Taiwan and met up with cosmetic company marketing executives and employees to discuss the business side of the skin whitening industry and also interviewed younger skin whitening product consumers. I also talked to many beauty consultants to hear their scripts that are used to sell to potential customers and to hear their general observations of their clientele, all within my IRB Protocol parameters. During the Beijing leg of my trip, I hosted a gathering of sixteen predominantly Taiwanese expatriate women and some of their husbands to come over my godmother’s home for dinner and a focus group discussion. I asked the women questions related to overall historical perceptions of Chinese/Taiwanese beauty and their consumer relations with cosmetic companies.