Troubling language regarding skin tone

Dec 31, 2020

    1. Hello everyone,

      So on a certain company website that has stories for their dolls, I noticed something that caught me off guard for their "dark-elf" sculpt. The phrase:

      "...they suffered many side effects, and their white skin got darker and darker." (shortened version)

      Implying dark skin is a bad thing?

      To make matters worse, the doll in question is only in a medium tan at most, not grey or any other non-human "dark" skin tone.

      I am mixed race, and I find this sort of thing very troubling.

      I realise the people who wrote it haven't intended any harm, and it's possibly due to English being a second language, but it does bother me that this is written that way.

      I would love to hear your opinions on this, as long as we can be civil!

      P.S Happy 2021 everyone!

      Edited for clarity here is the full description for those interested:

      "But they wanted to be more and more powerful
      and got lured to the dark and started to use dark magic.
      And due to excessive use of mana
      they suffered many side effects
      and their white skin got darker and darker."

      I hope this helps you put context to this post. Happy 2021!
      #1 Muraki88, Dec 31, 2020
      Last edited: Jan 1, 2021
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    2. I understand being uncomfortable with that kind of language and the unfortunate implications.

      I think what the owner meant was that they were disappointed that the resin changed color, not necessarily that they disliked that it became darker in general.

      Similarly to a dark resin color that might get lighter as it ages, a light resin color getting darker might disappoint an owner for many reasons like the skin color no longer fitting the character or the face up looking mismatched. It's similar to yellowing resin, I would imagine.

      I don't know the context of the post you quoted, so I can't say for sure if the person meant to offend. That doesn't mean that your feelings are invalid! If this is a person that you interact with, I would suggest privately contacting them and telling them that their post made you uncomfortable and explain why. Most people are unaware of implications of these kinds of statements.
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    3. No it's an official companies description of their "dark elf" sculpt. I didn't want to name the company at this point, but I can see why you misunderstood me. It just came across like a bad translation, but something that should be pointed out.
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    4. That is quite disturbing. Unfortunately, in countries like Japan, Korea, and China, light skin is vastly preferred (by some, of course there nothing is true of every person in any place) and unfortunately in some subcultures sometimes dark skin is demonized. So I am disappointed but not shocked to see this. Perhaps I'd email the company and express that phrasing such as this makes you not want to buy their products as it is racist. The threat of losing business may cause them to rethink the description.
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    5. This is pretty standard fantasy racism and nothing new :(

      I think the trope was established with the drow in Dungeons and Dragons (a subspecies of elf who evolved to be evil, subterranean, and dark-skinned), but it's also in Lord of the Rings if you think about the way that orcs are supposed to be "corrupted" elves.
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    6. Oh, that clears it up. That's gross of them to say.
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    7. As someone else mentioned I also think fantasy tropes do come into play such as the evil dark elves vs the good fair skinned elves. Hence black magic and curses leading to ""...they suffered many side effects, and their white skin got darker and darker." "

      However as a background, racism is rampant in China/Korea which is likely where the company originates from. They have very little exposure to high melanin skin tones. There's some aspect of colorism in there where they'll look down on tanned members of the same ethnicity as "lower" class due to having to have worked outside in the fields and have a huge skin care industry to keep flawless pale skin. Even Freckles/moles are often considered unappealing and a blemish on pale skin. On top of the colorism, they tend to elevate western culture on a pedestal and have absorbed, western racist views/stereotypes on those with high melanin skin tones. But one thing that they lack compared to western culture is the lack of PC culture, so you'll see some outrageous(to the western eye) commercials, comments, and product descriptions.

      So as mentioned above, i don't think it'd hurt to send a politely worded email to the company about the implications that people may get from the sculpt description.
      • x 9
    8. There have been concerns raised in the past about problematic language in regard to resin colors... "Beautiful White", for instance, or calling the pinky-peach tones "Normal Skin"... Often, it really does seem to come down to translation issues, with a side dose of people not quite understanding why the implications of those language choices are what they are in really socially-aware segments of the hobby.

      There is some cultural bias at work when it comes to the whole light/dark good/evil business, but the context isn't so much about racism. (Re: the skin care products and such, that's as much a classism issue as anything-)
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    9. Light vs dark is as old as forever, and not originally related to skin color. If you lived in a time when there was no artificial light, night was a dangerous and scary time, as was winter. Lightness and darkness became symbols for good and evil. Which is probably where the whole dark elf image is derived.
      This imagery is pretty deeply ingrained in the human race, good luck trying to change it. But don't take it personally.
      • x 17
    10. Ive been appreciating the change in resin color terminology at some of the companies, to terms like meringue or milk tea for example as the older terminology was second nature but at times uncomfortable to me. This is a valid point to acknowledge in a long term shift in human thinking. Thanks for starting the discussion in this case.
      • x 4
    11. Yes I’m a big fan of Tolkien but he didn’t really like the Middle East or Germany (for WW1 reasons) and has also been accused of being an antisemite for his part!

      With DnD Dark Elves I see them as less problematic as their skin is grey or even very pale non-human tones, and their “darkness” is more their actions as opposed to their looks.

      I’m of Pakistani descent so I’m very aware of middle/Far Eastern cultural attitudes towards dark skin and I suspect some of that (and poor translation) may have leaked into this description, as the sculpt in question is basically a mid-tan Caucasian with elf ears.

      I will definitely send a polite email explaining why this might come across as quite tone-deaf at the very least.

      It’s not about taking things personally, it’s about calling things out when they need to be. I’m well aware of humanity’s evolutionary fear of the dark and unknown, but that shouldn’t be linked to a doll’s skin tone.

      "Dear *******,

      I adore your work and admire your talent as sculptors, tailors and artists, I have been a fan for a long time.

      However, I noticed in your description of *******, there was some language regarding her skin colour that could be quite upsetting to people with dark skin.

      It was this line that was quite troubling:

      "...they suffered many side effects, and their white skin got darker and darker."

      This implies that there is something wrong with having dark skin, or that dark skin is a "side-effect", even though your model doll doesn't have very dark skin at all.

      I understand this may not be your intention, but your market is very diverse and multicultural, and this could be quite offensive, particularly in the wake of "Black Lives Matter" protests etc.

      I am a person of mixed-heritage with tanned skin, and I did find this a bit worrying to see on your website.

      I would hope you might consider removing this part of the story and altering the reference to her skin tone.

      Many thanks

      • x 19
    12. I also get frustrated by the language around skin color used by BJD companies... I would definitely encourage contacting companies when possible. They're smaller and less faceless so they might respond to potential customers who have criticism.
      • x 9
    13. @Muraki88 , I think your reply sounds good. You were very respectful and hopefully they may try to learn more about racism and reconsider their item description.
      • x 4

    14. That's kinda a common thing in Asia (I'm over generalizing here). Even where I am from (Southeast Asia), and my background (Chinese ancestry with very traditional values; I am mixed and thus, I am not as pale as what they idalize), there's racism. I'd say it comes from people not being exposed enough to diversity. Don't get me wrong. Ethnicities and backgrounds in Asian countries are very diverse. But, when it comes to appearance, we are pretty similar. E.g. I can easily mistaken a Vietnamese with a Chinese, vice versa and etc. But at the end of the day, we are still Asian and our values are more or less similar. Even our skin are not that much different.

      To oversimplify it (and assuming you're talking about East Asian company, which is very likely it is), China, Korea and Japan, they are monolithic countries. They do not get much exposure about people with different skin tones, except from movies or TV shows. And when you see those things, there are many skin color / race stereotypes in there too.

      TLDR: it's got to do with existing culture and values, exposure to media, and not having the chance to go out of their social enclave.
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    15. We can only hope! I do think this demonstrates cultural differences and language barriers rather neatly though.
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    16. So if the skin color was darker, it would be okay? Can't really judge this story without seeing the entire thing.
      • x 2
    17. Absolutely! As a Pakistani-mixed woman, I have seen so much BS peddled the way of dark skinned Asians, it makes me very angry.

      And yes stereotypes in TV are very unhelpful. Anime as well has not really portrayed black people very well historically either... wouldn't be okay. My point is, they seem to be calling dark skin a curse, despite their OC not even being dark. If she was black it would be even worse. If they deem tanned skin "cursed" how do they view very dark skin?
      #17 Muraki88, Dec 31, 2020
      Last edited by a moderator: Dec 31, 2020
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    18. Pat pat. Sadly too, even in a diverse countries like US, stereotypes and racism in TV shows are still there :(

      For anime... I no longer watch anime but I remember reading a manga about Light and Dark spirit user and somehow the Dark spirit user is tan but in the story, she's called a monster, ugly etc :( it saddens me.

      I hope as bjds are getting more popular, these companies will change their ways to appeal worldwide. Time will tell :)
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    19. And was it Soul Eater or Blue Exorcist where the "ugly" character had a mole on his face?

      A. MOLE.

      • x 2
    20. What are they suffering side effects from?

      Edit: I ask this because many people view "side effect" as a negative view when that isn't necessarily the case. Yes, typically it is in a negative light, but it is not necessarily always the case, especially when dealing with multiple languages. I think it is important to take a lot of things with a grain of salt, especially if the language you are reading it in is not the writer's native tongue. I mean, I know when I speak any of the languages I have learned over the years a lot of the native speakers have to correct me, or I say something that translates better in my native tongue than in theirs due to changes in sentence structure or the weight of certain words.

      If I go out and layout in the sun, a side effect will be that I tan. That does not make tanning a bad thing. If I go get my hair cut with layers, a side effect is that my curls are less weighted down and I tend to look more floofy...again, not necessarily a negative thing (depending on who is cutting it).

      I think that a lot of people just view side effects as a bad thing because with treatments and medications the side effects are usually negative. No one wants headaches, dizziness, nausea, etc.
      #20 errinreynolds, Dec 31, 2020
      Last edited: Dec 31, 2020
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