Caught between "light skin is beautiful and tanned skin is attractive": How bicultural socialization shapes attitudes toward skin color aesthetics

Hsin Yu Chen, Nina G. Jablonski, Garry Chick, Careen Yarnal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Cultural socialization is a convoluted process involving sociocultural contexts and human interactions. Migration, immigration, and intercountry adoption has complicated such contexts. Based on two groups of female Chinese descendants who grew up in the United States and live in between two cultures, this study explores how bicultural socialization shapes individuals' aesthetic attitudes toward skin color through interviews with 15 second-generation Chinese Americans raised in the United States by first-generation Chinese immigrants (Chinese Americans) and 18 Chinese American women adopted from China during infancy and raised in the United States by Euro American parents (Chinese adoptees). Using conventional thematic and interpretive analysis, results elucidate psychological constituents of attitudinal construction and skin color preferences through cultural information acquisition. These preferences shed light on bicultural socialization and the challenges of being caught between two cultures. Chinese Americans highlighted a disconnect between familial cultural values and Euro American values; they often referred to Euro American culture in the third person (e.g., "their culture"), suggesting mixed preferences for skin color. Most Chinese adoptees preferred tanned skin and discussed Euro American culture as "our culture" but expressed hesitation about Chinese culture. These findings illuminate how family ethnic background and the temporal order of exposure to Chinese and Euro American culture shapes attitudes toward skin color between two groups who appear phenotypically similar yet develop distinct aesthetic attitudes toward skin color. The multifaceted nature of bicultural socialization offers implications for clinical practitioners, multicultural counselors, and adoption professionals working with individuals and families of bicultural backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)326-340
Number of pages15
JournalAsian American Journal of Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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