Situating colorism in intercultural contexts: The multifaceted process of acculturation in shaping attitudes towards skin color

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Colorism, systematic intragroup discrimination based on skin color, plays a unique role in Chinese culture. In-group bias and aesthetic attitudes towards lighter skin prompt the consumption of skin-lightening products and daily sun avoidance/protection practices such as carrying parasols or wearing long-sleeved shirts. However, culturally grounded attitudes may be challenged when individuals move to a place where cultural values differ from their own. Drawing upon sociocultural perspectives and qualitative approaches, we explore the mechanisms by which individuals’ attitudes towards skin color and associated behavior change when two cultures interact. We focus on 15 Chinese female young adults who lived in mainland China until they were at least 18 and now reside in the U.S. Results demonstrate that these women, who have a solid sense of Chinese culture, became more aware of cultural values towards skin color and associated behavior. Their increased understanding helped them adjust to their environment, provoking them to assess cultural values and aesthetics. Their attitudes thus evolved and became more situationally dependent. Reformed attitudes led to sun-related behavior modification. Such actions reflect attitudes towards skin color and a psychological need to conform to behavioral patterns considered appropriate in the host culture. Understanding how women reconcile conflicting aesthetic values highlights the complexity of acculturation, elucidates how colorism operates in intercultural contexts, and contributes to bicultural theories. Unpacking aesthetic attitudes around skin color, especially how they affect daily decisions, also illuminates the connection between body image and health in different sociocultural contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-154
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
StatePublished - Sep 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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