Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia
192pp. March 2013
Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia
Author: Saraswati, L. Ayu;
Winner of the 2013 Gloria Anzaldua Prize, National Women's Studies Association

In Indonesia, light skin color has been desirable throughout recorded history. Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race explores Indonesia’s changing beauty ideals and traces them to a number of influences: first to ninth-century India and some of the oldest surviving Indonesian literary works; then, a thousand years later, to the impact of Dutch colonialism and the wartime occupation of Japan; and finally, in the post-colonial period, to the popularity of American culture. The book shows how the transnational circulation of people, images, and ideas have shaped and shifted discourses and hierarchies of race, gender, skin color, and beauty in Indonesia. The author employs “affect” theories and feminist cultural studies as a lens through which to analyze a vast range of materials, including the Old Javanese epic poem Ramayana, archival materials, magazine advertisements, commercial products, and numerous interviews with Indonesian women.

The book offers a rich repertoire of analytical and theoretical tools that allow readers to rethink issues of race and gender in a global context and understand how feelings and emotions—Western constructs as well as Indian, Javanese, and Indonesian notions such as rasa and malu—contribute to and are constitutive of transnational and gendered processes of racialization. Saraswati argues that it is how emotions come to be attached to certain objects and how they circulate that shape the “emotionscape” of white beauty in Indonesia. Her ground-breaking work is a nuanced theoretical exploration of the ways in which representations of beauty and the emotions they embody travel geographically and help shape attitudes and beliefs toward race and gender in a transnational world.

Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory Series
"This book, authored by Indonesian scholar L. Ayu Saraswati, has made a significant contribution to the representation of emotions about people of different race, gender, and skin color in beauty advertising . . . This book shows us how the issue of skin color can be a very global issue and socially contribute to the problem of discrimination. It is pivotal to translate this book into the Indonesian language in order to deliver the message to audiences, in particular to Indonesian audiences, that the skin color issue is also a social issue within the society." –

“In this book L. Ayu Saraswati offers a lucid and compelling accounting of how ideas of beauty and race circulate and become affective in transnational Indonesia. Offering a distinctive approach to global culture as an affective domain, as well a sharp and nuanced critique of histories of whiteness, this book will be of tremendous value to all scholars and students interested in unlearning the affective and aesthetic scripts of race.” —Sara Ahmed, Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012)

“Ayu Saraswati’s book makes a vibrant interdisciplinary contribution to our understanding of crucial questions on gender and beauty, color and race in the former Dutch East Indies and contemporary Indonesia. Her sophisticated and wide-ranging historical scholarship, her astute deployment of oral history interviews and, above all, her theoretical sensitivity and philosophical reach make this a remarkable and important book. It deserves a wide audience among historians and anthropologists of South and Southeast Asia, but it should also appeal to gender studies scholars, intercultural psychologists, and transnational philosophers in many corners of our globalizing world who are interested in the linkages between identity formation and the constitutive importance of  gender and ethnicity, desire, and ‘taste.’” —Frances Gouda, professor of history and gender studies, University of Amsterdam, and author of Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherlands Indies, 1900–1942 (2nd ed. 2008)
Author: Saraswati, L. Ayu;
L. Ayu Saraswati is assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Hawai‘i.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Introduction: Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia  
1. Rasa, Race, and Ramayana: Sensing and Censoring the History of Color in Precolonial Java 
2. Rooting and Routing Whiteness in Colonial Indonesia: From Dutch to Japanese Whiteness 
3. Indonesian White Beauty: Spatializing Race and Racializing Spatial Tropes 
4. Cosmopolitan Whiteness: The Effects and Affects of Skin-Whitening Advertisements in a Transnational Women’s Magazine 
5. Malu: Coloring Shame and Shaming the Color of Beauty 
Conclusion: Shades of Emotions in a Transnational Context