Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

100 Years of Japanese Beauty

Cut.com's '100 Years of Beauty' video series featuring Japan's beauty trend evolution over 100 years - in less than two minutes - is pretty interesting, to say the least. 

The video showcases the aesthetic evolution of Japanese female beauty trends and standards starting at the beginning of the 20th century, using one model to illustrate the various looks (I thought this was a cool idea, because it really shows how dramatically time and context can affect/change appearances). Makeup and hair-wise, I thought the video did a beautiful job showing the various different looks across the century and – for the most part – the looks are as accurate as a modern rendition can be (though they are a bit exaggerated and do not take into account women who did not choose to adapt to the trends – of which there were many. History always has exceptions, and it’s important to note who writes each version: in this case, the 100 Years of Beauty series is an American-made and American-researched one, which should be taken into account and can perhaps help to explain the dramatization of the ‘Harajuku’ looks that show up in the 90s).

Perhaps most interestingly noted (in terms of this class) was the pointed illustration of the heavy Western influence on Japanese beauty standards that began arising in the 50s, around the same time as American actress Audrey Hepburn’s increasing iconic global fame. This is reflected in the video through the model’s, well, Hepburn-esque dainty scarf look and classic up-do – a decidedly Jackie O-ish look that reminds me of Old Hollywood. The timing of this change is also notable due to the ending of WWII in 1945, which led to an American occupation of Japan in the 50s, making the Hepburn look perhaps less coincidental. And after the 50s, well, it’s all pretty Westernized looks from there: Twiggy-like eyelashes in the 60s with the big hair and more edgy blunts, bangs and bobs in the 70s and 80s.

The 90s is when uniquely Japanese influence begins showing up, with the video showing the model rocking two different looks: one, a more mainstream, long, wavy hair look, and the other, the ‘ganguro’ look (started by ‘rebelling’ youths who wanted to contradict what they saw as the more conservative and traditional beauty ideals of the time) which features face jewels, heavy eye shadow, hair accessories and a pink background. However, though the look is more Japanese than it is American, I noticed the makeup of the model was heavily contoured, turning her softer and rounder [Asian] nose into a pointier, more defined one – which reminded me more of the Caucasian bone structure… an observation that I didn’t quite know what to make of.

Regardless, the video provided an interesting take on the evolving beauty standards for Japanese women, and I thought it raised some good discussion points. For example, Japan is known for being a rather homogenous culture – what does it then say about the rise of the counterculture beauty ideals that began rising – particularly among women, who are even more encouraged to fit the ‘good mother/wife’ role – despite this cultural norm to deviate towards what is considered ‘safe’ and ‘respectable’ by the older generations? Is the rise of some form of rebellion, whether through street-fashion or otherwise (such as Professor Dixon’s exploration of Japanese skateboarders) inevitable in such a [what some might consider] repressed culture?  

Watchcut. "Japan (Mei) | 100 Years of Beauty | Ep 16." YouTube. YouTube, 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LobfkvONqs>.

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