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

Are You Considered Beautiful In Japan?

Would you be considered beautiful in Japan? And what exactly constitutes a beautiful woman in Japan? What are some ways we can seek to answer these questions clearly, if at all? 

One article noted in its subheading that women from Korea, Japan and China are playing an increasingly more influential role in the global beauty industry (see: the rise of Korean skin-care products in America, Japanese face masks being sold in Urban Outfitters, etc.). It asks what the driving force is behind those women’s purchases and routines; that is, what look are they seeking to achieve? Through asking and exploring such questions, valuable answers can be gleaned/ascertained - or if not concrete answers, at the very least some broader insight and knowledge that can help us to get closer. 

I found this article insightful in that it brought to my attention some interesting modern ways through which those questions could be answered – ways I would not have been aware of myself. In particular, the author talks about popular picture-editing phone apps in each of the respective countries, and what the features of those apps reveal – especially in comparison to their Western counterparts. In China, for example, Meitu Pic (the most popular photo-editing app) offers very unique enhancements, ones I’ve not seen available through Western editing ones: the ability to make one’s eyes appear larger and rounder, slim the face to add more definition, and to add makeup virtually, like blush. South Korea’s app, Snow, is similar, offering ways to blur the face so that skin appears baby-soft and enhancing one’s eye shape through re-sizing features and makeup. Japan’s Line Camera offers similar features.

“While these selfie apps may differ in terms of functionality, they all help users to beautify themselves in ways that are telling about the markets they serve. They provide an interesting lens on how women in three East Asian countries view beauty ideals…"

The author says East Asian female beauty ideals differ from Western ones primarily through their more subdued, dainty and “sweet” aesthetic. He points out that much of the complimentary language regarding looks in Japan and Korea (such as “aegyo” in South Korea – which kind of translates to “awwww” in English, without the condescending tone behind it) reveals that attractive women are the ones who groom themselves in a cute way. I find this very notable considering I’ve been on the receiving end of such dialogue but I’ve never thought about the actual language behind such compliments. Now that I think of it, however, it is bizarre to be cooed at the same way a baby is, even if it’s meant to be flattering.

I also find it interesting because when I’m in Korea, there’s definitely a certain look that gets me more compliments and positive attention – the same look my mom begs me to emulate whenever I’m going to be seeing her coworkers, so that I can make a good impression (and so they feel she’s raised a “respectable” child).

What is that look? Minimal makeup (except foundation and concealer – things that perfect the skin), pale skin, thicker and groomed eyebrows and long, wavy (black) hair (much like China’s Fan Bing Bing, to be exact). When I wear noticeable eye makeup like I do in the States, it’s definitely something that reveals to Koreans I’m a foreigner – women in department stores will stare at my face and say “wow, very strong.” I was initially confused by such comments, but my mom explained to me that a full face of makeup is seen as an aggressive, domineering look, one that deviates from the idealized norm of passive, quiet and understated female beauty (and personality, especially next to men). In fact, to deviate so much from the norm can lead to judgments being made (and has before): that I’m trashy, that I’m a cheap girl, that my mother is too liberal in her acceptance of my ways (and therefore not a good mom), that it’s because I’m an “American” girl (this is said with jovial condescendence), that I don’t respect my elders (seriously!! I was once told it made me look self-absorbed, like I cared more about how I looked than making those older than me feel valued and comfortable… how again does eyeliner make them feel uncomfortable?). It's interesting - much like in Japan, how exercising control over one's body to fit a certain mold can be seen as a way to serve the state - likewise in Korea, not fitting that mold can apparently indicate one is coming up short in some way: either as a Korean girl, in my case, or as a parent, in my mother's case. What do you guys think about this piece?

Kong, Daniel. "Unmasking East Asia's Beauty Ideals." The Business of Fashion. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

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