This week’s guest post comes from Gina, the blogger behind Gina Bear in Japan (which is an awesome blog, by the way, and you should totally check it out!). Gina writes:
Everywhere in the world, beauty has different standards and bars set so high, they are usually unattainable. What may be desirable in one country may not be in another. Japan is a mostly homogenous nation with a very cookie cutter one size fits all standard of beauty.
Before coming to Japan, I was considered attractive. Tall, exotic, tan, and Kim Kardashian curvy were words used to describe me. I fit “beauty” in America and enjoyed feeling pretty in my own country. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “What a conceited girl!” Perhaps I was, but living in Japan has been a humbling experience.
When I came to Japan, I was the odd one out. At clubs or social events, men no longer approached me, favoring speaking to my lighter skinned friends instead. Through repeats of above behavior, I began to realize Japanese men didn’t find me attractive at all. I felt ugly, fat, and unwanted. My ego took a hit and I cried about it once after drinking too much Awamori.
In Asia, white skin is revered and believed pure and healthy. Living on a small island in the middle of the Pacific and the East China Sea, I wonder how this standard is achieved when the sun is constantly shining. My skin is naturally dark as I am half Italian and half Mexican. I couldn’t be white if I tried. Whenever I pass the cosmetic isle at local stores, I see skin whitening products from face wash to sun screen.
As if being tan didn’t count against me all ready, I’m tall… Even in my home country. Standing at 170 cm, I am above average height for a woman in the states. Equaling out to the same height as the average Japanese man with Kim Kardashian curves doesn’t make me an ideal dating candidate—they prefer petite women.
In a country where fat comments are easily passed from person to person, it’s very easy to feel insecure. Many women go on fad diets to be thinner and fragility is a sign of a delicate woman. This reflects in Japanese idols like AKB48—short, white skin, small waists and big eyes. When I see men with their shirts off, I observe ribcage and spine. Women desire long, chopstick legs.
Fashion also reflects the standard of beauty. In America, women expose chest area. This is not considered trashy (depending on how low cut your shirt is) whereas in Japan, the top is covered with the okay on exposing as much leg as possible.
If I go out dressed the way I would back home, in a simple, tight fitted tank top, it elicits the wrong kind of staring, makes me feel exposed and want to cover my entire body. Dressing in Japanese fashion makes me even more uncomfortable because I don’t have thin legs like Japanese women.
While some argue Japan has a pervert side, I can agree with this. Japanese love breasts and exposing them is considered sexual. Exaggerations of this preference are shown in anime like One Piece. Notice the white skin of the main characters (despite being pirates at sea all day), large breasts, small waists, and relatively flat behinds.
Big eyes shown in anime and make up tutorials are also evident in the Japanese beauty. The gyaru style reflects the desire for bigger eyes. Talking with my coworkers also enforces ideal partners to have larger eyes.
If you spot Japanese women taking purikira, the machine will automatically Photoshop the face to be longer, thinner, and whiter. In regular pictures, women will make a “V” with their hands and place it at their chin to achieve the above effect.
So my question is, how does one achieve transparent white skin, big eyes, a “V” face, small waist, large breasts, and chop stick legs?
The answer… It’s impossible.
Like most standards of beauty in every country, these ideals are unattainable and leave women feeling discouraged and adopting unhealthy habits. Living in Japan reaffirmed I shouldn’t fit the mainstream here or in my home country. My experiences humbled me and pushed me to love me for me and not for what men think.
What is beautiful? Beautiful is when you look at yourself in the mirror and smile at the person staring back at you. Beautiful is being happy with yourself no matter what weight, skin color, or race you are. Beautiful is knowing your worth without confirmation of others.
Beauty is knowing you are the best you and perfect just the way you are.
Gina is an enthusiastic, quirky teacher on the JET Program living in Okinawa, Japan. When she’s not teaching, she’s Cross Fitting, playing the sanshin (Okinawan banjo), swimming in the ocean or getting lost in translation. Her blog, Gina Bear in Japan chronicles her misadventures living, loving, and traveling on the opposite side of the globe away from her native Chicago. Watch her in action on YouTube (channel = Gina Bear in Japan) for more on Okinawa and living in Japan!