Thoughts On Beauty Ideals In East Asia

allure.jpgThere tends to be a certain definition of beauty in the media, even though Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. On one hand, I do believe this to be ultimately true, and on the other I feel many people want to attain the beauty ideals they are presented with. These beauty standards are commonly seen in areas such as Japan, China, Taiwan & Korea. As a child, one of the first times I realised being tanned was considered unattractive by some Asians, was when my Sister and I traveled back to Taiwan one year. Two elderly ladies said very loudly as they stared at us  “They are so black!” Baring in mind, we were tanned from the country side sun, and grew up living on a farm. From that moment, I realised that it is very prevalent in East Asia that having white skin is very often seen as beautiful.

I watched an interesting video on How Attractive Is Tanning: Asia vs West, which you can watch here. I do know that generally in Australia and America, most Asians that have been brought up in a Western country aren’t too concerned with getting slightly tanned or maintaining light skin. However, in Asia most people want to maintain lighter skin. Although, this may not apply for everyone. I know for myself that I prefer to not get any tanner, and therefore I use more Asian products (eg. face masks, moisturisers) and always put on sunscreen throughout the day. There are also many Asians during the Summertime who will use umbrellas (even myself when it gets very hot), as the sun can be very harsh.

It’s not surprising in Asia to see many beauty products that have the word whitening or brightening on them. Just as I’ve seen many products in Australia for tanning or makeup products that help achieve a sun kissed look. From the magazine covers above, it instantly shows the value that Asian culture tends to place on having more porcelain like skin. It goes a long way back in history, in terms of why Asians prefer white skin over darker tones. The whitening products can be seen in many advertisements. Many famous models in Asia, have a very distinct look. For example Fei Fei Sun has beautiful monolids, which are often seen as an ‘exotic’ look in the Western fashion world. Yet in Asia most people prefer to have double eyelids. That’s why it is common to see products such as double eyelid tapes.

It is considered beautiful to have an oval face shape, or an upside down egg as I like to call it. The lower part of your face has a more defined chin and has a v-line shape. A good example is Fan Bing Bing’s face shape (which you can see in the 3rd photo from the left). Most Asians commonly have a more flatter face and a more rounder nose. For many who may have plastic surgery, most are usually looking to make their nose more defined, straight and not too wide. If you grew up in a Western country, you may or may not have been called skinny, and told that it’s because you’re an Asian. Not all Asians have a petite figure, but we are genetically smaller in stature and being slender and thin is commonly seen as the beauty ideal in Asia.

In countries such as South Korea, the emphasis to have a ‘beautiful face’ is very apparent. Some parents gift their children plastic surgery as a graduation gift. Many jobs that they apply must be attached with a photo. The way you look is equally competitive with the work experience and education you have. The beauty ideal in Asia is often a cute or very feminine women with soft features. The definition of fat in Asia is vastly different to that in Western countries. Most families are very open in telling you straight away if they feel you have gotten fatter, or if you have gotten skinnier, in which they will often say “Eat more!” In this example, you may be at a perfectly healthy weight, but may have put on more weight since you last saw your family.

I find the topic on having larger eyes and brighter skin ties in with the films and animations we watch. Many of the Studio Ghibli or Anime characters tend to have big eyes and more lighter skin. I do think that sun care is important. By exposing oneself to the sun for long periods for tanning, will age the skin much faster. Getting Vitamin D is important, but long term exposure in the sun is not healthy for the skin. On the other hand, it’s not good to completely avoid the sun. Whether you have big or small eyes shouldn’t dictate your beauty, nor should the shade of your skin or the figure of your body. Wearing false lashes, circle lenses and double eye lids tape, baring your natural face or wearing minimal makeup is sort of like choosing what kind of clothes we want to wear. They are all part of our physical identity of how we want to present ourselves.

image: After School NanaAllure Magazine June Issue ’14

4 thoughts on “Thoughts On Beauty Ideals In East Asia

  1. Wow this is a great analysis on the perception of beauty in the Eastern World (how do you know so much??). If I weren’t Asian myself, I would probably find these perceptions quite shocking. I’m okay with most of these ideals, except when it becomes obviously extreme “Some parents gift their children plastic surgery as a graduation gift.”

    The only thing I might disagree with is your reference to bigger eyes and brighter skin in Studio Ghibli films. The Anime characters I totally agree with you, but I kind of consider Studio Ghibli as a separate entity to the Anime industry, just because they rarely over-sexualize their characters in unrealistic ways. Some examples include Spirited Away and When Marnie Was There. It’s probably the only film studio (that I know of) that breaks the character tropes and stereotypes.

    1. Thank you. I’ve read a lot about the perception of Asian beauty over the years. That’s true, although I just wanted to clarify that when I mentioned Studio Ghibli, I wanted to show how a lot of Asian animations (in general) tend to give the characters wider eyes, rather than giving a range of Asian eyes (you would rarely find someone with very small eyes). However, in terms of making a film it’s probably because the eyes are one of the most expressive part of the character. I just wanted to mention that because you mentioned that Ghibli are rarely over sexualised, unrealistic or have stereotypes, which is definitely true compared to most animes. However, I was only focusing in terms of their physical features.

    1. That’s true, it is a common body type that is seen as most attractive, although hopefully over time there will be more embracing of different body types in the media!

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