Japanese Fashion Culture – Body Image (The Skinny Model)

After researching the concepts behind the ‘autoethnography’ study, I feel much more confident in analysing and researching Japanese fashion and the way that it is produced and consumed on Instagram. This week, as mentioned in the Week 7 blog, I will be focusing on the Japanese social constructions of the “ideal body,” the fashion model and the way that it contrasts with my own feelings about body image.

What were my feelings at the time?

When thinking about my feeling towards what society considers the “ideal” actually just makes me so disgusted, because of the mere fact that there can be no ideal but for the purpose of this autoethnography, I will push through and think about the way that society pushes us to look and be like. In Australia, when thinking about the ideal body image, a thin, surfer looking female comes into my head and the muscular surfer dude comes into my head and I straight away feel this stereotype pushing through my brain to force me to believe this is what I should look like in order to fit in. When thinking about these images in my head, I begun to question how different or even similar this ideal body image was, or even how important this was in Japan.

What are the assumptions that I bring to the investigations?

I had never really thought about body image, or the ideal when thinking about Japanese culture, which is kind of odd. I guess I initially just loved all the unique clothing and bright colours, that I just could not pull off, and the way that it is just so entirely unique that I kind of did not even think about the Japanese ideal. When I first started researching the Japanese body ideal, it did not surprise me that whiter skin was the most ideal feature because of the different articles and blogs that I have read in the past. This was also conveyed by the models and advertisements that I found on Instagram that showed extremely pale skin.

An assumption that I bring to the investigation was that I thought being skinny would be an ideal feature from a Japanese culture perspective because of the images that I have come across on Instagram, as well as the beliefs that I have because of my own culture.

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What did I learn from this investigation?

According to Miller (2006), author of the book ‘Beauty Up;Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics,” the ‘ideal’ for a man and woman in Japanese is as followed, and when doing my own research on this idea of body image,  it is very much conveyed as can be seen in the images throughout this post.

Women: 1. Pale skin

  1. Big breasts
  2. Weight below 45kg

Men: 1. No hair on the body (hair is worse than even no muscles or small)

  1. Weight below 55kg

“Japanese ideals for body proportions differ from Western ideals. The most prominent example of this is characteristics of which include large eyes, small noses, tall irises, thin limbs, large heads, and neotenized faces.” (Miller, 2006)

When thinking about this data and research that I have come across, it can be quite clear that the stereotypical ideals and feelings towards body image can be very much seen in the way that models are depicted across Instagram. Although there are differences between Western ideals and Japanese ideals, as stated by Miller in the quote above, there are also many similarities especially in the way that there seems to be a global ideal of the ‘thinner model which can be clearly conveyed in the two screenshots of Google images where I searched “Japanese model” and “Australian model.”

japanese model google search aus model google search

Next week I will delve even further into this idea of the skinny model by looking at the universal notion of the selfie and the way that models are depicted in both professional and amateur photography.

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. http://www.qualitativeresearch.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Miller, L 2006 “Beauty Up;Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics,” University of California Press, California

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6 comments

  1. I think your research topic is so interesting. I like the way you compare the Australian ‘ideal’ body to that of the Japanese ‘ideal’ body, because while there are some obvious similarities such as being skinny, there are also some obvious differences. One thing that sprung to my mind while reading your post is this shift that I’ve noticed in Australia from idealising ‘skinny’ to now admiring the ‘fit’. I’m not sure if its just me but it doesn’t seem to be about being skin and bone anymore, but with all the latest #fitspo and #cleaneating posts it’s become very much about healthy, toned bodies. Have you found a similar trend in Japan? If so, do you think that the nature of the internet in some ways has the ability to make trends such a #fitspo global? Are there are any global trends evidenced in Japan? I can’t think of any of the top of my head, but I think its something to think about in terms of social media and how the online environment can transcend cultural boundaries.

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  2. A very interesting post especially when you compared Australian perceptions and experiences with Japan and what they view as being the ‘ideal’ body image. It would be interesting to see if this image of beauty and body image is prevalent in other Asian countries. Also maybe you could look at other mediums other than instagram and social media. For example reality television in Japan. Do they have an Australian equivalent of next top model. Even dating shows would be useful to look at in Japan to see if the ‘contestants’ that are selected fit with the body image criteria you highlighted in your post. Food for thought (pardon the pun).

    – Caitlin

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  3. The way in which you’ve broken up your culturally enforced assumptions about the ideal body shape, and then reinforced/challenged these assumptions by researching literature and using primary data gained from a range of basic search engine results, is a great format for ensuring that you cover both sides of the autoethnographic process. Your research has certainly provided me with a valuable learning experience regarding Japanese beauty ideals, especially neoteny, which is something I have noticed but that I never knew was a real, studied concept. It seems as if you may need to give a little more thought to what you are comparing these distinct qualities too, beyond simply the ‘surfer girl’. What does this specifically look like? What environmental, social and economic factors may have lead to the construction of this stereotype?

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  4. It will be very interesting to see how body image differs between the amatuer and professional photographers, although I wonder how much the lines between the two might blur? It’s interesting that you quote a researcher as well, but perhaps you could question some of the assumptions Miller makes in his own study as well as your own? I couldn’t help but notice that Miller compared Japanese ideals to “the West” which seems like it could be headed into making neo-orientalist assumptions. It was good that you mentioned a specifically Australian ideal and I think it could be worth unpacking that ideal further and reflecting on how it might have shaped your own preconceptions of beauty that you described quite openly in your post.

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  5. Its an interesting comparison between Australian body image and Japanese body image. Although maybe more drastic for males than females. Females being ‘thin’ I think is almost a universal theme – may I just say that BELOW 45KGS is not healthy? I think that is anorexia (depending on your body type of course) but it’s quite sad that there is an actual number which classifies you to be ‘thin enough’. Although I find that there is a ‘fitness’ trend in Australia and being thin isn’t classified as beautiful as being fit. I definitely support this and think it is a much more realistic and healthy approach to beauty. I found it interesting with males that muscles and facial hair are a turn off? While I know Australia culture males and muscles is definitely ideal. A male with no muscles and no facial hair is almost female HAHA!

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  6. I love how you compare the ‘ideal’ body image between Australia and Japan. It’s so interesting learning about different cultures and their ideals and expectations. While I am an advocate of no society having an ‘ideal body’, because every body is different and I feel like that is something that should be celebrated by every society, it is still so important to learn about different societies and how they function when it comes to different topics.

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