Appreciate Your Inherent Beauty

A portrait of Ono no Komachi by Harunobu Suzuki 

A portrait of Ono no Komachi by Harunobu Suzuki (Ukiyoekensaku)

I recently visited the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington. My experience there brought me a new realization – that is, the beauty standards in my home country have changed drastically over time. The museum exhibited a traditional Japanese painting which displayed a beautiful woman. When I say, ‘a beautiful woman’, I’m referring to a woman with narrow eyes, plump face, small nose, and small mouth. The image on the left is a perfect example of this, as it portrays Ono no Komachi, a poet renowned for her ‘unparalleled beauty.’ Compared to her features to the prevailing beauty standards in Japan today, there is a clear difference: the shape of the eyes.

Instagram post by @sakura_0808_.

This photo booth is one of a kind that is peculiar to Japanese culture. The camera operates with an automatic retouching filter which can ‘enhance’ specific features through its facial recognition technology. As a secondary student who attended a local Japanese school, the term “hanging out” for me and my friends implied that we were paying 500 yen (approximately £4) in a video game centre to enter these photo booths. The unnatural enlargement of eyes, contouring of skin, and slimming of face shapes have now become a toxic and addictive form of entertainment for many high schoolers. As a result of this, people seem to have forgotten how to appreciate their natural beauty, the beauty that Ono no Komachi was praised for in the past.

Two secondary school students taking pictures in a purikura photo booth. (Yahoo! News)

Having relatively narrow eyes is a part of my Japanese identity that may be more obvious than skin colour. I personally believe there is no harm in acknowledging this genuine fact. Problems only emerge when some people emphasize these characteristics with wrong intentions (e.g. stereotypical depictions of Asian characters, all having slanted-eyes in an animated movie). Having said that, the majority of those in Western societies may be unaware of why some Asians have seemingly thinner eyes. In fact, the algorithm on Microsoft Word considers the term ‘monolid’ a typo. Monolids are common features of Eastern Asians who do not have a crease above their eyes. In other words, they do not have the skin fold to lift their eyelids.

Referring back to the Eastern Asian beauty standards today, many of the popular actresses and K-pop idols have large eyes with double eyelids. This can also be seen in the exaggerated portrayals of anime characters, with their eyes occupying almost a third of their faces. Creating the appearance of a crease is one of the most popular plastic surgeries amongst Japanese women nowadays. This is a highly problematic notion that reflects how influential Western standards are, given that most people from the US or Europe inherently have double eyelids. The mere number of lines above one’s eye has become a source of low self-esteem and insecurities for Japanese adolescents. There is an underlying understanding that bigger eyes are more attractive and cuter (‘Kawaii’ in Japanese). This was certainly not the case in the past, as I only discovered a few months ago in a museum.

Usagi from the anime ‘Sailor Moon’. (Nerdist)

Over the past few years, there has been a growing movement to embrace natural and individual beauty across Eastern Asia. This movement suggests that beauty is subjective and all kinds of facial features must be accepted and appreciated. Today in the UK, whenever you walk into a cosmetic shop, you can see advertisements with Eastern Asian models, effortlessly wearing eyeshadow on their monolids. The Squid Game superstar Hoyeon Jung, with her hooded eyes, looked absolutely glamorous on a cover of Vogue magazine.

Whether in the 21st century or a thousand years ago, monolids are beautiful. Hooded eyes are beautiful, and double eyelids are beautiful. It’s only a matter of how you learn to love yourself in the way you are.