Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics

Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics

Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics

Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics

Synopsis

This engaging introduction to Japan's burgeoning beauty culture investigates a wide range of phenomenon--aesthetic salons, dieting products, male beauty activities, and beauty language--to find out why Japanese women and men are paying so much attention to their bodies. Laura Miller uses social science and popular culture sources to connect breast enhancements, eyelid surgery, body hair removal, nipple bleaching, and other beauty work to larger issues of gender ideology, the culturally-constructed nature of beauty ideals, and the globalization of beauty technologies and standards. Her sophisticated treatment of this timely topic suggests that new body aesthetics are not forms of "deracializiation" but rather innovative experimentation with identity management. While recognizing that these beauty activities are potentially a form of resistance, Miller also considers the commodification of beauty, exploring how new ideals and technologies are tying consumers even more firmly to an ever-expanding beauty industry. By considering beauty in a Japanese context, Miller challenges widespread assumptions about the universality and naturalness of beauty standards.

Excerpt

Sachiko glided the metal rollers, which were connected by cable to an electromassage unit, over the backs of my legs. The sensation was ticklish but not painful. She was a Japanese beauty worker at an aesthetic salon and wore a reassuring nurselike uniform. After several passes with the roller, she applied a thick jelly and massaged it into my skin. My legs were then wrapped in revolutions of latex. She set a timer and left me alone for ten minutes, and then returned to remove the plastic and the jelly. At the conclusion of this beauty treatment for “leg slimming,” Sachiko looked at me with poorly disguised exasperation when I declined to purchase the aftercare products or to schedule the follow-up treatments that she assured me would turn my legs into thin, elegant “charm points.” We parted with pleasant formulaic expressions, but I could tell that she was disgruntled by my refusals.

I had seen Japanese advertisements that featured skinny groomed women who proclaimed the e‹cacy of beauty treatments like this one. Descriptions of services with suggestive names—“Egyptian Slimming” or “Hip Up”—piqued my interest as something extraordinarily new in Japanese culture. I suspected that these treatments were no different from some questionable ones sold outside Japan (consider the guano-based Nightingale Facial offered at a spa in Santa Fe), but I still had questions. What do they actually do to you? What methods do Japanese beauty workers and promoters use to sell you services and products? Why are Japanese paying for them? I also began to wonder about the nature of the beauty industry in general. What new practices have become part of . . .

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