Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Images of Asian women in (western) magazines

Posted by chinesecanuck on April 10, 2008

Ok, so it looks like every blog is talking about this, including Jezebel and Racialicious. I’m going to focus specifically on Asian women because, well I’m Asian.

OK, so this is the “ideal” look for Asian women, as posted in Guanabee, the original source:

Brief Overview: Asian women hold a curious place in the beauty stratum. Often, what is perceived as their “natural” physical traits are encouraged and often emulated by White women trying to achieve a certain standard of beauty. The idea of a natural physical ideal is a harmful one, because those who do not possess such traits are ignored or considered somehow inferior, physically. The Asian ideal, as perceived by American fashion magazines and elsewhere, revolves around the idea that one must be petite, slim, fair and delicate. Doll-like would be the best way to describe this ideal, both in terms of physical appearance and attitude.

The ideal: Ziyi Zhang

Hair: Straight. What was interesting to me, actually, was that a former Korean roommate of mine had all these magazines that featured girls with curly hair all dyed a sort of reddish color. Seriously, every. Single. Girl. In her magazines had the exact same hairstyle. She also had one magazine dedicated to Japanese girls who wanted to emulate the style of American Black women -this included wearing afros. Also interesting? Girls in Japanese and Korean magazines are generally much, much thinner than in American ones.

Skin: Clear, light. Although there are many, many ethnic groups prevalent throughout Asia, only porcelain-skinned girls find representation in American fashion mags.

Ass: N/A

Breasts: N/A

How magazines fucked up: Some Asian girls are chubby. Really! Some are muscular, some are tall, some are dark, some are doughy, and some are boney and awkward.

I kind of have an issue with the original poster’s skin comment. Fair skin has always been a standard in Asia as it was in the west until the 1920s. Skin lightening creams and other products would likely still be sold in stores had colonists and Hollywood never invaded Asia! Dark skin has historically been linked to peasants who worked in the fields, while light skin meant that you had the time to be indoors. After all, no one wants to be called a redneck hick. It just bugs me that people go on and on about how this standard came to be when Europeans arrived. They obviously have no knowledge or understanding of East Asian cultures. It’s always “blame it on colonial culture!” and this is very prevalent in certain “liberal” groups, both white and non-white.  Usually the excuses they give are along the lines of “colonialism re-enforced it”.  Don’t see what you’re talkin’ about!  Are you saying that dark skin would be more acceptable without colonialism, even if said culture had historically idealized fairness (especially for women)?  I mean, I can understand issues regarding eyes and noses, but complexion is something else.

I also found it interesting that unlike other cultures, there’s no comment on breast and hip size. What is the “ideal” anyway? I’m guessing small-to-medium? As in no bigger than a 34B for breast size and perhaps 34″ for hips? Who knows?

On different body shapes: So some Asian girls are chubby, others are muscular and others tall. So? Why bring that up, anyway? Lots of black, Hispanic and white girls are chubby, muscular, tall, short, etc…Why bother bringing it up in the first place?

At least the “ideal” look here is more grown up than in Hong Kong. The innocent, cute, girl-next-door type is ideal over there (let’s just say that you’re pretty much over the hill by your late 20s…there’s no cute 30-something girl type a la Carrie Bradshaw over there). That’s why many of the girls involved in the Edison Chen sex scandal have been pulled from endorsements. When you have an innocent girl image, dirty pictures are just all the more scandalous, even in cosmopolitan, liberal Hong Kong.  As for other Asian countries, the looks seem to be very funky in places like Japan and Korea.  However, I’m not familiar enough with their cultures to really comment.

On thinness:  So Asian girls in magazines are much thinner than American girls.  Asians in general have smaller frames, so yeah, they’re going to look thinner.  Duh!

By the way, other than saying that the ideal Asian woman is “petite” there’s no other mention of height. So is the original poster referring to frame or height?  I have seen “petite” used both ways, though height is more common.  In any case, Zhang Ziyi is listed on IMDB as being 5’5″ (though she’s been listed as 5’3″ at one point too)…..


3 Responses to “Images of Asian women in (western) magazines”

  1. ha ha said

    Interesting comments here. I do agree with you.
    Great points brought up. 🙂

  2. Alston said

    I’ve definitely questioned the whole lightening thing in terms of its origins. But I would add that it has unintentionally served the reinforcement of the white standard everywhere. Instead of fair skin being more desirable, it could “looking white” that is desirable, since whiteness may have supplanted simply fair skin. When whites conquered, their fair skin they had may have reinforced the previous ideas about fair skin and status. That said, I wouldn’t let white people off the hook completely. They may have used an existing notion to further their own racial and cultural agenda.

    All this is just a theory I thought up. I haven’t done any research, so take that as you will.

  3. I also found it interesting that unlike other cultures, there’s no comment on breast and hip size.

    Er, it’s supposed to be a joke. “N/A” meaning that the stereotypical Asian woman has no breasts or ass to speak of.

    I find that in general, the meanings within Racialicious posts go over your head.

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