"All Japanese young women want kogao."
September 19, 2015 7:41 PM   Subscribe

 
That was interesting. I mean, it's always interesting to be brought up short by the realisation that what you thought was a fact about the world is just a weird, arbitrary quirk of your own culture. In a way I wish I could I could somehow replicate her experience; I am currently in a state of Heisenbergian uncertainty with regard to my own appearance, and it'd be nice to be able to snap myself out of it.

But I don't know that you can deprogram yourself secondhand --- there's something visceral to what she's describing, the unconscious habits of a lifetime rendered alien. Best you can do reading an essay like this is look up from your worry-rut and see their are entirely different ruts running parallel, but that's not the same as lifting yourself out of it.
posted by Diablevert at 7:55 PM on September 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


I actually found her other article, I'm Tired of Justifying My Armpit Hair, more interesting. The face shape thing is really foreign to me (in a very literal way) -- it's just not part of how I see people, but I can see how it would be a mind-fuck to all of a sudden have people talk about you in that way.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:08 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


No matter what you do you aren't pretty enough. Male, female, another gender variant- so fuck all da hatas and just live.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 8:09 PM on September 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


It is a mind-fuck.

I could have written parts of this. My experience differs in the sense that I do not teach within the high school system and therefore encounter fewer teenage girls, but if I had 5 yen for every time I've heard "your body is SO big, but your face is perfectly small!".....
posted by squasha at 8:09 PM on September 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


I like(d) reading the parts about Japan. Very interesting!
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:21 PM on September 19, 2015


and a little sad (as are analogous examples elsewhere)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:23 PM on September 19, 2015


I find this so fascinating. Our different cultural neuroses. Re: the "your body is so big but your face is so small" comments - is it not considered rude to comment on body size/weight in that way?
posted by naju at 8:23 PM on September 19, 2015


I sort of wish it were presented separate from the narrator's experience. Or, maybe I'll go read more about Japan.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:27 PM on September 19, 2015


is it not considered rude to comment on body size/weight in that way?

In my experience rudeness is very cultural. I've had a man in Myanmar shake my hand with a big smile and say "you are so fat!" as a compliment. I'm glad I read about cultural preferences beforehand and tried my best to take it the way it was intended.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:38 PM on September 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


Google image searching 'kogao' reveals a lot of terrifying Hannibal Lecter-style masks meant to deform the face. In pink.
posted by painquale at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


That was an interesting essay. In the early years when I lived in Japan I was called "fat" pretty often, and pretty much by everybody, all the time (I'm a man).

It is not at all rude to comment on someone's personal appearance if someone is your equal or your subordinate, either in the workplace or in society in general. And if you are on the receiving end you're expected to suck it up and be good-natured about it.

Of course, for the first few years it bothered me, but I lost weight. As I got older and put the weight back on I was older, nearing forty, and presumably my age and my language ability deterred people from saying too much about it.

But I think non-Japanese women living in Japan have it harder. There are more rules that must be followed (perhaps it is the same in North America, but in Japan there are more rules, period).

There are rules for women for how big you should be, what you can and cannot wear, how you should move, the kind of language you speak, all that stuff.

Being a foreign man in Japan comes with its challenges - you will never ever fit in - but at the end of the day men are men.

I did dispute the assumption that Japan is a tiny country - it's not. It's huge, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk all the way to Taiwan, and most of the places I have lived have a similar density to many Canadian cities.

I often wonder why Japanese people are so relatively small. It could be diet and genetics, could be vaccinations of all things.

There was a mumps epidemic at my son's school. When you get the mumps you can't eat solid food for at least a week, and most kids lose weight, which is something kids are never supposed to do. It may affect their development.
posted by Nevin at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. Let's not derail onto a debate over North Americans and fatness. That's a discussion we've had a million times, it's contentious and hurtful for a bunch of people, and there are more interesting things to talk about in this article.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:50 PM on September 19, 2015 [20 favorites]


Ah, the endlessly earth-shattering epiphanies of the new expat.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:29 PM on September 19, 2015 [20 favorites]


It's interesting that face shape is such a noticed thing in Japan. The only time I've ever thought much about the shape of my face was when my grandmother commented that I had a round face just like hers, and it made me surprisingly happy to think that I had that to share with her.
posted by asperity at 9:56 PM on September 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I attempted to google image search for "kogao face" to get a better idea of the standard being described, and what I found instead was comical and horrific, easily the basis for a good surrealist horror film.
posted by idiopath at 10:05 PM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Google image searching 'kogao' reveals a lot of terrifying Hannibal Lecter-style masks meant to deform the face.

If you want to search in Japanese: 小顔 - But when I hear the comment directed at foreigners (which is totally a thing; I've heard plenty of times) I usually hear "顔ちっちゃい!" (Your face is so small!)
posted by p3t3 at 10:10 PM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


She seems like an exhausting person to be around, like that one person who is always staring/silently policing at how much you're eating, what you're wearing---that person who is really hypervigilant about everything you do or wear because she refuses to stop comparing herself to you and is starving for compliments on her physical self.

I know she said her yoga practice and supportive relationship helped her, but it really doesn't seem like it. She sounds bitter compared to the usual "everybody just plum loves my body in [insert foreign culture here]."
posted by discopolo at 10:32 PM on September 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


But this awareness that standards of beauty are inventions of culture, and not self-evident truths, has helped me question the authority of my most self-denigrating thoughts. If I can just keep that in mind when I look in the mirror at my ‘small face', then I can choose not to hate the body beneath it.

Hoooo, that hits home.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:42 PM on September 19, 2015


Ah, the endlessly earth-shattering epiphanies of the new expat.

Ah, the eye-rolling world-weariness of people who have seen it all.
posted by zardoz at 11:22 PM on September 19, 2015 [113 favorites]


So many great "MRW" memes just waiting in that "Kogao Face" search...
posted by Windopaene at 11:34 PM on September 19, 2015


(fwiw the "small face" thing is a thing in Korea, too)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:29 AM on September 20, 2015


I really hate learning about some new aesthetic expectation of women's bodies that wasn't aware of. It seems to happen quite often, even within my own culture. And my first reaction is to be genuinely amused. Like ha ha, really, people care about the ratio of ankle size to leg? And then I start paying attention to other people's, and I catch myself examining my own, and eventually after trying hard enough to see why people think one variation is more attractive than the other, I do start to see it, and internalise it, and then that's another thing to dislike about my body.

I don't even read magazines or watch TV, or anything like that, but somehow I do come across these new expectations anyway. Often actually from other likeminded people saying, "can you believe that some women care about...?"

Things this has happened with in the past ten years:
Eyebrow shape
Ankles
Thigh gap
Upper arm loose skin
Toe hair
Heel calluses
Arch height (wow, a lot of these are about feet!)
Lip smoothness
Cuticles
Saggy eyelids
And various nsfw things regarding genitalia

Now that I've read this article, I'll probably add face size to the list eventually.

I'm not saying I obsess or care all that much about any of the above, except that I now care more than ZERO, which was not the case beforehand, and they are things I can't help but notice when I look in the mirror, whereas before I'm sure I was completely oblivious.
posted by lollusc at 1:24 AM on September 20, 2015 [15 favorites]


lollusc - My latest new concern is the distance between my upper lip and the bottom of my nose (that bit where the divider between your nostrils meets your face). Apparently, having a very short lip is more attractive/feminine in women. And now I can't stop noticing that some people (female movie stars, models, etc) have lips that practically touch their nose, even where they aren't smiling. And I'm like, how is that possible?? [And do they smell the food they are eating really well?] The lip length on my own face is not up to scratch. And, lo and behold, there are surgeries to correct this "fault".

Rarely does learning about a new beauty ideal result in a positive outcome. :/
posted by Halo in reverse at 1:33 AM on September 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I really hate learning about some new aesthetic expectation of women's bodies that wasn't aware of.

For what it's worth, I hear the small face comments directed toward both men and women alike in Japan.
posted by p3t3 at 2:31 AM on September 20, 2015


I hear the small face comments directed toward both men and women alike in Japan.

Yes, same in Korea.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:42 AM on September 20, 2015


Ah, the endlessly earth-shattering epiphanies of the new expat.

It's like some people don't even know everything!
posted by srboisvert at 2:52 AM on September 20, 2015 [25 favorites]


Well, I am at least glad that someone Caucasian has sorta-kinda learned that East Asian beauty ideals aren't exactly based on or the same as Caucasian beauty ideals.
posted by qcubed at 4:01 AM on September 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Some ladies smoke too much and some ladies drink too much and some ladies pray too much,
But all ladies think they weigh too much"

Quoth Ogden Nash in The New Yorker (1935?)
posted by jan murray at 4:18 AM on September 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Smart people can really mess with you about this stuff when you are visiting other countries. My wife was working in Africa for a couple of years and this one Senegalese lady kept telling her she was "so fat!" My wife knew that local culture was such that it was a compliment, but she also knew that this lady was westernized enough that she knew my wife would be very sensitive about it. My wife knew that she knew this and chose not to do anything about it, but it bothered her for the couple of years she was there.
posted by fraxil at 5:57 AM on September 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


My head is massive, no Japanese action for me.
posted by colie at 7:47 AM on September 20, 2015


My google fu proved weak on this, and/or I'm lazy this morning. So no juicy links to go with this comment. But I've come across "Kitsune-gao" -- fox face -- and "Tanuki-gao" -- tanuki face -- as Japanese beauty terms.

Oh look. The "gao" ideas are mentioned in both of those Wikipedia articles. So there's that.

How does that relate to the posted article? Um, reading that made me think of this, and face-shape cultural ideals that last for generations, and sometimes a glimpse of a stranger will make my brain say "Tanuki gao!" And stuff.
posted by mrettig at 8:09 AM on September 20, 2015


I often wonder why Japanese people are so relatively small. It could be diet and genetics, could be vaccinations of all things.

Genetics. According to Wikipedia the average male height in Japan is 5'7 and the average female height is 5'2. Looking at the world's most populous countries (China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil), except for the USA the average male & female heights are about the same as Japan or lower. So if anything Japan is close to the world average and Europeans are relatively tall.

Height aside, in North American culture there is a huge obsession among young men with being physically big. Protein shakes, protein powder, and stuff like "Muscle Milk" are commonly sold because so many men are lifting weights and trying to bulk up. Just looking at pictures of young American men from the 1960s-1970s, they look noticeably skinnier than their counterparts today. I live in a city with a lot of tourists and I often think European tourists seem "small" compared to Americans even though they are of the same height.
posted by pravit at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2015


And now I can't stop noticing that some people (female movie stars, models, etc) have lips that practically touch their nose

That one's doable with lip liner/lipstick/probably other stuff, and they may not have the same super-short philtrums they're depicted as having. Not that I want to be all "lying with makeup!" about it, but nobody needs new body image issues!
posted by asperity at 8:27 AM on September 20, 2015


I'm glad I know it's a philtrum now. Ex Prime Minister John Major had one so enormous it used to hypnotise me.
posted by colie at 9:23 AM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not just the Japanese who are in-your-face with exacting body criticisms. I've had Chinese masseuses call me "too fat" and "too hairy" - and these were women who generally seemed to like me, as a not-creepy, Chinese-speaking person who genuinely wanted their technical skills to help my back spasms.

They don't seem to regard such comments as personal. Ironically, however, comments about lifestyle are often more oblique. The example is the neighbor (I heard of, not first-hand) who complained about the noise last night with "You must have bought a nice new stereo system!".
posted by IAmBroom at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2015


"Kitsune-gao" -- fox face -- and "Tanuki-gao" -- tanuki face -- as Japanese beauty terms.

Not exactly "beauty" terms, either of them. Foxes are malevolent and evil. Tanuki are, at best, extremely ugly.

Anyway, one of the more interesting things when comparing cultures is that my wife, who is Japanese, and I have different perceptions of what is desirable, beautiful or otherwise attractive when it comes to Japanese women.
posted by Nevin at 12:24 PM on September 20, 2015


I'm glad I know it's a philtrum now. Ex Prime Minister John Major had one so enormous it used to hypnotise me.

Steven King's got a big one, too. This is something I notice and I'm pretty sure it has everything with Dr. Seuss. These people look like Whos. (No judgement. Whos are all right.)
posted by phunniemee at 12:59 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah, the endlessly earth-shattering epiphanies of the new expat.

It's like some people don't even know everything!


We should probably stop letting them go places.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:19 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fairly convincing argument about Vanellope's shokkaku in Wreck it Ralf. She has a big face and a tiny body though. Also she is an animated character.
posted by asok at 1:57 PM on September 20, 2015


I've heard and read a lot of bumptious navel-gazing from off-the-boat EFL teachers who have very little to no understanding of Japanese culture.

This wasn't one of those essays. The difference in how American (and, perhaps Canadian) and Japanese cultures approach body image is pretty shocking.

For non-Japanese males, being larger than everyone else has its advantages. It's not a negative thing, except when it comes time to buy shoes, neckties and dress shirts (waist size for pants goes all the way up to 36 inches).

Western women have to learn the rules to an entirely new game; one of the rules of the game - body size - is often one they are never going to be able to master no matter what.

It would be surprising if no one ever reflected on how it affected them.

It would be nice if Japanese society changed its attitude towards body image, but it's unlikely to happen anytime soon.
posted by Nevin at 2:34 PM on September 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


We have only travelled a few times, rather than lived, in Japan, so the comments on body size we have gotten have been pretty mild. People always thought it was hilarious that my husband has such big feet (his boots always stuck out of the cubbies where you put your shoes, and sometimes people would take pictures of them); I was naked fairly often around other women as I am a big sento/onsen fan, and the only time I ever heard comments was when people would compliment me, which is nice.
But it is interesting to hear people tell me that they 'know' Japanese people are so polite and reticent, yet I know from experience that it depends - in a lot of cases they are more 'in your face' about their opinions of things 'anglos' wouldn't dare comment on.
posted by Megami at 10:13 AM on September 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yes, I tend to think that comments about my belly and so on where more attempts to form a personal connection - people have decided to drop the polite facade and become more friendly.

Japan is a very collegial culture, with strong personal bonds formed in groups. Everyone has a nickname, and there is generally more intimacy. A lot more touching and hugging among your mates (women get this, plus decidedly less friendly groping from men).

And people like to rib each other about things like being slightly pudgy.

However, there are different kinds of people in Japan. Some have higher EQ's than others. So occasionally the shock of seeing a "foreigner" will absolutely destroy what should be the normal inhibitions of some people, who will say the most shocking things.
posted by Nevin at 12:15 PM on September 21, 2015


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