Asian American women deal with pressure from all levels on body image. (See: Kita – Addicted to Tanning)
Navigating body size and image as an Asian American woman, especially as a daughter of immigrant parents can be difficult,” says Rachel Kuo from Everyday Feminism.
Asian Americans often come from two different cultures: their cultural heritage and the American culture. Because of that, Asian Americans feel ambivalent, caught in the ambiguity of the in-between. For women in this community, body image is a large issue.
The Cultural Pressure from Asia
The ideal woman in East Asia is feminine, slim, and pale-skinned. I only saw women who fit these standards in film, media, and advertisements when I visited Japan and Taiwan. Selling fat-burning pills? I would see a beautiful, slim woman with a bottle of pills in her hands on a poster. It sends out the message that beauty is the norm. It’s supposed to be effortless.
Because of that, being overweight is synonymous with laziness and lack of self-care. In East Asia, people are quick to point out your weight in casual conversations under the veil of concern. If you’re overweight, how can you find yourself a partner? These kinds of words reinforce how beauty is used as a tool to oppress people, especially women.
While it’s true that East Asian people are genetically predisposed to health concerns, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, having a lower body mass index (BMI) than their Caucasian counterparts doesn’t dismiss the issue of body-shaming under the excuse of health. Unfortunately, the body size isn’t the only problem in East Asian societies.
The skincare and cosmetics industries in these countries also feed into this beauty standard through popular products such as skin-lightening cream, sunscreen, and foundation.
In South Korea, the country where K-beauty originated from, extensive skincare and makeup routines are seen as normal — a form of self-care. While that may be true to a certain extent, the pressure to maintain a perfect body and the resulting “Escape the Corset” movement demonstrate the oppressiveness of South Korean society.
From my understanding, pale skin symbolizes wealth because it means a person didn’t have to work under the sun. The conflation between skin tone and beauty comes from a historical context when rich people had the luxury to earn money in ways other than farming. This holds true even today in East Asia, as evident by celebrities and models in China, South Korea, and Japan.
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