Monday, November 23, 2009

Asian Aesthetic: What people in East Asia consider pretty

For a long while, I wanted to talk about how different the Asian makeup(in East Asian countries not Asian American) can be from the Western one. Before addressing how different a Japanese smokey eye look is different from US smokey eye, I feel the need to talk about how Asian cosmetics are designed to flatter Asian feature.

Even before talking about that, I think I should address what East Asian consider pretty since the whole point of makeup is to make people pretty. So there I am, typing an essay about what "we" think is beautiful, in a single person's perspective. At least I was born Chinese, raised Chinese and grew up watching TVB soaps and Kinki Kids ( Kinki uncles by now?).

How does she look to you? Anyway, the woman in the picture, supermodel named Lu Yan got her big break in Paris (where everybody was praising her God-sent beauty), after being rejected by several Chinese model agencies. She was rejected by her countrymen simply because she is "way too ugly". Were the French people good at digging the girl's inner beauty? No, she was considered beautiful, the vain way (apparently their way is quite different from the Chinese way).

So how does the whole beauty standard work? I am not talking about aesthetic in a sense that I own a PhD in Fine Art, rather, I am just an East Asian talking about Chinese/Japanese culture/pop culture. I might miss a spot here or there or fail to identify some "key quality" of beauty(Even when I say East Asian, I am kind of missing out the whole Korean factor because I have never watched that much Korean shows when I grew up and I am not particularly interested in those. Anyway, stop reading from here if you are a whiny p----y. (Sorry, I still haven't figure out that "Click here to read more" thing, my posts are getting way too long nowadays)

Nakama Yukie - A Japanese actresses famous for her role in Gokusen, one of the Spoke models for Shiseido Hair and Skincare.

Eyes-The Bigger the Better?
Let's take a look at the dominant actresses in the Asian show business (or just look at the spoke models for Olay, Shiseido and Kanebo since they only pick the top-tier anyway.) : Fan Bing Bing, Vivian Chou, Charmaine Sheh, Nakama Yukie, Horikita Maki ... They all have big bright eyes. Does it mean that bigger eyes is always better? Not necessarily.

Korean Actresses Choi Ji-Hoo, I have no clue what she is famous for.

Brigitte Lin, Liu Yifei, Zhang Zi Yi, Jun Ji-Hyun, Choi Ji-Woo, Sakai Noriko, Ayase Haruka, Yoshitaka Yuriko, Matsushima Nanako...none of them has huge eyes resembling those of an alien. So smaller eyes doesn't really stop them from being pretty.

Anyway, the size (as long as it's not shaped like slit) doesn't matter much (it's very rarely to see an mainstream actress enlarging her eyes with smokey eyeshadow, thick eyeliner and circle lenses) it's more about if you eyes can "speak", anyway, it's a quite abstracted idea to explain so I am not going to bother. (The whole post is meant to be taken loosely because you can still look very pretty when you fit in none of of criteria and vice versa)

Double eyelid/Single Eyelid?
Some people might think Asian always automatically love to have bigger eyes because of "they want to have big eyes like white people" . That's a very egocentric thing to say that because a large percentage of East Asian are born with folds on their eyes. A fold is quite different from those crease seen on Caucasian.

Ayase Haruka-The tape doesn't stop her from being popular.

Anyway, I personally think that the tape doesn't just enlarge the area of eyes, rather. It creates a lift to the eyelids so they use less droopy (if you pay attention to many drama, you will notice that many people who already have crease also use tape to lift their eyes.)So for the matter of our discussion, double eyelid is better 99% of the time.

Sandara Ng-Comedian from Hong Kong

When I was growing up, small delicate "cherry lips" are considered pretty in Chinese culture and people with thick lips would be mocked as twin-sausage. I wasn't mocked at all but I was pretty self conscious about my huge red (my mom actually thought that I was wearing lipstick) mouths thus I developed a way to smile in picture so that my lips would looks cute and tiny. I still smile like that in my yearbook picture because if I don't I would look pissed.

Due to western influence, it seems that thicker lips are also considered attractive nowadays as long as they have a distinct shape. (Japanese and Korean seems to be more tolerant with the sausages because I have seen a bunch of plump lips in the magazines.)

Face shape: There are always section like XXX works for your face shape (heart shaped, round, oval, square...) and I have never heard of "The best face shape" mentioned in US magazine.
Anyway, there is one shape that's considered the prettiest of all. Which is the shape of a watermelon seed: A combination of oval (overall), with a squarish (top), and a slightly pointy chin.
Fan Bing Bing's face shape (or her whole face) is probably the most-wanted in all plastic surgery but some people like to make fun of her by calling her face "The ice pick" because her chin is (always photoshopped to be) way too pointy.

Nose: When it comes to nose I think Asian is pretty much on the same page as the westerners. Straight, not too wide, no open nostril, no humps...Since many Asian are born with stubby nose, rhinoplasty is probably the 2nd (next to the double eyelid thing) most popular plastic procedure in China (I am not sure about the statistics elsewhere but I have seen plenty of fake or identical looking nose in Japanese and Korean celebrities as well).
Liu Yifei and her obvious nose contour (that she doesn't need).

Skin tone:
Whitening is a never ending subject in Asian beauty, as it was said in Chinese, "paleness hides 3 imperfections." Fair skin is always ( before white people step foot on Asian continent) considered pretty because pale skin gives an impression of pureness, high-class (as only labor would have the chance to get tanned)and a light canvas that would make the features stand out more. People prefer pale skin because many Asian have a prominent yellow undertone and when it's darker, tend to appear sallow/muddy instead of glowing.

Cheekbones- is quite desirable in US when you see how Tyra Bank teaches you how to make them pop. Well, girls in Asian countries do like to make their cheeks cute, plump and youthful but I rarely see them trying to achieve a "sculpted cheekbone" and when you search "high cheek bone" in China based search engine Baidu, you don't get a beauty with high cheek bone. Instead, you get link to plastic surgery site about "How to remove them surgically" and pictures of women with the aforementioned perfect face shape.

In fact, if you are familiar with the Chinese comic Old Master Q, most of the "ugly passerby" are depicted with slanted eyes, stubby nose, bowl cut hair guessed it, high cheek bones. In the Chinese pseudo-science 面相学 (Something like Feng Shui about people's facial structure) high cheek bone, along with thin lips, pointy chin, limp (opposite to plump) cheek, short forehead and too much white in the eyes, are signs that you are not a good wife material. (Anyway, the superstition says something like you are posting a great danger to your husband or some non sense like that.)

Miura Haruma is a guy indeed, I just couldn't find an actress with high-cheek bone
Anyway, I personally don't think it's a beautifying feature but it's not necessarily a bad thing. (For Asian American, it's a good thing I guess?)

Freckles: are not usually considered cute (since many Asian don't get that kind of cute freckles, just dark spot caused by sun or age) and there are many freckle fighting products in the market. The same thing with "high cheek bone", if you search freckles on a Chinese search engine, the top result you get would be "way to get rid of them" and pictures of girls without a single spot.

Joey Wong and her beauty peak.
Widows-peak is called "beauty's peak" in Chinese. Self explanatory?

Anyway, these are all I can think of right now, It's just a very vague standard of what Asian consider pretty. Of course you are not supposed to judge a person against these standard (They are more like reoccurring features found on the popular Asian actresses) because beauty is not meant to be measured or compared (A woman who has big eyes, straight nose, delicate mouth and the watermelon seed shaped face can look perfectly mediocre even she has all the pretty features) . I just want to show that while there are creeps people who think Asian are pretty simple because they are Asian, we think differently.


  1. I usually hate long blog posts because I have a short attention span. But for some reason your writing really engages me and I quite enjoy reading your point of view...
    Anyway, have you seen this video from the Tyra bank show?

    I'm sorry but is she not the world's most ignorant douche ever or what?
    I always found her to be incredibly annoying, but after seeing this, I just think she's cocky and quite stupid...
    And they had to put an equally idiot guest on the show... sigh, she got ripped to shreds by tyra, and couldn't utter a single coherent word...

    Worst of all, Tyra thinks she's such an role model and wants to be the next Oprah... :S Excuse me while I go puke...

  2. I saw that video long time ago too, Tyra Banks actually do think like average egocentric American. (The kind who make fun of other cultures only because they are ignorant and think that the American common sense is supreme knowledge)

    P.S. I actually hate those long posts that I wrote myself ... it's like there are so many punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors I don't even want to read it over and fix the mistakes. (Anyway, I hate long videos even more, especially those skin care videos in which the girls spend 5 freaking minutes putting/spreading lip balms...) Since there are actually people reading it, I guess I will just look it over and fix it up.

  3. I found your article very interesting. At University I did a class called 'face perception' and read a lot of experiments that investigated what is considered beautiful by different cultures. They found that high cheekbones are considered beautiful in the western world but not asia, just like you observed! All your observations seem very consistent with the experiments I've read.

    But anyway, I'm going on holiday to Asia from Australia soon and enjoyed reading about Asian culture in your article :)

  4. Hi There:
    Haha, people actually do experiments...I think you can get similar resuly watching a lot of Chinese soaps operas. (But that would be way more time-consuming.)

    Have fun in your trip! (Asian food are awesome!)

  5. this is a really informative article :) sometimes i feel that east asian standards for beauty are so vague, every girl spends her whole life trying to change her appearance.

  6. Angie:
    lol, I actually think the Asian standard is very specific..there is almost a formula to cook up the ideal East Asian beauty...(It's the same thing with those American Asian beauty though, all you need is slit eyes, high cheek bones, stubby nose and thick thick lips...)

    I do agree with you that Asian girls try very hard to look like those big eyed doll though, it scares me a bit now so many people like those circle lenses and bleached hair with fringe(Even 30 something also like that look.)

  7. This was interesting! I have searched a lot myself and i can just agree to what you think. But actually I have never thought about the cheekbone thing. I am adopted from Vietnem and live in Sweden so I think it`s fun to compare what`s considered beautiful in different cultures. =D

  8. I really like your post. There certainly exists different perception of beauty between Asian and Westerner. Not just facial features - body types, outfit styles or even voices! I Asia, when people say "cute" it's more like "Kawaii" thing(in Japanese word). But not the same in Western. I think there's a kind of fantasized thoughts in the way we think about Westerner such as blue eyes, blonde hair, high-bridged that. And it's exactly same when Westerners think about us..see Pochahontas or Disney's Mulan(Does she have any resemblance to "Hua mulan(movie which made in China)" ?). I guess the model you mentioned above is something similar. Anyway, I totally agree with you! PS. So, did Fan Bingbing have plastic surgery or not?J/W. lol

  9. Jacqueline:
    I personally think she is natural, she has the same eyes/nose face shape as when she was 16 and her bigger eyes just seems to be a product of eyelid tape(that lifts the eyes).

  10. One other Asian beauty standard is that they tend to neglect the body shape overall. In western culture, the gal's gotta have long legs, larger breasts and her body has to be taut and fresh. A "sexy" woman doesn't denote a beautiful woman - it just means having a great bod (think of some of the biggest Gisele).
    In Asia, you can have zilch curves and a large body-to-leg ratio but you could still be beautiful if you have 'that' face. The only body demand is to be thin

  11. In short, Asian women consider the "foreign" look beauty, and white people find the "Asian look" unique. I agree with the last commenter that Gisele Bundchen isn't pretty at all though.
    I kind of wish I had a smaller nose and larger eyes as well, but... Oh well

  12. thupham2: I really have to disagree with the statement that asian beauty standards doesn't apply to the body shape. I want to recommend a blog-link and I hope it's all right by you, Citrine.

    The article is an obsevation of South Korea, not sure how the situation is in the rest of Asia but I hope you don't mind...

  13. My dad is a traditional Chinese man, and he's always complaining how I got my mother's cheekbones... How encouraging. He loves Fan Bing Bing as well

  14. I have to say, this is a really intriguing article! I was kind of sad though, because you mentioned egotistical Americans... a lot... and I'm American lol. (And trust me, there are tons of egocentric Americans and it's very wrong how Americans don't, for the most part, accept or try to understand other cultures) But putting that aside- I really liked reading this article. It was extremely interesting, in my opinion. It's kind of neat to see how different cultures have different views on what they see as beautiful.

  15. Glad to learn that we asians have a very positive outlook towards the widow peak=beauty peak. Where as western world often had been associating it with a bunch of negative stereotypes and witchcraft practises.

  16. I found this article really interesting. Like Elin up there, I'm Asian and was raised in a Western culture as well. I was curious about Asian beauty standards and found this blog post. Thanks for all the information! :)


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