The Unhealthy Standard of East Asian Beauty

Amanda Vallieres

Growing up, beauty has always been a big part of my life. Looking at past beauty trends, I’ve always been intrigued by one specific sector of beauty: East Asian beauty. 

I’ve noticed that, throughout the decades, East Asian beauty has evolved to become more and more strict. Specifically, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese beauty standards have impacted girls’ self-esteem. These countries have created an artificial and unrealistic standard of beauty for most. 

In Korea, the growing plastic surgery industry has normalized the idea of altering one’s body to fit in with society’s standards. China’s painful history of footbinding and the obsession with this practice was harmful to women’s health. Japan’s cosmetology industry, although alluring, hints at a cartoon-like beauty standard. 

The Wilson Quarterly says that one out of five women has undergone some sort of cosmetic procedure in Korea. The reason is to fit in with society and to keep up with modern beauty standards. Plastic surgery has become so normalized that the bandages that cover the face underneath are seen as a status symbol in this country.

This influences the idea that an extreme amount of plastic surgery is good and healthy. The meaning behind natural beauty gets replaced behind the idea of artificial beauty. 

In China, the painful history behind footbinding associates a woman’s size foot with how beautiful a person is. Essentially, the smaller your foot, the prettier you are. This encouraged women to shrink their feet by breaking their toe bones and altering the shape of the foot.

This practice physically harms women, but it also mentally harms them. Since women yearned to be beautiful, this practice made women psychologically attached to this practice since they thought their tiny feet would make them seem worthy in society. 

Religion also plays a role in women’s obsession with footbinding. Neo-Confucianism placed emphasis on obedience and diligence. Footbinding eventually became a way to show a women’s demonstration to uphold and follow these Confucian values. 

In Japan, the cosmetology industry (called J-beauty) says that pale skin is beautiful, and that one can be seen as ugly if they don’t have this pale skin. “美白 (bihaku: ‘beautiful’ + ‘white’)” can be seen on many J-beauty products. 

In addition to this, Japan has a strict standard on body image. In a study performed by the Archives of Public Health, an experiment showed how young girls tended to view themselves as being overweight when they would be seen as underweight in America. 

Japan’s distorted body image leads to a decrease in self-esteem and self-confidence, especially in Japanese young girls. 

Despite Japan’s J-beauty scene, their cosmetology products advertised work really well. Specifically, East Asian skincare products are known for contributing to glowy and clear skin. This is because of traditional and natural East Asian ingredients that are gentle on the skin. For example, snail mucus is a popular ingredient in Korean creams and masks. 

The standards of beauty in East Asia are toxic and deeply affect girls’ self esteem. It raises the bar of beauty so far up that it has become unattainable. Although very beautiful, there should be less strict standards that advocate for the existence of beauty in all people, not just the ones who fit into the set standard.