“If you want to be worth anything in Japan, you better lose weight. Right now, you’re a joke, and no one will take anything you do seriously. Forget getting married, too—no man wants to pay for your food bill.” (Japanese man, 27)
Being told something like that when your image of conversation in Japan is “polite and considerate” can crush your self-esteem.
Plus Size Visibility in Japan
Japan has come a long way in terms of body positivity or being more accepting of women that are larger than the average size. Celebrities like Naomi Watanabe, the “chubby idol” group Pottya, comedian Barbie, Haruna Kondo from comedy duo Harisenbon, and the comedy group Morisanchu are all prime examples of pudgy girls being seen on TV and in mainstream media. This is both good and bad, unfortunately.
Having a diverse range of women taking on public personas has made the issue of size and beauty more recognizable in Japanese society. On the other hand, the majority of these women are comedians and are called “fat” or “manly” or other such terms because they aren’t fitting the traditional model of what a Japanese woman should look like. Naomi Watanabe has been particularly vocal about this and is one of the leading body positivity models for plus-size women in Japan.
The Reality for Japanese Women
Being thin or even underweight is considered more desirable by Japanese women across the nation—in fact, the Japan Association for Eating Disorders and Japan’s Health Ministry have both found that women in their 30s-50s are going to extreme measures to be as thin as pop icons in their teens and early twenties. According to a nutritionist I spoke with, “while the life expectancy rate for women is almost 90 years old, most of those women are woefully underweight, suffering from osteoporosis and other nutritional deficiencies, and take more medication than their mothers’ generation did.” Generally speaking, anemia, calcium deficiencies, and poor diets overall are making Japanese women suffer for the sake of perceived beauty.
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