We are increasingly seeing more strong hafu women being celebrated for their amazing achievements as well as being able to harness the power of understanding and experiencing two different cultures. Yet, it is fair to say that still a lot of representation we see, especially in the Japanese media, is based on the unique beauty that Hafu women offer.
Most hafu women have shared the universal experience of growing up and feeling like they look like and are an outsider, therefore being uncomfortable with their mixed-race identity. Yet, the rise of social media and thus the prominence of celebrity culture has meant more hafu women have been thrust into the spotlight and become more visible. As much as this is a wonderful thing, sometimes it feels as though hafu women are only portrayed in the media because of the fact their duality is seen as “exotic” and “different.”
Although it is fair to say there has long since been a hyper-fixation with hafu beauty standards, I feel like as a result of social media, this hyper-fixation has only increased and I have heard more conversations about what the perfect hafu woman should look like. In my personal experience, as much as it fills me with so much joy to see so many girls who look more similar to me on my Instagram feed, it also brought up a new set of personal insecurities about not possessing the right balance of “desired” Western and Japanese features.
In a 2018 CNN article, hafu model Rina Fukushi shared a similar sentiment stating how there is a “stereotype that all hafus speak two languages [and] the stereotype that all hafus are beautiful and are models”. Rina’s words perfectly capture how in some ways hafu women are expected to fit into a mold, which many of us struggle to live up to. There is an unspoken pressure to get this balance right and failure to do so can often lead to people questioning your “halfness”.
Hafu media representation
To understand the current media representation and visibility of hafu women, we need to take a quick look at the past. Kyoto-based scholar, Hyoue Okamura highlights how during the 1960s there was a “mixed-blood talent boom” in which many racially-mixed individuals in their early 20s were put into the spotlight in both the fashion and entertainment world, displaying how there has long been a fascination with hafus, ever since they became more recognized in society.
This boom hasn’t slowed down, with a new group of hafu women taking center stage in Japanese advertisements in the last few decades. One such figure is Rola, a model of half Bangladeshi and Japanese descent. According to scholar Kaori Mori Want, figures like Rola have been used in food commercials, including one for Yoshinoya’s Japanese beef bowls because “by using hafu, who presumably do not eat Japanese traditional foods, the advertisements confounded viewer’s assumptions, impacting the audience via surprise”. She has that slight familiarity which is comforting to a Japanese audience but that difference too, which makes her intriguing—a clear example of hafu women being praised but always being othered.
Hafu women are also a popular choice when it comes to being television presenters or talents. For instance, Becky, who is a mix of British and Japanese, gained popularity due to her ability to perfectly encapsulate both Japanese and Western traits through her preppy personality and ability to speak Japanese. She was a popular choice for variety shows because she bought a different and harmless perspective but one which felt familiar to a Japanese audience.
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