Where super-thin is still in: Attitudes to body image in Japan

By Louise George Kittaka

Over a meal with my friend Kaori, she looks at the small dessert that comes with her lunch set and sighs. “I shouldn’t eat it. I really do need to lose some weight.” I can’t for the life of me understand why. Stylishly dressed with a fashionable haircut and immaculate gel manicure, Kaori is one of the most attractive women I know.

“I read that the average weight for Japanese women in my age group is 55 kg and I’m (her voice drops to a whisper) 56.5! I really would love to get under 55 kg.” She allows herself no leeway for being several centimeters taller than the average woman in Japan.

Kaori is no image-conscious 20-something, trying out the latest diet fads—she’s the working mother of two teenagers in her 40s. She isn’t alone.

Underweight women on the rise

According to the data from the Health Ministry’s annual national surveys on health and nutrition, underweight Japanese women in their 20s, 30s and 40s have been increasing.

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And in other news a lot of women here look just fine too...

11 ( +14 / -3 )

My Partner is Japanese in late 20,s,always worried like Kaori. Rarely sick and eat healthy. With your item Louise you have associated super thin with 55Kg. Now, this does not help with attitudes, when this is a average and when I am out and about I rarely see super thin Japanese women. I only see a very healthy female population. Your a female. If you visit Onsen regularly. you will find that your average of 55kg and super thin is a misrepresentation. I assume Japan women have more pride in a healthy body then there western counterpart. So I might be you with the attitude or guilt problem Louise.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

People who are underweight are just as much at risk of those carrying too much weight. If ignored, locomotive syndrome could eventually mean a need for constant nursing care—bad news in a rapidly aging society with record longevity.

Never heard of this condition so I had to look it up. Surprisingly, it doesn't have an English Wikipedia entry, only a Japanese one. A Google seach reveals about 5 academic papers on the condition, all written by Japanese apart from one Brazilian. I also found a Japanese pharmaceutical company warning us about it. Apparently, it was the Japanese Orthopedic Association which coined the name. No doubt that failing to excercise is less than ideal, but I'm left to seriously wonder whether 'Locomotive syndrome' or 'LS' (sounds terrifying) is a real thing.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

“I read that the average weight for Japanese women in my age group is 55 kg and I’m (her voice drops to a whisper) 56.5! I really would love to get under 55 kg.”

Japanese healthcare is generally far better than in my home country, but this attitude is very backward. Too many Japanese people, instead of looking at health holistically, treat it like school test results. If you're behind the average even by a tiny margin, it's like being in the back half of the class and bad. It's not about maximizing your long-term health and it's certainly not about living life to the fullest - it's about avoiding the attention of not being average enough.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Average is a bad indicator. If more over average people reduce their weight, the average goes down too. Overall health shouldn't rely on what is average.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

So according to the full story, consensus not science is what drives Japan's health industry. Good to know.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Its not about weight. Its about BMI and BF%!!!!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Since when did age have this connection with physiology?

I wonder how Kaori would be if her parents were tall volleyball players on one hand or petite gymnasts on the other.

But in tune with some other posts - whatever!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

theres nothing wrong with girls controlling their weight for the purpose of attracting men. most men appreciate the effort and reward it with presents, dinners, etc. girls that have let themselves go and dont care about appearing attractive to men are probably socially awkward.

-12 ( +6 / -18 )

If my thighs rub together I will know I am in trouble.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Since the woman in the story works and has two teenage kids, I'll just point out that for working Japanese parents, the obligations they have with work, parenting, kids clubs, PTA, residents associations etc. can make regular exercise very difficult indeed. You don't get much time to do your own thing, or things as a family either. That's not how parenting in Japan works.

So if regular exercise is difficult, not eating a cake is one way to avoid the 350 calories you'd burn running 5km or doing 40 minutes of aerobics, if you had time to do them.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In my experience, people who are very concerned with how they look, and in particular the fashionable, are extraordinarily boring company. Being very concerned with looks very often accompanies a severe lack of personality.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Many people here don't know the difference between being fit and being fat/overweight and that you can be both They seem to think weight is the only indicator that matters. Many Japanese women are of a decent weight but many are also too skinny and are out of shape. If you like looking like a stick figure with no rear end, go ahead but my woman needs to have curves and some sort of a round shape at the back. Very very rare to find a Japanese woman in the mid to lower 50s weight range who has a butt or who is not just ''front-loaded'' as I like to call it.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

gaijin playa at Mar. 18, 2017 - 11:58AM JST "theres nothing wrong with girls controlling their weight for the purpose of attracting men..."

Not girls attracting boys, or women attracting men?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@gaijin playa

Or maybe these women's life isn't all about what the other sex thinks about them. Not every woman's life revolves around pleasing men, and that isn't necessarily an indicator of social skill. This was really a narrow-minded comment.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I like my ladies slender, I'm not going to lie, and I make no apologies for that either. But, I'm also a fit person who makes sure I stay that way too. What's good for the Goose and all of that.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

A woman's life is defined by men, she should free and present herself accordingly. If she's up to standard The good men (like myself) will pay her to be a companion. If not then she will have a hard time finding a mate.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

"A woman's life is defined by men"

Some. Usually, they aren't types worth bothering with.

Non-league mentality. Top class quality would laugh at this.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I'm so glad you can tell me, a lowly woman, what my life is all about! :)

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Gaijinplaya, "A woman's life is defined by men,"

In your dreams.

"The good men (like myself) will pay her to be a companion."

Men who have to pay to get a companion are seldom good.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I think that being extremely slender or abnormally reducing weight is not always suitable for your appearance. Appropriate wight for appropriate look.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


I was underweight, and now I'm overweight. When I was underweight, everyone wanted me to eat, and now, they beg me to go on diets. You know what? Nobody considers my feelings on it. Nobody asks me if I think I'm too thin or too fat.

Many people, men and women, are just concerned with comparing women to some ideal standard in their own heads (and most of these kind of people, don't bother about health either, just appearance).

I want to say this to women out there- women, be your own best. You know what you are going through, maybe health aspects. Take care of the BMI, and NOT weight.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I don't worry about those stats, ditto for BMI.

I found my ideal weight and it doesn't come from a chart, of course it changed as I aged. Natural weight-gain as you age is inavoidable.

Known athletes who were chubby, etc

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My neighbor is thin ... and she wants to get thinner. She envies her "super thin" university classmates ... and wants to try to look like them. To do so, she recently went two weeks without eating any food ... and ended up in the hospital. Upon being released, she was told to eat properly. Well, she found a new way to get thin. Skip breakfast, then eat a hefty lunch. She would then go into a bathroom, put a finger down her throat and throw up what she just ate. She said she felt really good after this. To make a long story short, she is now doing hospital time once again for a body that is going haywire. I saw her the other day and she said she is back to eating again, and even had breakfast that particular day.

Apparently the thin look is in among young (and even old) women ... and undoubtedly other girls/older women are doing similar things to get thin. Nice to be thin ... but gotta feed the body what it needs to remain healthy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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