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Size matters - in your face

By Gemma Rassmussen

At times Japan can be trying for a Western woman. It’s hard not to feel slightly unattractive as the makeup slides off your face in the blistering heat while immaculately made-up Japanese women breeze past on their way to work. By 8:30 a.m., there are sweat patches under my arms, my hair has morphed into a Tina Turner frizz-bomb and any remnant of dignity and poise becomes a glimmering memory.

These feelings of insignificance perpetuated themselves when I befriended my first Japanese girlfriend -- an utterly beautiful girl with cascading locks, perfect skin and a face so pleasing I would stare for far too long -- all the while berating myself for being a creep. On our first visit to an onsen, I floundered in self-consciousness as she casually dropped her dress to reveal her alarmingly beautiful body. Cowering behind an unforgivably small towel, I was struck with a thought: “It’s just not fair.”

As we eased ourselves into the soothing warm waters of the bath, I told my beautiful friend of my aesthetic jealousy. She simply frowned and told me she would rather be like me because of my small face. Small face? What was this? Was she so stuck for a compliment that she randomly plucked two words from thin air and concocted the oddest compliment ever? I know she definitely wasn’t saying “small thighs.”

As time passed, I heard this term more often and began to wonder what it was all about. Men and women would click their tongues in approval and say, “kogao…” (“Such a lovely small face…”), all the while standing much too close and comparing my head to the size of their hands, a dinner plate, and one time — a baby pumpkin.

After some Internet research and real-time consultation with my Japanese lady friends, I learned that the head-body-ratio for the Japanese is slightly askew with a proportionately larger head, compared to those of their Western counterparts. The result here seems to be a rather alarming complex about the size of one’s head. I asked men and women alike and they both agreed—the smaller the face, the better. “It’s cute… sexy. Much more beautiful,” I was told.

Where there is demand, there is supply. Solutions have been created to make any head appear smaller. These vary in extremity. There are features in beauty magazines focusing on hairstyles that will specifically hide “excess” face. Such looks include a heavy fringe, layering and pushing glasses over the hair.

Then there are the beauty products. A guided tour down the neon isles of the cosmetic section at my local department store opened my eyes to products I didn’t even know existed, such as chinstraps, creams and face masks all dedicated to minimizing the face—even a product called “Lostalot” (as in “she lost a lot of face”). Before Japan my make-up vocabulary was limited to “moisturizer” and “foundation.”

Ultimately, one can choose the most extreme measure, jaw reduction surgery—a shaving away of the jaw to create a softer, more rounded line and a prominent chin. No doubt painful and pricey, it is the final frontier of facial reduction. Though like in all surgery there is no turning back, the appeal is great for women with hopes of a teeny-tiny face and the jaw reduction is currently booming throughout Asia and America.

When I first learnt about the desire for a small face, I was perplexed and amused. It presented beauty in terms I had never considered. I couldn’t help think it was a bit ludicrous to place an aesthetic value on the size of one’s head. Why must everything be so cute and childlike? Then I thought about some of the popular beauty practices that have become the new norm: tanning, Botox, bleaching, waxing, whitening… and I realized, who am I to judge?

So for now, I am trying to put aside my jealousy of so many Japanese women, with their petite figures, shiny hair and nonchalant sweat glands. Instead, I am embracing my small head. I shall jut my face forward when standing next to baby pumpkins at the supermarket and awkwardly prop plates next to my head at dinner parties, all in the hopes that someone will notice how alarmingly small my head is and think, “it’s just not fair.”

Gemma Rasmussen is a teacher, writer and purikura enthusiast who can be found at www.tenderloveandaseedywink.blogspot.com

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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My advice is to go back to the West if you are this insecure. They're a different race, physically different in skeletal frame, muscle, skin tone, chemistry, and jealously works both ways. Why else would they dye their hair, extend their eye lashes, blue eyes, boob jobs, eye jobs, etc... I have seen a lot of "beautiful" Japanese women the next day in the morning and I will tell you they look nothing like they did the night before. Just to lift your spirits up... I like to see western gals when I get the chance.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Gemma. I think your article was pretty honest. I do think it can be hard on western women here. I have had a few friends from home express how they just could not manage here because of various issues. Including one very lovely young woman who would have had a waiting list of suitors at home, lamending how hard it was to get a date in Tokyo.

As a western guy, I do find the local girls to be lovely. Their fashion alone is pretty amazing compared to the jeans and t-shirts of home. But there is something that I truly miss and wish could be more common here. And that is originality.

I miss western girls who have character, personality and quirks. I miss "alternative girls" from Seattle. Spunky, outspoken, funny, charming and with fashion that never fails to send a strong message of who she is and what she likes.

So for every perfect body, hair and fashion girl in Tokyo, and as much as I appreciate their asthetic efforts, I miss unique ladies from home and their endless charming personalities. Kawaii wears off over time and only goes so far. Personality and charm can last a lifetime.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I find this article very insulting for women.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

LoveNot. Japan is insulting for women in general, don't you think? The ideal standard is a juvenile, thin girl with perfect body, teeth and childlike kawaii clothing. Leaving the rest of women pretty much out of the ideal range. And that is before you even start to consider thinking like Kumi Koda and her notion that any woman over 30 should just give up the ghost as her life is past prime and over.

I am often shocked how women here are told by companies that they are too old to hire at the young age of 35. Or how women who consider marriage are rushed out the door of the company because, god forbid, they may wish to have children.

Japan is not a women friendly nation or culture, with the exception of those who fall into either the Kawaii category or the matriarch category. So this article is hardly anything to worry about when compared to the greater outlook on women held by society here.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

So this article is hardly anything to worry about when compared to the greater outlook on women held by society here.

well what was the point of the article if not to insult women?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

This article succeeded in insulting women both foreign and japanese...

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Gemma , I enjoy your writing style. And yes, you do have a beautiful face! Be proud of who you are.

Good luck!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

LoveNot. How do you survive in Japan if you are so offended by Gemma's article. How do you survive anywhere. The entirety of western culture and modern Asian culture focus upon the molding of women into unrealistic ideal images as portrayed by fashion magazines and media. This is nothing new.

Is it good. No, people should be happy with who they are and not aspire to be anyone else. But most people also get and understand that too.

If you are really out to protect women and avoid insulting them, leave Gemma alone and go after the international media, fashion industry, politics, business, most of the major religions and so forth. There you can do some real good instead of picking on a writer who is clearly just expressing an experience she has had here.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

btw, your friend was just being polite...

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

fds, that's what I thought. Sounded like a good Japanese answer to me.

But honestly, women are their own worst enemies. They are the ones who critique each others appearance. You don't hear men complaining or raving about a politicians latest outfit, or about whether they should do more with their eyebrows.

Just be happy, smile a lot, take your attention of yourself .....and ...concentrate on pleasing your man.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Wow, lots of people been taking Serious Pills this morning, it seems.

It's a light-hearted comment by a lady who's maybe not been in Japan too long, telling us of her own experience. Nothing at all to be offended by.

Neither was her friend just being polite - I get told I have a small face all the time, too (It's your face Gemma, not your head) and it's not as if there's nothing else worthy of a compliment (immaculate glowing skin, gleaming golden hair and a boooosum Japanese ladies can only dream about).

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Very sad.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

LoveNot - Not everything has to be a cause... As mentioned above, this is just an article about a Western woman's experience here in Japan. I'm actually confused as to what about this you found insulting - the fact that Western women tend to sweat more? The fact that Japanese people tend to consider small faces more appealing? The fact that plastic surgery exists? What is it? Obviously there are extremes, but I don't find anything wrong with caring how you look.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The only comments i have had recently are from neighbours saying they had never seen anyone with blue eyes before which i guess shows hiw little foeign influence there is in soem parts of Japan. The writes is typical of many woman, They love poncey about and comparing themselves to other women. I guess it is to do with their raging hormones. As soon as they get to puberty they seem obsessed with their self image, seems like in Japan it happens to many males also.

Most ladies pretty little heads go into a dizzy spin when in a clothes or cosmetics store and it is easy to see that image means so much to them. Much of the pressure is from modern media who put too much pressure on women to look certain ways.

Of course there are many differences between Japanese and Western women, lets look at what is similar than the differences.Easy to do for a level headed man like myslef i must say than a female newby to Japan having her head filled with excitement at the country.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

I was struck with a thought: “It’s just not fair.”

Get your fat Western behind to a gym. Stop eating more than your body requires. Eat for health, not for pleasure. Your genetics cannot be helped but you can make a difference with some effort and lifestyle changes.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Size matters - in your face


The headline is misleading.

The actual story is uncomely.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

人比人 , 比死人..... why compare ?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yea, your friend sounds kinda hot, and the image of her dropping her towel is sticking with me. thank you!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I get this compliment at least once a week, and even once got "oh wow, your face has gotten even smaller" as a compliment for loosing weight.

It endlessly amuses my boyfriend and I, and it's become a fantastic inside joke amongst friends. Embrace it and love your tiny Western face

0 ( +0 / -0 )

so you have a little face, but do you have a "purrty little mouth"?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"I floundered in self-consciousness as she casually dropped her dress to reveal her alarmingly beautiful body"

The imagination really starts taking off from this point...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Men and women would click their tongues in approval

This seems to invoke Nabakov's Lolita, just say Lolita and feel the tip of your tongue.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

But the author of this article should feel proud, who can forget the immortal lines "The bigger the cushion, the deeper the pushin, you know what I mean . . . the bigger the waistband, the deeper the quicksand" --Spinal Tap

1 ( +1 / -0 )

LOLOL omg this article had me ROLLING. This was a cute article and yes, for the purpose of being lighthearted and appreciative of the the cultural differences where "attractiveness" is concerned. I loved this article.. more like this! hahahah. I can understand the authors feelings, though. I felt a little the same way when i was there but I do think it's true that you don't always see what's great about you, but you want to be something else... so it is nice to see that that happens on both sides of the fence. But... it doesn't help that the Japanese women you see walking around most the time look like they just walked off the cover of a vogue magazine. o.0

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japanese women are cute and cuddly little angels.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

My experience is that Japanese women never take care of themselves. They'll spend hours a day on hair, makeup and wardrobe, but would rather chain smoke than set foot in a gym.

I'm not a cosmetics expert, but all that heavy makeup must be wreaking havoc on their skin too.

And the weird voodoo medicine in Japan is frustrating. Eating foods with "collagen" in them and taking pepper extract baths is no substitute for getting a little sun once in a while and going for a jog.

Not trying to be sexist; Japanese men often fall for these stupid traps too. They'll drink "ukon no chikara" and treat it like an excuse to get clobbered on a Tuesday, or wrap medical tubes around their arms at the gym for God knows what reason. Cutting off blood flow during exercise is extremely unhealthy.

Anyway, don't let it get to you, Western women. Ever seen Cameron Diaz with no makeup on? She's hideous. Japanese women are the same. I'd rather date someone normal and low maintenance.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Nice light article.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I get this comment at least once every few weeks. "Oh, what a small head you have." I understand now it is a compliment.

On the other side is not that great to have a small head in Japan; glasses, sunglasses and hats are way too big for me. Not to mention bike helmets.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What's so controversial about this article? Westerners admire asian women for their hair and skin. "Opposites attract" is nothing new.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What's so controversial about this article? Westerners admire asian women for their hair and skin. "Opposites attract" is nothing new.

And they follow directions better than white women.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The chauvanist demographic is apparently well represented here on JT..... O-o

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Genetically speaking the differences between a Japanese woman and a Caucasian woman are insignificant. Early childhood diet and exercise are the source of the primary differences. Don't believe me, look around at caucasian kids who have been raised in Japan, you'll see a definite difference in body shape. Unfortunately for those of us who are older it's nearly impossible to change the factors determined in early childhood development, but changing your diet, joining that group of 80+ people doing morning taiso and paying as much attention to your diet as the average Japanese woman does will reap some benefits. Sadly mostly what I hear is whining about how beautiful Japanese women are, and then the whiner goes back to eating their McDonalds quarter-pounder with extra fries .... and a coke zero because they're watching their weight. The problem here isn't genetic, that's just an excuse. It's all about how you were raised and how much effort you're making now.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

if you ever go to a "fun house" they have these curvy clown mirrors that can make things look thinner or wider. -Get one of these for your home and you will always be happy with your look.

The have those plexi-glass boxes that they use to grow square melons. -If your head is still growing maybe they could make one for your melon to keep it from getting too big. -It would be hard to wear something like that in summer though.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is fascinating what sells in this country....face whitening lotions, pink nipple creams, bra's with three-way padding, detox tea, detox bath salts.... quick, non evasive OTC products in high demand, however the big facial moles and crooked and/or protruding teeth all are left untouched. Weird.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

On our first visit to an onsen, I floundered in self-consciousness as she casually dropped her dress to reveal her alarmingly beautiful body

I thought we were in for a WaiWai type erotic story to begin with so kept reading.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Embrace your "small head", "high nose" and (probably) nice, straight teeth. Japanese women are the ones jealous of you for these! The grass is always greener...

1 ( +1 / -0 )


so you have a little face, but do you have a "purrty little mouth"?

Deliverance. Definitely want to teach my students to talk like this, complete with southern drawl.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese woman the most beautiful in the whole wide world

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

you have a small head... lol'd

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow, I thought I was the only one that noticed that. Men can get away with it because of their bigger bodies size, but women cannot. Some of them look like cartoon characters. Even more so with their tiger teeth, bent legs and waddling walk. I have noticed as well in the last 9 years, heads are getting bigger. That said some of them are still in proportion and are nice and petite and very pretty. Why heads are getting bigger I have no idea. Obviously the genetic predisposition is there but what is causing to be expressed I do not know. Diet maybe. Arrogance. Lol.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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