East Asian Beauty Standards: The Real Ideals

East Asian Beauty Standards: The Real Ideals

What does it mean to be beautiful in East Asia?

Large, round eyes, pale skin, a narrow nose – it’s no secret that East Asian beauty ideals value a certain look.

Virtual Plastic Surgery

With over 270 million monthly users, Chinese technology company Meitu is in the business of vanity (Kong, 2016). Amongst other apps, their most famous one is MeituPic – China’s number one photo retouching app. It gives users the ability to alter their appearance with surprising flexibility and specificity. South Korean app, Snow, and Japanese app, Line Camera operate in similar fashion.

A quick look at these photo editing apps reveals that not much has changed in terms of beauty standards in the region, beauty is still equated with “softness,” “cuteness,” and “femininity”. Yet what is most notable about Meitu Pic is its uniquely Asian features and filters. There are functions to smooth skin, slim the face, add makeup, attach cute stickers, and enlarge one’s eyes. While these selfie apps may differ in terms of functionality, they all help users to beautify themselves in ways that are telling about the markets they serve (Kong, 2016). Ultimately, the contouring process produces softer, feminised features, bordering on the fantastic and doll-like. They provide an interesting lens on how women in three East Asian countries view beauty ideals – and why certain beauty products succeed in an increasingly influential region.

Where some Western standards value an athletic or full figure, most Asian cultures and society have, for centuries, deemed feminine beauty to reflect a sweet, passive and demure aesthetic. This could be a reflection of societal cues, though some believe the disparity to indicate the underlying belief of what each defines “beauty” to mean.

Photo editing apps I’m using

A Sweeter Aesthetic Than The West

Traditionally, East Asian women have been held to a standard of feminine beauty that suggests they should be sweet and gentle. In some ways, not much has changed. Flattering words like “aegyo” in South Korea, and “kawaii” in Japan, “ke Ai” in China still convey the notion that attractive women are those who style and groom themselves in a way that is cute, soft and gentle.

Some examples of this particular aesthetic such as Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, model Yang Ying (Angelababy), South Korean idol Jennie Rose and Lisa from BlackPink, who are considered by many to be feminine ideals. They possess porcelain pale skin and a slender, heart-shaped face. Their large Bambi eyes are complemented by a wide set of gently-arched eyebrows.

This aesthetic contrasts greatly with Western standards, where a supermodel like Gisele Bündchen is praised for her athletic figure, bronzed complexion and extroverted, sexual aura. A quick browse through Instagram reveals a clear disparity between East Asian and Western feminine ideals (Kong, 2016).

East Meets West

There are many factors that have played into the growth and perpetuation of Asian beauty standards, including history, culture, fashion, diaspora, and transnational exchanges. Nowhere is this difference more obvious than on Chinese social media, where you won’t find any of the contouring, lip-lining or thighbrows that fill Instagram feeds in the United States. In China, it’s all pale skin, big eyes and rosebud lips. 

  • Westerners aim for a fierce and confident, tanned look
  • East Asians are more geared towards a ‘light’ and more natural (‘dewy’ look for K-beauty trends )look.
  • Beach essential amongst Caucasians: Tanning oil, little SPF, sunburn protection products
  • East Asians: commonly bring sunscreen with high SPF to prevent suntan 
  • Figure shows that since 2015 the sales of Korean beauty products have grown by 300 percent in the US, this figure is still rising due to the spread of K-POP culture. K-beauty products have also gained their popularity in the UK, Selfridges & Co as an example imported various K-beauty brands onto their shelves including Dr. Jart, Etudee House etc.
  • Popular East Asian beauty standards include but not limited at: Fair (pale) Skin, Double eyelid, large and round eyes, Slender Nose, Narrow (almost V-shaped) Jawline, Small face.
  • Where as Western beauty standards are into: Tan skin, large eyes, slender nose, full lips, Sculpted Jawline etc. 
  • We can find that at some point these ‘standards’ overlapped 
Image resource: https://www.alyaka.com/magazine/asian-makeup-vs-western-makeup/

I would describe above as a relative stereotype on summarising makeup characteristics in both cultures. Chinese make-up trends can be traced the most on social media app The Red Book (In pinyin: XiaoHongShu).

Type in search: 妆容 (make-up/make-up tutorials)

How I understand the current Chinese Makeup trend:

  • Coloured contact lenses are essential;
  • Popular hair colour still tend to be natural dark or brown; However blond and more colourful hair had gained the popularity due to K-POP influence.
  • Contouring is the key, people still love the more pronounced facial features.
  • Lips: An inspiration coming from the West, most of the time full dark lips is a must now trend in China. Still using The Red Book as a search engine, popular keywords for lip makeup looks including “spring lip colours “, “Lipstick recommendation for Autumn Winter”, “(brand name inserted) new lipsticks unboxing”…
Type in search: 口红 (Lipsticks/Lipsticks recommandations)

K-beauty trends had developed a syndrome worldwide since K-pop has become a truly global phenomenon, because of its distinctive blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography and production values, and an endless parade of attractive South Korean performers (Romano, 2018)

From American born makeup artist, entrepreneur, Youtuber Michelle Phan to Vogue US invited ex-Kpop star, singer Tiffany Young & Jessica Jung on their own ‘Beauty Secrets’ channel, can tell that K-Beauty audience groups had grown beyond rapid.

Vogue|Beauty Secrets is one of my personal favourite channels on Youtube, it’s not like every single celebrity has perfect skin right?
Type in search: Make up tutorial
Vogue|Beauty Secrets: Tiffany Young. I mean… who doesn’t want to wake up with that glowing skin?
South Korean Youtuber Pony Syndrome: one of the most well known makeup artists on youtube, she’s also good at doing makeup transformations.

Summarise: Main discussion & Future plans

  • What I’ve researched on and absorbed from the research
  • Future development will be targeted on East Asian audiences based on current location
  • Have a better understanding on what is the current beauty standard in East Asia and the cause behind
  • Understand better on how the East and West beauty standards intertwined, integrated and differentiated
  • From researching the makeup aspect: The Red Book (xiaohongshu) is a niche and popular search engine, aim to understand how the app works and/if it is a worth trying platform to test intervention on
  • Make-up is emphasised in this section, however whatesle had been shared and concerned a lot? Plastic surgery, photoshop, outfit recommandation ect.?
  • Sharing app such as The Red Book is a relatively new type of social media, could I share and research at the same time? Is it influential?
  • Whilst Google and Youtube is hard to access (due to VPN issues in Mainland China), can The Red Book be a substitution?

Reference List:

Cao, S. (2018). Before You Judge Asian Beauty Standards, Try to Understand Them. [online] Teen Vogue. Available at: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/dont-judge-asian-beauty-standards-understand-them [Accessed 20 Aug. 2020].

Chen, C. (2020). Xiaohongshu is turning a giant as a social media & an ecommerce platform. [online] daxueconsulting.com. Available at: https://daxueconsulting.com/latest-facts-and-insights-about-xiaohongshu/ [Accessed 10 Nov. 2020].

Kane, C. (2016). What Selfies in America vs. China Can Tell Us About Beauty Standards. [online] Mic. Available at: https://www.mic.com/articles/133484/what-selfies-in-america-vs-china-can-tell-us-about-beauty-standards [Accessed 20 Sep. 2020].

Kwok, I. (2018). Who Defines Beauty: Humans or Meitu? – Technology and Operations Management. [online] digital.hbs.edu. Available at: https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/who-defines-beauty-humans-or-meitu/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2020].

Lim, S. (2020). Emerging platforms: what is Xiaohongshu and how can brands leverage it? [online] The Drum. Available at: https://www.thedrum.com/news/2020/03/16/emerging-platforms-what-xiaohongshu-and-how-can-brands-leverage-it [Accessed 30 Oct. 2020].

Rauhala, E. (2016). These viral selfie apps with 1 billion downloads are shaping China’s start-up culture. Washington Post. [online] 3 Aug. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/a-viral-selfie-app-with-1-billion-downloads-is-shaping-chinas-start-up-culture/2016/08/03/c89e985a-4348-11e6-b34c-ced7e11f0ca6_story.html [Accessed 20 Sep. 2020].

Romano, A. (2018). How K-pop became a global phenomenon. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/2/16/16915672/what-is-kpop-history-explained [Accessed 21 Oct. 2020].