The Incredible Disappearing Japanese Figure

Compared to Japanese women, Western women are fatter and mouthier. We all know this.  Whenever I would hear a female expat lament, “These Japanese girls, they’re way too skinny,” I chalked it up to a severe case of the jellys and an inability to shut up and hit the gym in lieu of their daily Japanese bakery fix. Then I came across a few things that made me rethink my position. First, article in the Washington Post:

Big in Japan? Fat chance for nation’s young women, obsessed with being skinny

Next, this chart from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare:

Japanese Obesity Chart

1) 1987, 2) 1997, 3) 2007
Red – obese, blue – underweight

It seems my fellow expats have a point. I myself was not particularly concerned with or attracted to women who aspire to the Auschwitz look so I must have ignored the unusual amount of skeletors running about. But once I became aware, I couldn’t stop seeing them everywhere.

The cliff notes for y’all who don’t like assigned reading:

  • Japanese women under the age of 60 are skinny even by their own stricter standard (BMI of 18.5 or less), and trending skinnier.
  • Imagine a person standing 5’2″ (157 cm) weighing in at a scant 101 lbs (46 kg) or less. As of 2007, more than a quarter of Japanese women in their 20’s are of these proportions.
  • Being skinny is extremely important for Japanese women and they exert enormous social pressure on each other to be so.
  • There’s not much evidence of serious eating disorders, just a warped sense of what “overweight” is, an increase in smoking, and restricted calorie intake

The Washington Post article closes with this quote:

“In the United States, you see all these beautiful skinny people on television, and yet Americans keep getting fatter anyway,” said Sasaki, the public health expert at Tokyo University. “Why is that?”

As an armchair social commentator and health enthusiast, allow me to offer my two cents (1.8 yen, at the current rate):

It seems that for Japanese women, once you hit puberty, high school doesn’t end until you go menopausal and stop giving a fuck.

The data shows this is fact. (click for source)

During my days as an English teacher, I’ve seen this obsession with thinness begin at the middle school level where twelve year-old girls will begin saying things like, “I can’t eat that, I’m on a diet.” Similar to the Yanks, Japanese girls are bombarded with images of thin, beautiful women from a young age. Like America, the thin girls are popular and the large girls are subject to emotional abuse by their peers. Unlike their American peers, there are no school counselors giving speeches about the dangers of excessive dieting, no Sir Mix-a-Lots extolling the virtues of a large rump, no discussion of the unfair portrayal of women in the media, and no Christina Aguileras belting out tunes of self-empowerment to alleviate the psychological pressure.

This trend continues into adulthood. I constantly overhear chatter about how skinny so-and-so has become, how so-ands-so’s friend wishes she were skinnier, and what ridiculous fad diet has what’s-her-face shedding kilograms. It is not uncommon for women in my office to lunch on a single cup of soup. Facebook in Japan, obviously, is rife with praise for the thin and rampant abuse of the overhead camera angle profile picture.

“Thin chicks everywhere? No fatties? That sounds pretty awesome,” you say to yourself as you look up from your iPhone, only to see a Western buffalo unashamedly cruising past your seat in front of Starbucks in a pair of sweatpants with “PINK” emblazoned across her ass in letters larger than they were ever meant to be.

Well, my friend, it is and it isn’t. On the public health level, an aging society with a declining birth rate wherein the women of childbearing age are willfully malnourishing themselves is rarely a sign of good times ahead. On an individual level, if you are a dude (or dudette) with a case of yellow fever and a spinner fetish, look no further. Book your ticket to Japan; the cheapest times to fly here are between January and March.

I cannot pretend to have any intention of changing this phenomenon. My seat in Japanese society is in the foreigner section, which itself is way, way up in the nosebleeds. From here, all I can do is point out how bizzarre it is that everyone is operating under a strict and self-enforced “No Fat Chicks” policy.

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4 thoughts on “The Incredible Disappearing Japanese Figure

  1. Pingback: Americans of the East: Fat Japanese Men | 21st Century Fax Machines

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