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The Contrast Between East Asian and Western Beauty Standards

BY ALINA GAO (staff writer)

We all know about the Western beauty standards for women: a curvy figure, tan skin, a small nose, round eyes, high cheekbones. They are prominent everywhere, from movies to books to celebrities to ads. These beauty standards have changed noticeably throughout the years, causing everyone to constantly chase an unrealistic standard.

In East Asia, the beauty standards have everyone striving for a slim figure, pale skin, double eyelids, a high nose bridge and melonseed-like face. A thin figure is especially important in many Asian cultures. The media, celebrities, and companies all perpetuate these standards.

Within East Asian female beauty standards, there are many different types of faces people find attractive (which does make it sound like women are expendable products, something we do not condone). Many Asian cultures prefer features that create a childlike appearance. They want women to be dainty, with slim, long legs instead of thick thighs like in Western media. There are so many trends in Asian media to prove how skinny you are, such as the collarbone challenge and A4 waist challenge. These challenges have encouraged eating disorders and unhealthy behaviour. Despite originating in China, it’s been mostly Western people and influencers who have criticized these challenges.

More people are turning to plastic surgery, supporting the idea that beauty comes from prestige and wealth. The Chinese plastic surgery market was worth 70 billion USD in 2018 (Chinese Plastic Surgery Trends You Need To Know About (2019)). Children as young as 16 turn to plastic surgery for double eyelids due to societal pressure. In 2017, 187,000 double eyelid procedures were performed in Japan (Why is the double eyelid surgery so popular in Asia?). In fact, most double eyelid surgeries in the world occur in Asia (The Many Stories Behind Double-Eyelid Surgery : Code Switch).

Wide eyes and having double eyelids are one part of East Asian beauty ideals that have been influenced by Western culture. Another is having a high nose bridge, as compared to a flat nose. These are the Asian versions of “exotic beauty”.

While these two beauty ideals have similarities, such as idolizing youthful appearances, there are also many differences. Western culture prefers curvy women and tan skin, while Asian culture idolizes slim figures and pale skin. In addition, East Asia doesn’t emphasize makeup the same way Western countries do; Asian makeup trends tend to have a larger focus on skin care. If you compare Korean Idols with American celebrities, you can see the clear difference in their visual appearance and what people praise them for.

However, both Western and East Asian countries have unattainable beauty standards. Almost all influencers, regardless of location, edit their photos to fit their respective beauty standards. America has the app “Air Brush”, while China has apps like “MěiTú”, which automatically makes your face slimmer, eyes larger and skin paler.

If you exist in both cultures, it can be even more stressful to have two unrealistic standards pushed on you as opposed to one. Of course, you don’t have to conform to any beauty standards. However, your relatives may compare you to one unachievable ideal, while the country you live in enforces a completely different ideal.

Being pretty and attractive has many benefits: your chance of finding a significant other is increased, your family's approval is possibly achieved, you even have an increased chance of getting a job (10 Benefits of Being Attractive, According to Science). Additionally, the "white halo effect" exists, where if you think someone is attractive, you automatically consider them to be smart and kind as well. Additionally, many women care about their appearance not because they are vain, but because so much of how women are treated is rooted in their physical appearance.

In the future, more beauty editing apps are expected to rise to popularity. Companies and the media continue to produce unrealistic beauty standards, dictating the way women’s bodies should look as if they’re trends. The fight for acceptance continues, while cosmetic industries are making more money than ever. These ideals are constantly changing, perpetuating body dysmorphia and low self esteem. So there’s no point in trying to fit in, especially to two contrasting standards of beauty.


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