Every region of the world has its own beauty standards.
In today’s discussion, I would like to present to you the East Asian beauty standards, specifically for women. (I will address East Asian beauty standards for men in a different discussion).
Proviso 1: I am discussing East Asian beauty standards because that’s who I am and that’s what I am most familiar with. I believe that many of the points below are applicable to Asians from Southeast Asia as well. In other parts of Asia, though, I believe the beauty standards are quite different.
Proviso 2: I am not going to be talking about make-up. Make-up application and how it differs between East and West deserves its own post – and that post will be much, much longer.
Okay, first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room:
What is considered beautiful for Asians in the West (specifically the US)
What is considered beautiful by East Asians in Asia
It’s no secret to East Asians that what Americans consider beautiful in Asians can be quite different from what is considered beautiful right now in East Asia.
Many Asians in Asia are perplexed at how Americans can sometimes hold celebrities like Lucy Liu, Kelly Hu, and Brenda Song up as the epitome of “exotic” Asian beauty. These celebrities are considered attractive in American pop culture, but in East Asia, they would definitely fall outside East Asian beauty standards.
Let us briefly compare the two beauty standards.
What is considered beautiful for Asians in the US:
What is considered beautiful by East Asians in Asia:
Just to be clear, I’m not saying one is better than the other.
Only that they are different.
Personally, I think East Asian beauty standards are far more restrictive compared to American beauty standards, and this creates a narrower definition of what is "beautiful" in East Asia.
So, what is it about East Asian beauty standards that make them far more restrictive?
Well, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of it then.
#1 - Neotenous Features, which includes having a “Small Face”
Neotenous facial features are highly prized in East Asia.
What is Neoteny?
Neoteny is the retention of juvenile features in adults.
East Asians have a mutation in the EDAR gene, which scientists believe to have first appeared about 35,000 years ago. Researchers believe that this mutation in the EDAR gene is what causes the majority of East Asians to retain a lot of baby-like features well into adulthood.
In East Asia, men find neotenous features in women desirable, and this has been the case for a very long time. Men everywhere find neotenous features in women desirable, but from my personal observations, this desire for neotenous features is especially heightened in East Asia.
One of the most prize neotenous features is having a small face.
What is a small face?
In Chinese, it is 巴掌脸 (palm-sized face), in Japanese it is 小顔 and in Korean 얼굴이 작다 (both meaning “small face”).
Small face applies to both men and women, although, as expected, it’s not as restrictive of a beauty standard for men.
The measurements of a small face is vague. There are plenty of YouTube videos where you can see people measuring faces to see whether a face is “small” or “not small”
If you add up the number of Neotenous features and "small face" together, you get non-celebrity East Asian girls who look like this:
#2 – Under-eye Baby Fat
I honestly don’t know the English term for this.
Under-eye baby fat deposit?
In Chinese it is 卧蚕, in Japanese it is 涙袋, in Korean it is 애교살.
At first glance, many people might think this refers to eye bags.
But no – it refers to that baby fat deposit under the eye.
A very different thing compared to eye bags (which are considered unattractive)
Under-eye baby fat deposits are thought to make women (and men) look more youthful.
Here’s a comparison, with digital manipulation of course, between: with under-eye baby fat (left) and without (right):
#3 – Milky or Porcelain Skin
It’s no secret that one of the cornerstones of East Asian beauty standards is pale milky or porcelain skin.
Despite what you might have read, East Asians wanting milky or porcelain skin doesn't mean they are after "white people"-tone skin.
If you read ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Korean literature, like back when people were living in huts and castles and carried swords and wore armor – East Asians already had the milky/porcelain beauty standard going on, way, way before they ever came across white folks from the Western world. I repeat, this beauty standard existed way before Europe ever came into the picture.
Here’s the actress Liu Yifei, who is going to play the part of Mulan in the Disney live-action film of the same name.
Special Note: One thing that many East Asians have mentioned in various forums, is that they’re very glad that for once, Hollywood has decided to go with an actress who fits East Asian beauty standards, rather than one who fits American beauty standards.
And here’s Fan BingBing, an actress famous for her pale milky skin:
#4 – Double eyelids (versus Mono eyelids)
Despite what you might have heard or read, not all Asians have mono eyelids.
Natural double eyelids in Asians is common, especially in Southern Chinese and Japanese. I don’t know what the % is, but it’s definitely large enough that I don’t really notice whether one prevails over the other when I travel among the various East Asian countries.
Of course, double eyelids are widely considered the preferred look in East Asia, for both men and women.
However, there is a growing movement in the region which holds that mono eyelids can be just as beautiful.
# 5 – Height, Being Tall Is Pretty Good
Northern Chinese and Koreans are said to be among the tallest Asians, while Southern Chinese and Japanese are thought to be slightly shorter.
Unlike the US, where short women appear to find more favor with men compared to tall women, in East Asia, being a tall woman can be a pretty sweet deal.
Being short is generally associated with being cute, while being tall is generally associated with being gorgeous. However, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule: short women can be gorgeous and “hot”, and tall woman can be cute too.
But, if you are physically attractive and tall, as a woman? It can be a good thing, unless, I suppose, if you’re very tall, say 1.83+ meters (6’). But generally, 1.7 to 1.75 meters (5’7” to 5’9”) is considered quite nice for a woman.
Personal Story: Two women I dated actually tried to apologize to me for being short, along the lines of “But why? I’m not tall.” At about 1.63 m (5’4”) or so, they weren’t particularly short, just average. I told them they were being right silly!
Liu Yifei, the actress who is going to play Mulan, is 1.70 m (5’7”)
Here are some other actresses who are considered tall and gorgeous:
#6 – Weight
I think weight remains one of the most brutal beauty standards for East Asian women.
There is a common “rule” where women try to keep their weight below 50 kg (110 lbs), regardless of height.
For example, for the tall actresses I mentioned above, their weight is (as far as I can tell from Google searches):
Liu Yifei: 1.70 m (5’7”), 50 kg (110 lbs)
Guan Xiao Tong: 1.73 m (5’8”), 49 kg (108 lbs)
Jeon Ji-hyun: 1.73 m (5’8”), 48 kg (106 lbs)
Nanao: 1.72 m (slightly less than 5’8”), 49 kg (108 lbs)
It can be even more ruthless if you’re a K-pop singer.
Jung Eun-ji, a member of the K-pop group Apink, who stands at 1.63 m (5’4”), started off at 62 kg (136 lbs) but slimmed down drastically to 46 kg (101 lbs).
Okay. Those are celebrities.
But how does it affect normal, non-celebrity women on the streets?
Do you remember the 2016 A4 Waist Challenge?
It was an internet trend that began in China.
Basically, women were holding up pieces of 8.3-inch- wide A4 paper to show how tiny their waists were.
The A4 paper was held vertically, in front of the women’s torso, with the purpose of covering their entire waist, which was done to prove that their waists were smaller than the width of the 8.3-inch- wide A4 paper.
If you did the calculations, this would mean that all the women who succeeded had 25-inch, or smaller, waists.
#7 – Looking Good as one gets older
It goes without saying that, because of the strict beauty standards, East Asian female celebrities are expected to keep themselves looking youthful even as they get older. Hollywood has nothing on the East Asian beauty standards when it comes to putting immense pressure on women to look great at every age. This trickles down to the ordinary, non-celebrity women on the streets, and results in massive amounts of money feeding the behemoth that is the East Asian beauty industry.
Here are how some “older” East Asian celebrities look:
#8 – Short Skirts are Good, But Don’t Show Cleavage
This is technically not an East Asian beauty standard, but more a way to dress.
In East Asian women’s fashion, it’s perfectly all right to show miles of leg, but cleavage remains a no-no. You can bare your shoulders, but no cleavage (of course, the "rule" sometimes gets broken).
All of the above are just some of the factors that come together to form the shiny, relentless machinery that is the culmination of East Asian beauty standards.
I wish to point out that I am just reporting these beauty standards; I don’t necessarily support them. It goes without saying that these beauty standards can be very restrictive, which in turn creates a very narrow definition of what constitutes being "beautiful" in East Asia.
Thank you for making it this far!