In today’s discussion, I would like to present to you the East Asian beauty standards for men.
I previously covered the East Asian beauty standards for women, which you can read about here.
I find that it’s more challenging to write about the beauty standards for men, simply because it’s not as restrictive as the beauty standards for women, and because of that, it’s harder to define and put down in words.
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.
Okay, first, let’s talk about the obvious:
The unvarnished truth is this: there is often very little representation of East Asian men in the West, specifically in the US.
Some East Asian men who might have been considered “decent” looking in the US would definitely fall outside of East Asian beauty standards for men.
For example, when the TV series, Lost, first premiered in 2004, the actor Daniel Dae Kim was considered by some American women to be “hot”. This left many Asians in Asia scratching their heads in confusion.
That is because around the same time, the two actors below were widely considered to be among the most attractive male actors in Asia.
Can you tell the difference in beauty standards?
So now that we’ve acknowledged that there are definitely some differences in beauty standards for East Asian men when it comes to West vs East, let us move on into the meat and potatoes of things.
#1 - Neotenous Features, which includes having a “Small Face”
Neotenous facial features are highly prized in East Asia, for both men and women.
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.
One of the most prize neotenous features is having 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 are 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 together, you get:
#2 – Sexual Dimorphism and “Pretty Men”
Due to the fact that East Asian men – just like East Asian women – tend to have more neotenous features in adulthood compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world, there have been researchers who have used this surfeit of neotenous features in East Asian men to explain the low Sexual Dimorphism that is popularly ascribed to East Asians. (whether they are right or not is another matter)
What is Sexual Dimorphism?
Sexual Dimorphism is the distinct differences in appearances between males and females, in animals and in humans.
Saying that East Asians appear to have low level Sexual Dimorphism means that there appears to be less physical (appearance) differences between East Asian men and women, compared to other ethnicities.
Is there any truth to this?
There’s nothing scientifically concrete about this.
You’re free to form your own opinion.
For example, Jin from BTS (a K-pop group) and Ji-soo from BLACKPINK (a K-pop group) are often thought (read: "joked") to be long-lost siblings:
Many also think that they look similar even as kids:
Perhaps the perceived low level of Sexual Dimorphism explains the phenomenon of “pretty men” in East Asian pop culture.
In my opinion, it first started in Japan.
美少年 (bishounen) translates to “Beautiful Youth” and is used for boys, although boys who grow into men can still be called 美少年. (Note: it is a phrase in pop culture, and not something you would say to your male boss in Japan!)
The aesthetics of the bishounen already existed in Japan, way, way back, possibly around 1000 AD. It was / is a rife trope in manga and many young women (and young men) are very well-aware of this trope.
Young men who possess the aesthetics of a bishounen are also referred to as “Flower boys”.
To me, the FIRST “flower boy” was Kimura Takuya, a singer and actor, affectionately known in Japan at the time as Kimutaku:
This “flower boy” aesthetic quickly blew across the sea, and is now a very dominant aesthetic in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
In China, men who have this aesthetic are often referred to as 小鮮肉 (xiǎo xiān ròu), which literally translates to “Little Fresh Meat”. Although the literal translation of the phrase might sound rather frightening in English, there are no negative connotations to the phrase.
In South Korea, men who have this aesthetic are often called 꽃미남 (ggotminam) which literally translates to “Flower Beauty Man.” Once again, there are absolutely no negative connotation to this phrase.
#3 – Looking Good and Looking More Distinguished as one gets Older
Okay, so, what if you don’t have this youthful aesthetic – and there are many East Asian men who don’t – or what happens if you get a little older and you end up not looking as youthful as you did 10-15 years ago?
No worries, you can still be considered dashing and distinguished if you take good care of your self and you have oodles of charisma.
There’s somewhat less pressure on East Asian men to look physically attractive as they get older compared to women – but only just. If you’re an ordinary, non-celebrity guy on the street, you can get away with getting a little older, as long as you keep yourself in good shape. If you’re a guy in the entertainment business, you’re pretty much expected to prevent things from going south or at least to stave it off for as long as possible.
Gong Yoo, who is 40, is very popular with the ladies, even though he might not have the dewy, “fresh-faced” look of his younger counterparts. His charisma, distinguished look, and pure magnetic presence makes him stand out from his peers:
#4 – Milky / Porcelain Skin, and the Double Eyelid (vs Mono Eyelid) issue
East Asian male celebrities are pretty much expected to have good skin.
That means being smooth-faced, no blemishes, and no scars.
The trend right now is to have milky, porcelain skin, just like women, but with men, there’s less pressure on having fair, pale skin.
A slight tan for men is perfectly fine.
Also, while the double eyelid is also preferred in men, it’s completely fine to have mono eyelids.
As mentioned in my discussion of East Women’s Beauty Standards, the double eyelid is quite common in Asians, especially in Southern Chinese and Japanese.
Note: Just like in women, men with “Under-eye Baby Fat Deposits” are considered to have a more youthful look.
#5 – Height
The cut-off point nowadays when it comes to the Ideal Height for East Asian men is 1.80 m (slightly under 5’11”).
If you are slightly under, say 1.78 – 1.79 m (~ 5’10”) you can just about fudge it, but anything shorter and you won’t be able to bluff your way through – unless I suppose if you wear platform shoes.
As you would expect, unlike with women, there is no “cute” category for men who don’t hit the ideal height. You’re not “cute” – you’re just not the “ideal height”.
Northern Chinese and Koreans are said to be among the tallest Asians, while Southern Chinese and Japanese tend to be slightly shorter.
Personal Story Time: I am 1.83 m (6’ ). I am considered to be, height-wise, above average in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and Southern China. However, in Northern China and Korea, I am perhaps somewhere in between average to “just a tiny bit” tall.
In my East-Asian basketball gang of friends, I am the shortest team member.
One of my best friends is a mite taller at 1.85 m (just under 6’1”).
Do we sometimes wish we were taller?
Definitely. Of course, we know it’s hopeless. But that’s what fantasy is for.
In our circle, the Level 2 “Ideal-Ideal” Height for a man is 1.88 m (6’2”).
East Asian men in the entertainment industry are expected to be tall.
This is especially so for male actors, and even more especially so if they get paired up with tall leading ladies.
Here are some men-women pairings (because it's much harder to find full-length body shots for men):
#6 – Weight and Physique
East Asian men don’t face the same pressure when it comes to weight compared to East Asian women. There is no “you must below X kg” like with women.
However, the ideal image is to be lean, with broad shoulders forming a distinct V-shape for the upper body, tapering down to a slim waist and proportional legs.
That means absolutely no beer gut and no “Dad bods”.
It’s rare in East Asia to find a man in the East Asian entertainment scene getting told to lose some weight.
I think Shindong from the K-pop group Super Junior is one very famous example of a male celebrity who did his best to lose weight:
But this doesn’t mean that being a broomstick is attractive.
It’s true that being very muscular is not a necessity for men in East Asia.
There’s no need to have arms the size of your head, or a neck that’s big enough to have its own zip code.
Having Dwayne Johnson’s physique is not a necessity.
Actually, being “too muscular” can be a turnoff for many ladies.
Lean and cut is in.
Here’s a good example of an ideal physique for men:
#7- Facial and Body Hair
I don’t think there’s a difference in body hair when it comes to East Asian women.
However, and this is just my observation, there’s a bit of a difference in body and facial hair when it comes to East Asian men.
Compared to Europeans, all East Asian men tend to have far less body hair and facial hair. Many do not have any body hair at all on their upper torso (except for the pits).
However, when it comes to comparing between the various East Asian men, those Japanese men who have Jomon - 縄文- blood in them (the Jomon are thought to be the native people of prehistoric Japan) tend to have more body and facial hair than Chinese and Koreans.
I don’t know how many Japanese have Jomon blood in them (as opposed to being pure Yayoi, 弥生), but I would hazard a guess that it is not a tiny number.
Most East Asian men tend to keep their faces clean-shaven. Having facial hair of any sort is considered “unkempt” and not aesthetically pleasing. Not that many Chinese and Korean men can even grow much facial hair in the first place. No-Shave November isn't a thing in East Asia.
In my experience, the Japanese are slightly more accepting of men having facial hair.
As for body hair, having some is fine.
But the truth of the matter is, many East Asian men just don’t have that much body hair to begin with.
Here is Godfrey Gao, a Taiwanese-Canadian actor and model, who regularly sports facial hair:
#8 – Etiquette and Charisma
True, this is technically not a beauty standard, but more of a way to act around others.
Trying to unpack etiquette and charm, especially in a high context-culture – which is all the East Asian cultures, actually – requires at least a novella-length discussion.
For today, let’s just say that good deportment is important – how you carry yourself and how you interact with others. A man with great deportment makes others around him feel comfortable. Boorish behavior is uncouth and showing off one’s ignorance in discussion and in public is a turn-off. East Asians generally respect intelligence and good education.
Anecdote incoming: I think quite a number of East Asian women (disclaimer: obviously not all!)
enjoy a man who has a bit of a Tsundere (ツンデレ) complex/personality.
This is just my opinion by the way!
Without going too much into it, basically, this means that the man might be a little cool at first (but still completely polite and courteous) – sort of like being stoic, or having a stiff upper lip – but, the more you get to know him, the more facets of his personality he’ll show to you, and the warmer and friendlier he’ll get.
On YouTube, I remember one comment saying (and I'm going to paraphrase here):
While girls in the “West” were busy reading and going all lovey-dovey over Edward Cullen, he of Twilight “I’m watching you as you sleep” fame, girls in Asia were tuning in to watch 400-year-old extra-terrestrial Do Min-joon slowly turning from a cool, stand-offish professor, to a boyfriend who would risk his own life to save his love.
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 restrictive, even for men, which in turn creates a narrow definition of what constitutes being physically attractive in East Asia.
Thank you for making it this far!