top of page
  • Kiana

Between Cleanliness and Body Positivity

Expensive aesthetic treatments, such as hair removal, are trending in Japan.

It’s almost impossible not to see a train in central Tokyo that doesn’t have advertisements for matchmaking agencies or hair removal salons.

Meanwhile, the social movement of body positivity is also gaining momentum, especially in Western countries.

It’s like Japan and the rest of the world is somehow going a bit backward from each other: and lately, I have been wondering what this circumstance is.

I feel that hair removal and marriage are somehow being forced upon us by society, and they even seem like a set.

Hair removal is promoted in the name of cleanliness and beauty, and I personally feel that teeth whitening and braces are the other two major trends that are being promoted with them recently.

When I first came to the United States as a high school student, I noticed that a good percentage of Americans were concerned about stained teeth. I asked my American partner about it: he told me that not only the color but also the alignment of the teeth is important, so many people get braces at an early age. They start in elementary school and finish by the time they enter the workforce, at the latest.

People get yellow teeth mainly by consuming a lot of beverages, such as coffee or tea, and dark-colored foods, such as curry.

But isn't that largely related to food culture?

People outside of Japan seem to regard Japanese people as unconcerned about stained or crooked teeth, but in Japan, people drink a lot of tea. Also, we consume miso, which has a dark color, every day or sometimes even every meal as miso soup. I feel that yellow stains are quite inevitable.

Some people are born with jaundice skin and yellowish, cloudy eyes and teeth.

Others, like me, are genetically born with fewer teeth than others or with a difference in jaw size between the top and bottom, making it impossible for them to have so-called "exemplary" beautiful teeth.

Considering these things, isn't the appearance of teeth already an aspect of individuality that should be recognized?

If teeth are too white, they look like artificial teeth with implants, and if they are too bleached, they don't look natural. Such opinions exist. If I were Caucasian, white teeth might not be too noticeable, but as an Asian, would teeth that are too white be unnatural? Some people say that double teeth are cute or the most attractive feature, but some people are so concerned about them that they have them removed.

I think dental maintenance should be a matter of individuality now, just like there’s the freedom to remove body hair or the desire to get married.

Personally, I think that it meets the requirements to be a part of the body positivity movement.

I asked some of my American friends if they ever felt uncomfortable with teeth whitening or questioned why they do it. The answers were all the same: white teeth are nicer and cleaner. They said they’ve never had any doubts or been uncomfortable with whitening their teeth or getting braces.

In the first place, it’s said that among the parts of the face, Westerners care about their mouths while Japanese care about their eyes. This topic is especially related to the pandemic since how people reacted to the face mask mandate differed so much.

Generally speaking, when using English and other Western languages, it’s said that people pay attention to the mouth of the person they’re speaking to. Therefore, the use of emojis in Western countries also differs a little from that in Japan, with more use of those with a different mouth shape. Hence, it seems that for people in Western countries, living with a face mask that blocks their mouths is uncomfortable.

On the other hand, when speaking Japanese, people pay attention to the eyes of the person they are talking to. There are phrases like "their eyes are smiling," "their eyes are dead," etc., and I also feel like I tend to use Emojis with a lot of eye expressions. During the pandemic that lasted more than three years, Japanese people didn’t complain much about their mask mandate, so it didn’t even make headlines.

It seems that for Japanese people, having their mouths covered is nothing.

Many high school students and young people have expressed that they’d like to continue wearing face masks even after the pandemic is over and that they‘re embarrassed to expose their mouths in public after all this time.

Furthermore, during the three years of wearing a face mask, dental treatments, such as halitosis treatment and teeth whitening, are gradually gaining popularity in Japan.

I’ve seen many of my friends get braces during these three years. Of course, this could also be an effect of the fact that people of my generation started working full-time and earning money at this time.

Recently, teeth whitening strips made in the U.S. have been promoted on YouTube and other social media. Teeth whitening toothpaste and other products are also being actively promoted, and the number of varieties is increasing.

I kind of feel a sense of crisis.

Like hair removal, teeth whitening and braces are expensive.

Whitening isn’t that expensive because toothpaste and strips cost a few thousand yen at most. However, teeth whitening at a dentist's office is expensive since it's not covered by insurance, so the number of people who can afford it is limited.

When it comes to braces, they cost several hundred thousand yen. Depending on the condition of the teeth, extraction or tooth replacement may be required, which in some cases is close to one million yen.

It’s not a sum of money that everyone could afford if they wanted to have the procedure done.

Social media allows us to see a world we couldn’t have seen without it; now we can even see the world of people we don't directly know. As terms such as "Oya-Gacha", which means parent lottery, were created, people became aware of each other's circumstances and economic disparities. We began to desire things we might not have desired if we couldn’t see.

Hair removal, braces, and teeth whitening are things you can live without.

But when you see people doing them on social media, not just celebrities but people a little closer to you and who you admire, you could feel like those treatments are accessible, and you may want to try getting them.

I’ve done all three.

I had the hair removal treatment because it was painful when boys teased me for being hairy in junior high.

I got braces because my bite was so deep that it hurt my jaw and interfered with my school entrance exams.

I had my teeth whitened because I didn't like how only my teeth were yellow in a photo of myself with my American boyfriend.

Two-thirds of the reasons are from someone else's perspective.

Luckily, my family paid for the hair removal and braces, so I got what I wanted, but I’m grateful to my family for properly teaching me that not everyone can do it.

You can have any reason for wanting something, but no one has the right to tell another person, “You should do it.”

So, I feel a little uncomfortable with the offer of a referral discount in hair removal salons, and I don't like to share too many details about my braces until someone asks me about them. Even if they are treatments that are trending, if you know your own reasons and you can afford them, I think there’s no problem getting them.

In hopes that the economic disparity doesn’t become an inequality in beauty.

Furthermore, may the standard of beauty not be standardized by economic disparity.

From me, who tried all three and finally came to love my teeth and smile, even though I couldn’t get exemplary, beautiful teeth even with braces.

Translated by Kyoko Itagaki

Edited by Emiru Okada

Graphic by Satomi Shikano


bottom of page