Every time I looked at the mirror, I used to face an overwhelming lack of self-confidence and a rush of insecurities. I would smile at my reflection, accentuating my larger nose from my father while my almond eyes from my Japanese mother joined at the ends. My hair fell at my shoulders, coiling into silky, dark brown curls. A soft touch on my cheek stung a bit – my white skin easily burned from the sun and carried a rosy red hue. I then back away, my long legs and wide hips coming into view, a clear indicator of my American side. This strange conglomeration of features always made me feel different and unattractive.
Going back and forth between Tokyo and New Jersey, however, I slowly began to grasp the contrasting beauty standards halfway around the world. My eyes that were mocked in the U.S. were a source of praise in Japan for being big, brown, and having double eyelids. Japanese people were envious of my nose, saying “Hana ga takai!” (“your nose is tall!”) as a compliment. When I went to buy makeup at the Japanese drugstores, the ladies working there would point out my “beautiful white skin” and ask if I had gotten a perm for my curly hair. By hopping on a flight, my physical features suddenly received different reactions.
I began to ask myself, if beauty standards were so drastically different just between these two countries, why was I so worried about my looks? In the U.S., people get fake tans for that perfect vacation look. I always wished I was tanner, ignoring my Japanese mother’s pleas to wear sunscreen and avoid the sun. But as I grew older, I noticed products in Japan that bleached skin in an attempt to look brighter and whiter. Everyone around me, no matter which country I was in, simply wanted what they did not have. In my American high school, people with curly hair straightened their hair every day while people with pin straight hair curled their hair to have more volume. This is a phenomenon that we are all conscious of but somehow choose to ignore when we look at ourselves in the mirror or when we compare ourselves to the often unrealistic photos in magazines or on social media.
Being mixed not only made me aware of different languages and cultures but also the Japanese-American upbringing that provided me with the understanding of how subjective and insignificant beauty standards are. When I realized that my insecurities were treated as assets in other places, I stopped caring. I started wearing makeup that highlighted my eye shape, clothing that showed off my curves, and sunscreen to protect my fair skin. There is really no set “standard” for people to achieve because with diverse people come diverse preferences. Beauty is so subjective, and every physical aspect of yourself will never be liked by every single person. However, the one person who can have an objective view of your beauty is yourself – by having a more open-minded view of your appearance, you will realize that you, too, carry the beauty of hundreds of cultures.
Graphic by Emily Mogami
Edited by Emiru Okada