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Open Access Thesis

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Master of Arts (M.A.)

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ABSTRACT BEAUTY LOOKS CREATED BY WOMEN: TRADITIONAL BEAUTY AND NEW AESTHETICS FOR WOMEN MAY 2021 YURINA YOSHIKAWA B.A., NANZAN UNIVERSITY M.A., UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS AMHERST Directed by: Professor Amanda C. Seaman In this thesis I focus on comparing the styles of beauty or “looks” that women have created for themselves, as well as concepts of traditional beauty. By doing so, this thesis will clarify how women try to change traditional beauty concepts and express themselves. As anyone who has watched TV in Japan has noticed, Japan has stereotyped aesthetic values of women that mass media such as magazines or TV dramas have created and disseminated. Pictures of beautiful women (bijinga 美人画) and beauty pageants are just two examples. In Japan, women having black hair, white skin, almond-shaped eyes, and well-defined noses are considered beautiful, and this aesthetic has not changed much since the Heian period (794-1185). After the work of Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934), whose pictures created the foundation of kawaii culture in the Taishō period (1912-1926), women have adopted this new aesthetic category in order to get around the fixed aesthetics of the bijin look. In other words, the start of kawaii culture is one of the turning points for women to evade a monolithic image of what is considered beautiful. However, as kawaii culture spread across the world due to the popularity of manga and anime, the notion of kawaii also began to be fixed by the mass media, becoming as rigid as the notion of bijin. For example, Japanese idols from the Shōwa period (1926-1989) through the Heisei and Reiwa all look alike by design. Many idols have bangs, natural black or dark brown hair, and flat-shaped eyebrows which are attractive to men. To overturn this tendency, some women have created new kinds of makeup styles to express their own version kawaii aesthetics. Ganguro, yamamba, or “gal” makeup were all created by women and popular among young women. In general society—particularly men—did not accept these makeup styles as aesthetically beautiful; the public regarded these looks as not kawaii but rather ugly (busaikuブサイク). However, even though society found looks ugly, this kind of makeup nevertheless became extremely popular among girls and women in their 10s and 20s who regarded such looks as kawaii and trendy. This aesthetic can be seen as what happens when women get around fixed notions of beauty by adopting and transforming the idea and look of kawaii. In this thesis I discuss the development of the kawaii aesthetic and how it becomes a way for women to break out of the tyranny of bijin. I look at a trend of new bijinga and talk about how women are trying to break away from the traditional notion of bijin. Using a collection of contemporary bijinga, I examine how actresses are fighting to do their own makeup for their films, TV programs, or dramas; in particular, actresses Ishihara Satomi and Nanao try to express their own beauty by creating the characters’ looks themselves. In this respect, the characters are original styles of beauty created by these women.


First Advisor

Amanda C. Seaman

Second Advisor

Bruce Baird

Third Advisor

Sharon Domier