Beauty Standards: Featuring My Love and Grievances for “Terrace House”
TW: Mention of Body Dysmorphia
Scrolling through my Netflix account, I see an array of shows. Faces after faces. So this is what the industry deems beautiful. Usually, I become quite annoyed, because I’ve lived most of my young life comparing my features to American stars with abs and perfect eyebrows and shiny light hair, and I’ve finally begun to reject those standards. So, my Netflix binges tend to be me just rewatching "Terrace House.”
“Terrace House” is a Japanese reality TV show I discovered in 2018, where three young and beautiful Japanese women and three young and handsome Japanese men live in a grand home together. It is definitely not the regular American reality show like “The Bachelor” or “Too Hot to Handle.” In fact, far from it. One thing being that it’s not considered normal for men and women to live together in Japan (unless they’re dating). But I believe what attracted me to “Terrace House” was the appreciation of Asian beauty features. I could see glimpses of features similar to mine on the screen, and I could see those women be called cute and pretty by the commentators or their roommates. Suddenly, I could imagine I was one of them. It gave me comfort in the sea of Eurocentric beauty standards.
But returning to this show that I found solace in, I realized how constricting beauty standards, gender standards, and binaries in general are in Japan. Don’t get me wrong, I still love “Terrace House” and I love Japan—it’s one of my favorite places in the world and I think they have a lot of things we could use more of in the U.S (like politeness and good noodles and seafood for instance). I still turn to this show for that warm snuggly feeling or for a good laugh… But I can’t help but be critical of aspects of it.
It’s been apparent to me since I was young that just like America, Japan is obsessed with their women being skinny, unhealthily skinny. When I would visit Japan as an underweight girl struggling with body dysmorphia, people would come up to me and tell me I had a good body, only reinforcing my unhealthy habits. So it’s frustrating to watch the Hawaiian season of the show where the men seem to judge the women’s swimsuit bodies.
There’s also a huge sense of categorizing and unwillingness to move beyond binaries. Not only is there an expectation that everyone should be straight (there was only one openly bi character in one of the seasons), but there’s no room to move beyond gender binaries. This is something everyone, whether in America or Japan or anywhere else, needs to normalize. Just some steps to follow: never assume someone’s gender, say your pronouns when introducing yourself and respect everyone’s chosen pronouns. Educate yourself further!
It’s frustrating how the men categorize and objectify the women in the show as well. Throughout all the seasons, they seem to put every woman in a “type.” Are they cute (I have particularly fought against this label)? Sexy and cool? Sporty? They seem to be labeled immediately, and the commentators on the show only reinforce those narratives.
Going back to the idea of binaries. I never realized how much I hated them until recently. Especially being a mixed female, feeling like I have to fit in as one thing or the other with certain characteristics. Sometimes on Zoom calls, I find myself glancing at my own picture, wondering how others label me, if I can label myself. Am I mature looking? Am I young looking? Do I look more Asian or white? Why on earth does this matter?
Something my therapist pointed out to me recently was that this focus on physical characteristics that’s been ingrained in me, goes against my values. I am proudly a Hapa Jew, and I want others to embrace their own identities too. So she asked me why I wasn’t accepting all of who I am? All of who I am becoming? I’m passionate about more diverse representation, so why continue to let these Eurocentric, and yes, even Japanese standards pull me down?
Even while watching other shows and movies, I’ve been trying to remember these questions she asked me and I’ve been trying to thank my body for all it has given me. I thank my body for letting me savor Chinese leftovers and my almost nightly bowls of cereal, for allowing me to freely and happily use my singing voice, for giving me strength and fluidity in movement. I think I'm beginning to realize that if I fit into the perfect ideal of what any popular culture idealizes, I might not be able to have all those other things I’m so thankful for.
So yes, I will continue to watch “Terrace House” and those upcoming holiday movies with white leads because I love them. But will I conform and try to fit into a perfect little ideal that these shows seem to tote? No. I’m going to keep fighting against that, just as we all should.
Look out for a part two because there’s so much more to elaborate on but so little space.