Disciplining the Japanese Body: Gender, Power and Skin Color in Japan

University essay from Lunds universitet/Centrum för öst- och sydöstasienstudier

Abstract: The purpose of this thesis was to explore gender norms, beauty ideals and social practices and the way these become ‘visible’ on the Japanese female body as (re)producing the ideal Japanese femininity and skin color in particular. In order to achieve that, I investigate and identify these norms, the mechanisms that implement them on the body and the attitudes and expression of resistance against them. The concept of biopower is used to explain the above process and findings. The research used both secondary and primary data that was retrieved through eleven deep interviews and participant observation, during two months of fieldwork in Japan in 2013. As the effects of power on the gendered body become central in this research, gender and Foucauldian theoretical perspectives were used to analyse the data. During the analysis I found patterns in the women’s opinions, enabling me to answer my research questions. The study found the main norms to maintain that Japanese women have a unique Japanese skin that should be baby soft, ‘white’ and fair, should have natural beauty, look young and innocent, behave in a cute way, avoid conflict or standing out and be subservient to men. The mechanism of implementation of these norms is self-surveillance, based on the forbidding and producing character of biopower. Women supervise themselves to conform to the norms, fearing that their lack of conformity will lead to social sanctions such as loneliness and social exclusion. While they have positive attitudes towards resisting biopower and are willing to resist some norms, in the end they find it difficult to overcome all the disciplinary norms they are subjected to.

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