Can you tell the difference?
I have one more post from our trip to Tainan, but I really wanted to share this.
It fascinates me to live in a culture where the standards of beauty and the people’s approach to beauty are so different than what I’m used to.
(Western Women): If you’re from a Western country like me, you know that there isn’t one “look” that everyone aspires to duplicate. We know the whole “blonde beauty” thing, but that’s less true these days than it was ten years ago. A lot of our most “desirable” actresses and models aren’t blonde. They can be brunette, red-headed, randomly colored, or blonde. Generally, the only real criteria is that they’re slim, and even then there are some stars that push the line (think Christina Hendricks or Kim Kardashian). Guys on the street can have different versions of what they like. Maybe they like tall with freckles and skinny as a willow. Maybe the next guy will like curvy with blonde curls. There’s variety.
(Western Men): I’m a woman (obviously), so I’m not sure how guys see other guys in terms of how they want to look. I mean, do guys frequently stare at magazine covers or actors and think, “Gee, I wished I looked like that guy?” (Do people even say “gee” anymore?) But as a woman, I know what I’ve been trained to think of as attractive in the Western world. Big, muscled, tanned, with a strong jawline and intense eyes. Sure, the guy can be blonde, black-haired, or whatever, but he must have muscles and be MANLYYY! Beards are a plus.
Let’s look at Asia. While I haven’t specifically asked my Taiwanese friends, the things they say, what I see on ads and TV, and what I’ve seen people wearing or doing tells me a lot about what they think of as ideal. Since, for the most part, they have the same coloring and body type (not really, but I’ll work with most Westerner’s misconceptions here), they do have one ideal look that’s across the board. The paler the skin, the better. In America, to be tan is the thing, showing good health and vitality, and a touch of the exotic. But in Asia, dark skin is a symbol of the working class, so men and women here try to avoid sun exposure, sporting hats and even umbrellas in bright sunlight. (I’ve had students tell me how white and beautiful my skin is, then try to drag me into the sun so I can get some color. I’m ghostly!) And notice I said “men and women.” I’ll get more into that, but note that all of these beauty standards apply to both genders in Asia.
Next on the list of desirable traits are tall noses, big eyes, and double eyelids. I know what that means, but honestly, as a Westerner, when do you ever really look at someone and say, “Man, those are some fine eyelids?” That would be weird. But it’s a big deal here. I know for a fact that in the government-issued ID photos they take, they photoshop them and often add doubled eyelids. Uh, should that be allowed? Even my pictures were altered. I just can’t get used to that.
Another thing I think is really strange is the face size obsession. My fellow teachers have such a horror of having a large face. I mean, I don’t really notice people’s face shapes or sizes. If someone were to ask me, I could say I have an “oval” face, but I don’t classify people’s faces in my head as fat or thin, square, heart, whatever. I remember a conversation with a Taiwanese teacher that really struck me. I think I mentioned wanting to lose weight, and she said I was thinner than her. This was blatantly untrue, as anyone who looked at us could tell. I said something to that effect, and she said she thought so because my face was thinner than hers. Well, not really, she just had a round face and I have a longer face. She didn’t have any extra fat. But she said that Asian people, or at least the Taiwanese, look at the faces. Weird, right?
All of the attributes I mention above I’ve seen on Taiwan’s most popular actors and actresses. When I first got interested in Asia, it actually weirded me out how pretty some of their male stars were. That was thanks to my classic American upbringing, where big, manly men with booming voices and scars were cool and skinny guys with soft voices and hands were targets of mockery. However, now that I’ve been exposed for many years to Asian faces, their beauty is no longer strange in the least. For a lot of people, they can’t often tell the difference between the men and women. I’ve shown them pictures of male stars, and they think it’s a girl. Since I’ve seen lots of men and women, I can tell the difference easily. In some cases it’s hard, but that happens in America enough too, so no stereotyping, please. I like Asians. I do. I happen to find them very attractive. I like their type of beauty and faces. This is totally personal; I don’t expect everyone to validate my opinion, but I am tired of people thinking I’m odd for finding “pretty” Asian boys attractive. Some girls like super hairy masculine guys, some girls don’t. I…don’t always. I still find plenty of American guys attractive, but I prefer Asians. Just my taste.
(Note: There are lots of masculine Asian guys. I’ve seen plenty with big muscles, rugged features, and a fair amount of beardy-ness on TV and the streets. It’s just not as common and, from what I’ve seen, not as attractive to the ladies.)
People might mock me for bringing home a guy who has better skin and hair than me, but hey, that would be a pretty terrible reason not to be with someone if you love them.
(All pictures from Pinterest.)