Thursday, June 14, 2007

My daughter can't win Miss Universe

This photo is my daughter, Number Three Monster. Before she was even born I vowed that I would raise her to be a strong beautiful person on the inside. Now she's 5 and I will admit I selfishly consider her to be quite pretty on the outside, so please forgive me for a little parental puffery. But I just learned she can never win Miss Universe.

I was reading through TIME magazine when I came upon this article entitled, "Japan's Beauty Queen Factory." I recalled Miss Japan won this year's Miss Universe (kudos to her!) But my mood soured greatly as I read this article.

It's about a French lady who was handpicked by Donald Trump to be the boot camp sergeant to Miss Japan hopefuls. No doubt this lady has been successful:
"For the last 10 years, Ines Ligron has been ordering young Japanese women to strip, walk tall, free their inner woman and wear lots and lots of makeup in an effort to seriously compete in the Miss Universe beauty pageant. And compete they have. The contest, long monopolized by Latin America's goddess industry, has now seen three of Ligron's frightened girls make it into the top five, including a first runner-up last year and, most spectacularly, 21-year-old dance student Riyo Mori, who two weeks ago won the title of Miss Universe 2007 and brought back the $250,000 crown to Japan for the first time in 48 years."

But here is where things get bad:

"Ligron, 44, is the national director of Miss Universe Japan, and her job is to create world-class beauty queens out of young Japanese women in a country that favors smallness over voluptuousness, reserve over unrestrained confidence, a demure smile over a sparkling grin...

... and she was appalled to find in Japan a country of young women hunched over and wobbling in untrendy shoes, avoiding the sun to keep pale, hiding under too many layers of stockings and Bridget Jones underwear. "The first thing that struck me was — I have to liberate these women!" she says... The women would also live with the beauty producer for months to learn "how to be a woman, a gaijin [foreigner] woman, from me."

Really Ms. Ligron? So many f'd up Japanese women. Thank our lucky stars, you're over there to fix their problems and teach them "how to be a woman." /sarcasm. Tell me Ms. Ligron, is this why Western women are so obsessed with silicone enhancements? But maybe I am overreacting? Well, I don't think so...
"Success in the global beauty market, however, is not necessarily embraced back home. Last year's Miss Universe runner-up Kurara Chibana has been a commercial hit back in Japan; and with her east Asian facial features... However, Miss Universe Mori fits the more statuesque, chiseled mold of Latin American and southeast Asian beauties. When a Japanese sports daily mistakenly published Miss Thailand's picture as Mori — and blundered in its apology by claiming the photo was of Miss Korea — local tabloids, instead of faulting the newspaper, criticized Ligron's crowning achievement for having a homogeneous beauty pageant look. Indeed, newspaper writers — reflecting the tastes of Japanese men — wondered if 5'9" Mori (who speaks English) embodies anything Japanese at all.

Ligron, who has been approached to replicate her success in other countries, thinks it may be just as well. "Japanese men want infantile anorexic kawaii [cute] women in their 20s who act like they're 12. Now girls are beginning to find role models in women with real talent, careers, confidence."

Well, that's frigging outrageous - the Japanese preferring women with east Asian facial features!!! Show those barbarians the light Ms. Ligron! I'm so sorry my daughter isn't up to your standards Ms. Ligron. Whoops, I forgot I don't give a $hit about you or your views! Cut the bull$hit about liberating Japanese women, you're only imposing Western ideas of beauty on them!

And I'm not even going to go into the hidden racism, her digs at Japanese men or equating Miss Universe with real talent, careers, confidence? Just too much hypocrisy. Frankly, I see jealousy at play here.

What I do know is my daughter, with her east Asian facial features, is really beautiful on the outside and I'm going to keep telling her that.

20 comments:

Ten Feet of Steel said...

Beauty standards worldwide are damaging to girls. I find that both Eurocentric and Korean beauty standards were equally oppressive when I was growing up.

This woman's particular take on beauty is, of course, blatantly racist. But to be honest, it's hard for me to say whether the act of judging beauty would be any less problematic without overtones of racism--or if it's even possible for human beings to judge beauty without revealing their cultural baggage.

I think the best and most productive response would be for parents to do what they can to make sure their daughters don't need the kind of poisonous and empty promise of validation that beauty contests (and beauty comparisons on any level) offer.

jstele said...

"Ligron, 44, is the national director of Miss Universe Japan, and her job is to create world-class beauty queens out of young Japanese women in a country that favors smallness over voluptuousness,"

You highlighted "smallness over voluptuousness" in your post, but that phrase was written by the author, not Ligron.

"The first thing that struck me was — I have to liberate these women!" she says..."

This really does sound horrible coming from a white woman about Japanese women. However, this statement is really ambiguous at best. She may not want to rescue them because they are Japanese, but due to the details mentioned in the previous part of the article.

"The women would also live with the beauty producer for months to learn "how to be a woman, a gaijin [foreigner] woman, from me."

Well, she did clarify woman to be "gaijin woman". The Miss Universe pageant is not truly universal in the way it judges beauty. One can tell that there is a heavy bias toward the Eurocentric ideal, even if it does not reflect true European beauty. The current standard is South American and not every European is naturally tan in coloring. But that is the current ideal embraced in the West today. The contest embraces the Eurocentric ideal of what an ideal woman is. They like women with a lot of confidence and charisma. These are not ideals really embraced by East Asian cultures, at least Korea and Japan.

Ms. Ligron knows how the contestants are being judged and that's why she is grooming them to meet the standard. I don't think that is racist. I think the Eurocentric ideal as a standard to judge the Miss Universe pageant is racist.

"Really Ms. Ligron? So many f'd up Japanese women. Thank our lucky stars, you're over there to fix their problems and teach them "how to be a woman." /sarcasm."

I had the same initial reaction that you did when I read the article. However, I have read another earlier interview of Ms. Ligron where she said that Japanese women are beautiful having long legs, etc. as well as how Japanese revere politeness, etc., but that politeness is not going to work for them on the Miss Universe stage.

"Japanese men want infantile anorexic kawaii [cute] women in their 20s who act like they're 12. Now girls are beginning to find role models in women with real talent, careers, confidence.

Well, that's frigging outrageous - the Japanese preferring women with east Asian facial features!!!"

I don't think that she meant all Japanese women are kawaii, etc. But you do have to acknowledge that there is a preferred ideal in Japan just like other countries. I don't think she is saying Miss Universe is the only sources of role models.

The article can come off really bad, but I think it leaves an ambiguous impression of Ms. Ligron, not necessarily negative.

angie said...

WHO ARE YOU, JSTELE?! Who?! I keep seeing your comments and the more I read them, the more I wonder who you are . . . I mean, c'mon!

Ten Feet of Steel said...

Ambiguous? In what fantasy world? The woman's entire perspective, as well as the sentiments quoted in this post, are downright racist.

I think nations, particularly those with largely non-white populations, should just stop supporting the damn Miss Universe pageant anyway. The whole idea of a country wanting to show how "its women" are just as/more beautiful that "other countries' women" is reactionary and ridiculous on so many levels. It's no surprise to me that people like Ligron are at the "top" of such a scene.

Monster Daddy said...

This article was published in Time magazine and obviously the author and editors think it's Western-centric message will appeal to the majority of its readers.

And no doubt it will find appeal amongst many readers who just love seeing non-Westerners adopting Western standards as a validation of themselves. And as an added bonus they can laugh at Japanese men for their freakish tastes.

Yet why are some of these so-called liberated Western men booking pedophile sex tours to Thailand? (Sorry, couldn't resist the tit for tat.)

ten feet of steel, one thing could be said for having a Korean beauty standard - at least more Korean women will be able to meet it vs. trying to meet a Eurocentric standard. Ms. Ligron is basically trying to push one universal standard of beauty, one of course that favors her race...

SoulSnax said...

Man, if I were a sellout, I'd spend my money consuming Western media, feeding Hollywood all my cash to make sure they give me an endless supply of their poison.

Then I'd do my medical residency in plastic surgery, specialize in Asian blepharoplasty and breast augmentation, and offer my services to your daughter so that she has a chance at winning Miss Universe.

Alternatively, I could save all my money and donate it to the RiceDaddies Empowerment in Diversity Challenge, and combat the forces that emphasize the shallow artifice promoted by people like Ms. Ligron.

jstele said...

Angie,

"WHO ARE YOU, JSTELE?! Who?! I keep seeing your comments and the more I read them, the more I wonder who you are . . . I mean, c'mon!"

Hahahaha. LOL. I must torture you some more:)

jstele said...

Ten feet of steel,

"Ambiguous? In what fantasy world? The woman's entire perspective, as well as the sentiments quoted in this post, are downright racist."

Well, I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. When I read comments, I try to find every reasonable explanation for them, then judge. In this case, her comments come off as ambiguous. They could be negative or not, so I don't want to call her a racist. I know that if she was a Japanese woman saying these things, I wouldn't think she was a self-hating Japanese necessarily. So I will just leave it be until I get more information.

angie said...

jstele:

there's that word "IF" again. "If she was a Japanese woman" . . . she's not. That's the point.

"I . . . then judge." Who are you to make judgents like that, esp. when using the word "IF"?

Liza said...

OK, that article was appalling on so many levels it is almost impossible to know where to start.

So. Instead I'll just weigh in with my opinion that your daughter is beautiful, and the reasons I think so are because of the humor and intelligence in her eyes and the joy in her smile.

And IMO, those things don't require cultural translation.

jstele said...

Angie,

"there's that word "IF" again. "If she was a Japanese woman" . . . she's not. That's the point."

I wonder why you brought the word 'if' up, but then I remembered. . . . You wrote a comment on the Kimchi Mamas blog attacking Jill for using 'if' in her apology. I wrote a civil comment in response to you. It is rather tasteless and quite inappropriate, I might add, to slam me on this thread for a comment I made on a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WEBSITE. If you disagree, you can certainly comment there. Don't be passive aggressive.

Mama Nabi said...

BTW: jstele, I believe you're thinking of Kyong.

I have a hard time accepting beauty pageants as anything but damaging to little girls. Have you noticed that the current Miss Korea has had obvious alterations made to her face? It hurts so much personally when I see traditional Korean beauties be rejected for an altered artificial beauty made to look nothing like me. A model such as Hye Park IS inspiring because, although she may have had plastic surgeries (I don't know that - that's a hypothetical ALTHOUGH), she sure as hell has Eastern Asian features... and you know what? She looks HOT!

As far as reading the article objectively? Ms. L is appalling - and she is a part of an antiquated system of valuing a young woman's beauty. It is quite ironic that she comments on 'liberating' these Japanese women and yet she doesn't seem to quite understand what it truly means to be a liberated woman.

Agh. Beauty pageants. Ick, ick. ick. "Little Miss Sunshine" - now, that movie made me swear off kiddie pageants.

Mama Nabi said...

Oh, and your daughter? By far TOO beautiful to be entering that farce of a contest. My goodness, she is breathtakingly beautiful - I'm sure she is just as beautiful inside!

Ha ha, I just caught the line that says that Ms. L was handpicked by Donald Trump. Well. That says it all, doesn't it?

Monster Daddy said...

Thanks liza and mama nabi.

It's going to be interesting during her teen years, LOL! While I am honestly happy for my daughter that she is blessed with good looks on the outside (and all the benefits that psychologists say go along with that), as a parent I think it's going to be challenging.

She's already getting special attention from boys in Kindergarten (geez!) and adults give her special treatment too. Then there is Asiaphilia on top of this. GREAT....... I feel my hair turning white already, hehe.

All kidding aside, my wife and I both agree we need to work hard on making sure our daughter is also resilient and strong on the inside.

daddy in a strange land said...

Gender roles, standards of beauty, our daughters are subjected to so much crap by our society and our media that we have to consciously work against, work to balance out in our parenting. My daughter's only 2 and I've been thinking about this stuff since before she was born. Add the issue of race into the mix, and it gets even more complicated.

As dads of daughters, we have an important role in both combatting negative images and their effects on our daughters, and in working to help them grow into confident, happy, strong selves. We have to be media literacy educators, advocates against sexism and racism, all the stuff we may have already been doing in our own lives takes on a new importance when we're talking about doing it for our children.

There's a non-profit called Dads and Daughters that, besides advocating for the involvement of dads in daughters' lives, does a lot of media analysis stuff that's interesting.

Last year, I wrote on my blog about Dove's "True Colors" ad and how it made me think about my own babygirl's future. You can read it here and find a link to the video too.

la dra said...

I don't think my daughter is in any danger of joining a beauty contest. But what keeps me up at night is trying to conteract the messages that women in her immediate circle of influence send regarding who sees themselves as too fat and "not ready for bathing suit season". Mamas, you're daughters (and sons!) are watching you and we need to lead by example. Accept yourself and value your inner beauty. How you talk about your own beauty is one of the most powerful standards by which our daughters measure themselves and one of the ways we teach our sons to value women.

Ten Feet of Steel said...

one thing could be said for having a Korean beauty standard - at least more Korean women will be able to meet it vs. trying to meet a Eurocentric standard

How many more women? 0.1% more? 1% more? 10% more? Monster daddy, the way I see it, the point is to not validate any arbitrary ideal of beauty by trying to meet it. None are permanent, all change with the trends, and, beauty ideals are in their very essence always exclusive of the vast majority of people. If a lot of people could meet those ideals...they wouldn't be ideals and would have no value as such.

Besides, regardless of which ideal she strives for, how much energy should a girl spend trying to live up to it?

Since to be human means that one is never immune from placing high value on beauty, I'm all for a more inclusive definition. However, I think it's more important to try to raise girls to take the whole notion of beauty with a grain (or a handful) of salt and place less importance on it. So instead of lamenting that your daughter will never be Miss Universe (which I do understand was just a rhetorical strategy on your part), it might be better to do what you can to make sure your daughter never wastes her energy becoming the kind of person who would value the idea of participating in a beauty contest.

After all, does being Asian make it better for a girl to mourn the fact that she doesn't look like an Asian supermodel or beauty queen? Why? Because she might have to do less dieting and have less plastic surgery to meet that goal than to look like a blonde bombshell?

Which is why I see the whole "[insert race here] is beautiful too" concept as a double-edged sword. Yes, it's important to counteract racism that says that anything non-European is by definition inferior. However, I think that should be done by putting beauty in it's place, so to speak, rather than just replacing European standards with an ethnic standard that, realistically speaking, isn't any less achievable for the vast majority of women even within that ethnicity. If only you could throw the baby out with the bathwater in this case.

I just don't see the benefit of saying "Hey, Kelly Hu is just as beautiful as Rose McGowan... and the chances, statistically speaking, that any girl today will look like either of them when she grows up are infinitesimal." Call me crazy, but it would be nice to see an emphasis on things like a real woman's accomplishments and contributions to the world around her and leave the celebrity beauty assessments as something for easily dismissible and lighthearted fun.

Monster Daddy said...

ten feet of steel, I think you misunderstand the point I was making which was simply against having one racial standard of beauty being imposed on women of any race. Don't read any more into it.

That said, I get the impression that you feel that few women can meet any external standard of beauty. That may be true for some. Personally, my standard of beauty for women is quite broad and I think many women if not the majority of them would meet it.

Beauty contests would be irrelevant to me and my daughter except for the media messages it sends, i.e. when the external standard of beauty is racially based; blonde hair, sharp nose, or blue eyes, etc. Ms. Ligron implies the winner of Miss Universe must meet the Eurocentric standards she imposes, in the words of Phil Yu, that's racist!

Ten Feet of Steel said...

Monster Daddy,

We're in agreement that one ethnic standard of beauty shouldn't be imposed across the board.

However, the article is about a woman whose mission is to run beauty contests. My point is that the world of beauty pageants, like Hollywood and the fashion industry, has an entire standard of "beauty" that is oppressive and always will be, regardless of what the favored features are. That particular view of beauty is at its very nature exclusive and competitive. To me, it makes only the smallest difference whether the standards that woman wants to "nurture" are white or not.

And I'm fundamentally questioning the notion of valuing beauty so much--especially in children. I'm just saying that the way a woman's/girl's looks are so fundamentally important to her sense of self-esteem is really the underlying problem, and racism, in my view, is more of an exacerbating factor in it.

thisislarry said...

little miss sunshine, man. The superfreaking at the end was so hilarious, and such a great way to destroy a beauty pagaent from the inside out.

One one level, I wouldnt ever want my daughter dancing like that to a rick james tunes. but on the other, if it had to be done, I would want THAT to be the reason why.