Myth of Beauty: Facial Features and Skin

by Sheena Sasaki

In her book Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, Nancy Etcoff (1999) wrote that in many parts of the world, big eyes, high cheekbones, small chins, and full lips are features of beautiful woman, and each of these features combined represented youngness. I believe this is partly true. Cosmetics invented today helps women to have these facial characteristics to raise their self-esteems that they are beautiful. However, the trend of beautiful facial characteristics changes from place to place and time to time. For example, in old time Japan, ‘otafuku-gao’ was considered to be women’s beautiful face which consisted of the followings: round face, thin eyes, low nose, wide forehead, small lips, and very plump cheeks. Nonetheless, less people consider the face with such features to be beautiful in Japan today. There always exists certain trend of beautiful face.

Then, what about skin colors?

Whenever I step into a drugstore in Japan, my eyes always catch the word ‘美白 (bi-haku),’ which directly means ‘beautiful white,’ in cosmetic section for skin.  However, I do not find any word which represents ‘beautiful black.’ This means to me that the concept of beauty, at least in Japan, is naturally tied to whiteness of the skin. Referring back to old literature of Japan such as The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu from the 11th century, women with white skin are considered to be beautiful. Moreover, there exists a proverb in Japan which says, “White skin hides seven flaws.” Thus, beauty of white skin has been practiced for long period of time. This is not only limited to Japan. The world’s famous beautiful fairytale princess Snow White has skin which is as white as snow. Nancy Etcoff (1999) also writes that the beauty of white skin is commonly believed throughout the world and overcomes the beauty of facial features. This brings me to another question. Why is white skin considered to be beauty in the first place?

If it was the period when most of both men and women from the lower and middle class worked outside under the sun, white skin represented wealth.  Hence, it is not hard to predict that men were more attracted to white-skinned women who could spend their money and time on their physical appearance.  Yet, this prediction does not fully fall into the society today where increasing number of people work inside of the office buildings. Many people do not clearly know why they prefer to have whiter skin, or why white skin is beautiful. In this case, I believe “I don’t really know” is the best answer as people say. In this technologized society, media controls one’s sense of beauty and values. As a result, the cycle is created. Women follow similar conception of beauty because someone on the media said it is beautiful, more people follow after because everyone talks of the same beauty, and the media reflects upon and introduces the beauty concept believed by the audiences. The word ‘美白 (bi-haku),’ became too common in Japan to extent that almost no one bother to question the beauty of whiteness.


Etcoff, N. (1999), Survival of the prettiest: The science of beauty. New York, NY: Doubleday.


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