Bigakuseizukan – Who Are the Beautiful Students?

by Lilia Yamakawa

A friend asked me to go with her to a party sponsored by a website called Bigakuseizukan, Picture Book of Beautiful Students. Both the photographers and the “beautiful” students they photograph are students from Japanese universities. Since have been talking about people’s concepts of “beauty” in our Race & Ethnicity class, I thought this would be a good opportunity to do fieldwork and see what this group considers attractive, what the trends are, why students agree to be posted on the website, and why this website is popular.

In class, we discussed what beauty is and found that a majority considers one type of appearance as beauty. Like the contestants in the Miss Korea contest that we saw in class, I expected most of the students at the party to be similar: skinny chins, double eyelids, small noses. I thought there would be many people with the Japanese kawaii style, with the same brown hair, same length bangs, and wearing the fluffy white and pink cutie skirts.

It turned out not to be what I expected! Most of the people there had different styles: many different hair colors and styles, different facial characteristics, many different body types, with totally different styles of clothes. Kawaii wasn’t especially big. I was both disappointed and relieved by what I actually saw. I was in a way disappointed that I couldn’t see an expected trend with my own eyes, and also relieved to find that there were many kinds of beautiful students there.

I think this has something to do with the popularity of the Picture Book of Beautiful Students website. The models are students who might actually go to your school, and they all look different. When you look at their snapshots, you might feel that they are close to you and possible to reach. This sense of closeness would be hard to have if you are looking at a model of a magazine or on TV. Bigakuseizukan’s uniqueness is that it doesn’t show only one type of beauty considered as perfect. It really shows lots of different types of students.

Another question I had in mind was why do people say yes to being photographed and having pictures posted of them online? And why do they attend such a gathering? I had a chance to ask around yesterday. I got a lot of answers, but basically they fall into three categories. In the first category, there were many students who were running for beauty contests, such as Miss Ritsumeikan, Mr. Japan and Miss Universe. These types of people answered they did it to get their name out and remembered through the Bigakuseizukan. The second group said they tried it for their personal record and their future career. It will look good when applying for a job, which might have a lot to do with your appearance, such as newscasters and announcers. The third group was more vague, and they said there was no reason not to try it or that they just enjoyed modeling for fun. One girl said, “Well, everybody posts their selfies on Twitter and other sites like that, so why not post a better picture of yourself taken by a photographer with a real camera?”

One more thing I expected to find was that everyone would be outgoing. Instead, there seemed to be all sorts of types of personalities at the gathering, and some people seemed very quiet and reserved. I think you could probably say that they all had some sense of confidence in the way they look, though.

This fieldwork only lasted three hours, but if you were interested in finding out why people in a certain group are judged to be attractive, I think studying a group such as the Bigakuseizukan would be a good method. It would be necessary to find more things that the models have in common and to question both the beauties and the photographers in more detail.

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