A Look At East Asian Beauty Standards, And What It Means For The Global Market

Large, round eyes, light skin, a narrow nose - it’s no secret that East Asian beauty ideals value a certain look.

 A quick look at China’s number one photo retouch app, MeituPic, reveals filters and features designed to do everything from attaching cute stickers, to slimming the face or enlarging one’s eyes. Just across the Yellow Sea, South Korean app, Snow, and Japanese app, Line Camera operate in similar fashion.

With China, Japan, and South Korea becoming more influential by the minute in terms of beauty regimens, makeup, and skincare, the use of these apps shines a light on the markets they both support and impact.

photo via allure mag

photo via allure mag

Where some Western standards value an athletic or full figure, most Asian cultures and society have, for centuries, deemed feminine beauty to reflect a sweet, passive and demure aesthetic. This could be a reflection of societal cues, though some believe the disparity to indicate the underlying belief of what each defines “beauty” to mean.

“Part of this difference [in beauty standards] comes from the fact that the East equates beauty to balance,” Wei Young Brian, founder of traditional Chinese medicine beauty brand, Wei Beauty said in an interview with Business of Fashion. “The aim is to balance yin and yang in order to achieve inner health and outer beauty.”

The important role health plays in East Asian beauty standards and practices cannot be stressed enough, and many consider what shines from within to measure one’s true allure. The South Korean skincare industry has been reaching users all over the world, and in addition to the infamous 10-step routine, the use of skin brightening pills and collagen drinks are helping women and men achieve a healthy glow from the inside, out.

 “Most Korean women use at least four or five products just for basic skincare…Many of them also use at least seven or eight products for their evening skincare routine,” said team leader of AmorePacific’s brand management team, Hye Ran Ji.

The balancing act comes into play when that inner radiance is met with an understated makeup practice. While it may require 25 minutes of scrubbing, oil pulling and patting dry just to get to bed each night, what gets applied during daylight hours remains far less intense, making one’s skin, and inner health, the true star of the show.

The cover of Vogue Japan, September 2016

The cover of Vogue Japan, September 2016

“Korean women tend not to put so much colour cosmetics on their face, as the tendency is not to look too glamorous. Instead, they are more keen to achieve a pure and minimal look,” Ji added.

While this may sound odd to contour-happy Westerners, the influence K-beauty has on the global market should not be underestimated, with Euromonitor measuring export values at $207 million - a nearly 60% increase from the previous year. This detail, combined with the fact that every top fashion and beauty print publication out there has introduced the Western world to double cleansing and sheet masks, and you have the makings of a serious force to be reckoned with.

The importance of inner beauty notwithstanding, there is still something to be said about the pressures East Asian women face to be beautiful. As a leader in cosmetic surgery techniques, the area boasts the highest rate of surgery in the world, and the “cute” ideal, known as “aegyo” in South Korea, or “kawaii” in Japan, places a large emphasis on remaining youthful and submissive, heavily influences to appeal to the gaze of a historically patriarchal society.

All that being said, there is change to be witnessed in certain areas. With K and J-Pop on the rise, the youth of Asia is keen to embrace less conventional symbols of beauty.

Celebrity figures, such as Japan’s conventionally beautiful Yo Yoshida, represents single, working women, inviting the old standard of what makes an attractive woman into the modern conversation.

Li Yuchun on the cover of Grazia China |Photo: Fashionista

Li Yuchun on the cover of Grazia China |Photo: Fashionista

Gender roles are also becoming more and more fluid with each passing year, as prominent figures are less inclined to stick to rigid menswear or womenswear collections, a trend which is already reflected in retail markets.

“Most of our younger female clients are quite comfortable with unisex clothing [and many now] end up purchasing men’s styles too,” said Richie Chan, founder of Chinese boutique Triple Major.

While Western beauty standards are currently undergoing their own revolution, it seems the objective is to allow a more diverse idea of what could be considered beautiful.

East Asia seems to be looking for more ways to encourage individuality.

Either way, the standard is changing the world over, and we cannot wait to see what’s yet to come.


Written by Kristin Howard