It is rare these days that a beauty queen will make interesting international headlines, unless there is a scandal involved. One recently made headlines with a storm: the new Miss Universe Japan, Ariana Miyamoto, the country’s first biracial beauty queen. Many in Japan felt that she was not Japanese enough, as she was born of an American father and a Japanese mother.
For those of us who have been to Japan, this criticism does seem ironic. Although always proud of their roots and traditions, the Japanese have always aspired to the west. Japanese fashion conglomerates have been, for decades, creating fashion brands with French- or Italian-sounding names to give consumers the perception that the products are made in countries that sound phonetically close to its name. Open any Japanese magazines and haafu (the Japanese word for mixed race) models appear on every second page.
It seems that the core of the issue is not because Ariana is not 100 percent Japanese but that she is half black. This defies the traditional notion of beauty, especially in the context of a homogenous society like Japan, where paleness or whiteness is glorified as a key part of being beautiful. Even Ariana admitted that she was ostracised in school not because she has an American father but because of the colour of her skin – no other kids would want to touch her or swim with her for fear that they would turn brown as well. So, if Ariana did not have an Afro-American father but a white father and looked more Asian like her Japanese mother, would this make her more acceptable?
I sometimes think that we have a rather warped notion of beauty today in Asia. We don’t actually seem to celebrate the beauty in a person’s face as it is but rather what it should be. The ‘standards’ seem to be the same – the whitened face palette, the large dolly eyes, the ruler straight nose, the slim V-shape face and the pouty lips – complete with a set of C cups. All such features, by the way, seem to follow a European facial structure rather than an Asian one. So, if a Japanese girl has a little enhancement done to her face, does this make her a perfectly acceptable beauty queen because she ticks all the boxes? I wonder.
The international crowd is of course proud of Ariana, who dares to speak up and use her beauty as a platform to break racial barriers. I feel more proud of the panel of judges who dared to step out of traditional Japanese values and make her a beauty queen. To me, this is the crowning of true beauty: acknowledging a woman for being who she really is, and not the woman they want her to be.