Looking Sweet and Sharp: Male Beauty, Liminality and Self-hood in Contemporary Japanese Culture (Invited Keynote Lecture)

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemerapeer-review


    Ideal representations of the male body within culture, time and place are central when understanding the inter-relationship of gender and self-identity. It is hardly surprising that men frequently make sense of their bodies and dressed selves in comparison with some culturally defined ideal. They increasingly define themselves through the management of their bodies in today’s media-driven society, and their bodily ideals operate as a major point of cultural reference, influencing men’s perceptions of their own bodies, and hence their self-identities, too. One of the dominant modes of ideal male beauty in contemporary Japan, embodied by many male actors,models and celebrities, differs from the generalized Western ideal of muscularity in being slender, shōnen-like (boyish), and predominantly kawaii (cute). Their clean-cut, boyish demeanors, I argue, allude to a type of masculinity that is situated in a liminal space between boyhood and manhood, embodied not only by adolescent boys but also by young men in the space between ‘adolescence’ and what some societies see as manhood. This kawaii masculinity is omnipresent in contemporary Japanese culture, from advertising to TV programs, from magazines to fashion media, articulating its potential influence upon contemporary Japanese men. In considering the particulars of Japanese male idealized beauty, much can be learned to dissect the generalisations about childhood, teenagers and adults that dominate western thinking about youth since the 1950s

    The primary aim of this paper is to examine a particular sector of the significance of this liminality of male beauty in contemporary Japanese popular culture – namely the intersections between masculinity, body, and self-hood. This paper argues that the significance of such a male beauty lies in the possibility that representations of “masculinity” embodied by these men might both reflect and shape certain ideals and ideas of gender, which are consumed by men in Japan. Beauty and fashion discourse, as produced through media texts like fashion magazines and advertisements are themselves shaped by, and dependent on, wider social forces and their relations with other fields. Do examples of this kawaii, boyish male beauty, then, allow calibration of the ways in which Japanese conceptions of masculinity are manifested in an ever changing society? What is the relationship between subjectivity and projections of ideal beauty? What comes first – the desire to adhere to the boyish state, or the products, services and industries that enable such projection to operate in the first place?
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2016
    EventThe Beautiful face of Modernity in East Asia Conference - The Free University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany
    Duration: 26 Nov 201627 Nov 2016


    ConferenceThe Beautiful face of Modernity in East Asia Conference
    Internet address


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