It seems we’re not the only culture obsessed with chasing unattainable ideals of beauty.
If you trawl the internet as much as I do, you may have stumbled upon some articles gaining online buzz with titles such as “Asian girls: before & after make-up”. There are now hundreds of these before and after photos online and they are to say the least, astonishing.
Knowing me, I had to dig a little deeper. Take a look at a few of the before & after photos before we get started ..
Welcome to the wonderful and slightly creepy world of the Gyaru.
Pronounced ‘gi-ha-roo‘ (a Japanese transliteration of the English word gal) it’s a subculture made up of fashion conscious Japanese women and girls essentially rejecting their own oriental features and aesthetic traditions.
Since the culture first gained popularity in the 70s and 80s, many sub-genres have sprouted from it, ranging from the outrageous to the relatively tame looks you saw in the before & after photographs above. Yes, those are the relatively tame ones.
Let’s take a look at some of the other sub-subcultures of the Gyaru…
THE EXTREME GYARU: Yamanba/ Mamba Gyaru a.k.a The California Girl
Yamanba, literally meaning “mountain hag”, was the first of the Gyaru subcultures to emerge and adopting this style is very much a middle finger at the Japanese ideals of beauty.
Emulating what they see as a ‘Californian valley girl’ style that couldn’t be further from their own culture, Yamanba girls sport deep leather-toned tans, neon boob tubes and bright clothes, acid blonde hair, extensions galore, backcombed to be as big as possible.
Of course you can’t miss the large circles of unnaturally white eyeshadow they wear. This is called the ‘reversed panda eyes‘ effect. Could this be the Gyarus trying to communicate their rejection of an animal symbolic to the orient and their heritage? (I was soul-searching for reasons why one might choose this style of make-up– and that’s all I came up with). So anyway, the idea is to look as fake as possible.
The cast of the Jersey Shore comes to mind at this point.
Although it’s recently seen a comeback in Tokyo, Yamanba was replaced by Manba in the 90s– the ‘Californian surfer chick’ was swapped for the ‘acid rave club girl’, but the tanned skin, reverse panda eye and and fake hair remained in tact.
Something to note about being a Gyaru is that it’s actually very expensive to maintain the look. Some of the Manba Gyaru evolved into yet another sub-genre called O-Gyaru, who don’t wash off their make-up to save the expense of re-applying.
The O-Gyarus are generally anti-washing and hate spending on the upkeep of their looks so much so that they tend to stay indoors all day in their pyjamas and only venture out clubbing at night.
It might not be surprising that these kinds of Gyarus are very often unemployed and considered lazy by Japanese society.
THE SINISTER EVOLUTION OF THE GYARU:
Hime Gyaru a.k.a The Princess Doll
This is the “princess doll” style, it’s less rebellious than the rest of the genres but still renders the girls virtually unrecognizable from their oriental heritage.
Hime Gyarus dropped the fake tans and the panda eyes but they have dress etiquettes that are just as strict. Immaculate honey-comb/ caramel colored hair is required, styled into an extravagant bee hive style with falling curls.
Neutrals, pastel pinks must be worn and eye make-up is applied to make the eyes look as big and doll-like as possible.
Other off-shoots of Hime Gyaru include the Himejakki, still very princess and doll-like but style rules are more relaxed and the look is wearable on a daily basis. They love big wide-eyed make-up, sparkles, pastels, nail art and other cutesy girly things. This is the most common type of Gyaru you can see today on the internet.
Let’s take a minute here to note the fact that gyaru make-up looks distinctly inhuman and cartoon-ish– especially the eyes. With the Gyaru subculture placing a big emphasis on being all things toy-like and cute, you don’t have to look very far to see that the influence of this style of make-up comes from actual Japanese cartoons.
SO WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THOSE EYES??
Cosmetic contact lenses are used en masse amongst Gyarus to change natural eye-colour and enlarge the pupils and iris. But that’s not all. There are thousands of make-up tutorials for Gyarus to make their eyes appear even more inhuman with fake top and bottom lashes and specialized eye-shadowing techniques (borrowing from that original Gyaru “reverse panda” method).
But a Gyaru girl would never post a picture of herself on the internet without the finishing touch. Yep, in case you were unsure, you can be certain that all those before & after make-up pictures creating a buzz on the internet are not without a healthy dose of our old friend Photoshop.
In fact, Japanese malls conveniently provide what is known as purikura (sticker picture machines). All the purikura machines help enhance the eyes, lighten the skin and generally help erase the natural features of the face.
This Gyaru obsession with rejecting their oriental features and adopting a westernized look has extended across Asia. In Korea, a cosmetic surgery that creates a new fold in the eyes to make them appear larger and rounder has become so popular that it has been speculated 4/5 women living in Seoul have had the operation.
The New York Times spoke to a woman having the surgery who said the procedure was so common these days that “it’s not even considered surgery.”
Rando Kim, a professor of consumer science at Seoul National University told the NYT reporter, “Wide-screen and high-definition TV put pressure on them to look good in close-ups. And with the Internet, where people like to post ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, they can no longer hide it. So they go public, often talking proudly about it on TV.”
Another doctor said of the surgery boom that it was causing young women to all look increasingly alike.
“Koreans agree on what constitutes a pretty face,” says a head doctor at a Korean hospital. “The consensus, now, is a smaller, more sharply defined youthful face — a more or less Westernized look. That makes 90 percent of Koreans potential patients because they’re not born with that kind of face.”
WHY DO GYARUS LOOK LIKE SEXUALIZED CHILDREN?
While reading this article, you may have realized how much some of the women look uncomfortably like children with their photoshopped flawless skin, wide-eyes and girly accessories.
And with their naturally straighter body frame, the Japanese Gyarus are able to pull off this child-like aesthetic better than most western women could. But why would they want to?
The Kogal Gyaru, another sub-genre, sexualise their school uniform by knotting their shirts in front or raising the hemline of their skirts. Socks are essential – they are kept very long, loose and floppy, so they fold on the legs and over the shoes. Kogal hairstyles are artfully maintained. They have to be blonde, in order to distance themselves visually from ordinary japanese girls – and honey blonde hair seems preferable to an intentionally fake-looking brassy blonde. Further primping involves giving the hair body with extensions, curling tongs and brushing. To western eyes, Kogyaru fashion seems a strange mix of American prep and Japanese schoolgirl moe.
Kawaii (literally, “lovable”, “cute”, or “adorable”) is the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture. It has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, and most importantly, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms.
It’s claimed that Kawaii Syndrome, a.k.a “cute” syndrome has replaced the former Japanese aesthetics of “beautiful” and “refined”.
‘In Japan, cuteness is expected of men and women. Many Japanese men are drawn to the owner of cute merchandise, because it is reminiscent of little girls, and Japanese women try to act cute to attract men’.
I’m not making this up, it’s straight from Wikipedia.
Several Gyaru sub-genres such as Kogal Gyaru, which sexualize the school uniform, actually have their own “cute” way of speaking and writing. The cute way of speaking is known as burikko and is considered a gender performance. The ‘Kawaii’ cute hand-writing, very different to the traditional Japanese vertical style, consists of big, round characters with added pictures such as hearts, stars, smiley faces, and letters of the Latin alphabet.
Pretty much your Hello Kitty nightmare.
So there you have it. A subculture of women rebelling against their asian heritage in favor of looking like cute, westernized, sexualized cartoon children.
What do you think about the Gyaru? Is it all wrong or just a bit of fun?