Photobooths, Whiteness, Westerncentrism

So remember the photobooths at the beach (if any of you grew up going to Ocean City, MD, you know exactly what I”m talking about) or the mall?  Pile in some friends, throw in some dollars, and you get a great, usually black and white, memento of your day.  Throw in some silly faces and some poses, and you’re golden.

We visited the Tokyo neighborhood of Shibuya yesterday, known by many as the “Times Square of Tokyo.”  Personally, I found it to be way more fun than NYC.  Instead of a theater district like Times Square, Shibuya is the fashion district.  People watching and window shopping took up much of the day, and we had an absolute blast trying out food and drinks from different restaurants and street vendors (if you can find the Chicken Fries vendor, I hear they’re quite good).

Well, one of the many things to do in Shibuya include arcades and photobooths.  While we did not go to the arcade (at least my group didn’t), we did spend tons of money at the photobooths.  For about 400 yen (~4 USD), you can get a strip, much like what we have in the US, of full-color (NOW IN TECHNICOLOR!!!) photos of you and your closest friends.  Even more fun, you can decorate them prior to printing with many different effects – change hair color, add lipstick, add glitter and stickers and unicorns–you name it.

One thing really disturbed me, and this is honestly why I took several pictures (I wanted the evidence for my students).  When you enter most of them, they give you two options on how you want your skin to appear:  white, or whiter.  I think they called it like “translucent” and “glittery” or something – basically an un-ager/fuzz lens, but what it really came down to was using photoshop to lighten skin.  Furthermore, it asked you how *big* you wanted your eyes to be.  Yes, it gives you western (white) eyes if you are Japanese.

These places are marketed toward young women, high school age, really.  Yeah, there were a few guys around – some token purseholders and a few actively engaged and having fun.  And from the sound of the place (it was so loud), everyone was having a blast; there were the typical shrieks of joy and amusement one associates with arcades.

But these young women are paying to look different, if only in a picture.  Did we have a blast putting silly hats and purple lipstick on everyone?  Absolutely.  Exhibit A:

I have never looked more fabulous in my life (front and center)

I have never looked more fabulous in my life (front and center).

But look at me.  If you know me, REALLY look at me.  My eye aren’t even that big, and I can usually bug them out pretty huge in silly pictures.  While pale, I’m definitely not that porcelain and evened out.  I look about 20 in this picture (I’m pushing 28).  The “I wanna be Fashionista!!” was a silly thing we added, but that’s what this whole place was about.  Sure, you could go and pick the lowest settings and just have fun.  But the settings are still there.  Either way the pictures that come out will be lighter and more round-eyed than the body that went into the booth.

There is an overall sense here of inferiority when I speak with the college students.  One, very emphatically, told me that if you rank countries, America is #1, China is #2, and Japan is #3.  And he was dead serious, even when I tried to point out that Japan is just as awesome (hell, they have conveyor-belt sushi here.  I’m pretty okay with saying more awesome).  Christian-style weddings (white dresses, not the actual parts about Jesus) are superseding Shinto ceremonies.  The models on the huge billboards from last night were all blonde, Asian or White, it didn’t matter.

I really do love it here.  I know this post sounds hypercritical, but this one thing just really bugged me.  The women I have encountered here and taken classes with are so beautiful.  I am in awe of their ability to use makeup (I look like a clown most days) and to dress appropriately (you should see how great they look in class) and look stunning with very little work (I roomed with a beautiful young woman from Shanghai.  She took half the time I did in the morning and looked 3x more amazing).  These women are beautiful and smart and amazing.  They don’t need to be “Western” to be more beautiful.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s