Memo #199 (Video)
The study of Japanese beauty queens offers insights into democracy and gender issues in post-war Japan. In the 1950s, Japanese beauty queens were often celebrated as models of democracy. They were confident, willing to travel overseas, and represented the idea of upward social mobility. This captured the imagination of Japanese women and for some, signified a step forward for Japanese women’s rights.
However, women in the beauty contests were constructed as images, only allowed to say certain things and unable to complain. This image of beauty queens belies the true situation of Japanese women in the 1950s who were protesting over a lack of equality.
Fundamentally, beauty contests are a celebration of youth, ending with marriage and motherhood. These contests simultaneously offer an inspiring model to Japanese women whilst muting their concerns. The study of beauty queens in post-war Japan offers an interesting insight into this paradox.
Beauty Queens in Post War Japan (6.16 min)
Dr. Jan Bardsley is an Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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- Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan, 2011,(Book edited by Jan Bardsley and Laura Miller)
- Women in Japan: Memories of the past, Dreams for the future, 2002, (Documentary film with Joanne Hershfield)
- Our other Memos on Japan
- Our other Video Interviews