25 January, 2017

Weighty issues in Japan

Last September I found this article  in Japan Times about weight issues of women in Japan, especially foreign women. It was based around a survey of over 500 foreign women in Japan. 70% in their 30s and 40s.
Half the women responded that their confidence in how they look has worsened since coming to Japan and that “living in Japan has been a major contributing factor to this situation.”
I really am a bit of a dag (Aussie for tending
to be unfashionable), preferring the function
and comfortable (and affordable) over
 the fashionable. But I do love this hoodie.
I've written about this before periodically as I've tried to buy clothes here in Japan. For example here where I compared two hoodies that I own that both fit me but were bought in different countries. And here in a post called Short legs, when I proved that my legs are short for Australia, but generally perfect for Japan. 

I'm pleased that I'm often mistaken for a Japanese person from behind. My hair colour and height are about right, it's only when people see my face that they realise. It's nice to be able to "hide" a little, I know that not everyone has that and the toll of sticking out can be draining.

Japanese women are generally petite and the clothes for sale match that. Yesterday I did a bit of clothes shopping, especially looking for some warm tracksuit pants that weren't too daggy for wearing to wrestling meets (especially for our trip to Korea). Usually I find that even though my height is right, my legs and waist are too thick here in Japan. But yesterday it was very odd, I found a few pants that fitted me well in the legs, but were enormous around the top. I've got no idea what's going on in fashion, obviously! By the way, I didn't find any pants I was happy with, I did get three winter skirts.

But back to the article,
When asked to respond to a number of statements to reflect their experiences and opinions, 85 percent agreed that Japanese media tends to promote the idea that “skinny is healthy”, and that heavier/curvier women are rarely seen. When they are, it is normally in a comedic or derogatory context.
Indeed, that has been my experience. I went to Curves for a number of years and have also had a baby here and the idea of what is a normal body size seems to be very small, not just in the fashion industry, but in the fitness and medical sector too. 

When I was pregnant, it was my second child, so I knew pretty much what to expect. I'd been putting on weight steadily, but not excessively, however the Japanese nurses scolded me a few times. Suggesting that I was eating fruit and drinking juice! I just ignored them and listened to my body. It's interesting that the article says that the percentage of low-birth-weight babies (under 2.5kg) has risen steeply in Japan in the last 30 years and that a major factor is pregnant women dieting.

CAJ staff have a compulsory health check at the start of each school year. It is a common thing in Japanese companies here. Many of our foreign staff get scolded about their waist sizes, even some of those who would seem slim by Western standards. 

Back to the article. A lack of choice of clothing on the racks in Japan can have implications for foreigners who don't fit the mold. I don't really like shopping for clothes here. Knowing that I am not overweight, it goes against the grain to have to buy clothes that are marked L or LL or even larger. That being said, I think perhaps that there is more accommodation for larger women here than there used to be, but still, the sizing is hard to swallow.
The narrow range of clothing sizes and lack of choice for larger or curvier women was cited as an issue by more than 80 percent of respondents, and many offered comments on their frustration with this problem. While ordering online has helped the situation, the narrow range of sizes makes even foreign women who were small in their home countries feel decidedly outsized in Japan.               
I tend to buy up on clothes when we're in Australia and only buy things in Japan if necessary. CAJ's Thrift Shop is also a place where I get a few things (but not many). That has worked as a strategy quite well. 

I don't think my self-esteem is damaged (at least not because of weight or size issues), perhaps because I haven't had to put up with unsolicited comments about my body or weight from people I know in Japan, unlike 75% of people in the article. For that I am thankful.

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