Ideas can come from the strangest of places. The idea for this essay came to me as I was struggling to bench what I felt was an immense weight in an attempt to achieve musculature that would make my body more aligned with most American’s perceptions of bodily perfection and attractiveness. In simpler terms, I was trying to get “big”. It seems natural for stronger guys to be more attractive because in movies, social media, and at school the stronger guys almost always get the girls that I perceive to be the most attractive. These observations mislead me into assuming that big muscles were one of those characteristics of attractiveness that transcends cultural differences. This assumption came crashing down after I visited some friends of mine that lived in Tokyo, Japan.
In Japan, there were no really strong guys to be seen anywhere. The movies stars, the models, and just about all of the people were small and skinny. Historical particularism dictates that one should view each culture as unrelated and not governed by universal laws . Viewing Japan through this lens, it is clear to see that its perceptions of bodily perfection developed as a result of its unique history. Japan has historically had a distinguished and cherished cuisine filled with foods that are less energy dense than most western foods, meaning they consume less calories than most “westerners” (calories are a unit of energy that are important muscle growth and the production of fat). Japanese people are also thought to enjoy their food more without even eating it. It is said that they first “eat with their eyes” and try to enjoy the overall beauty of the food even before biting in to it . These behaviors together have historically contributed to Japanese people being some of the thinnest people in the world!
Clifford Geertz believed that specialists within a society could derive symbols and their meanings from the interpretation of observable characteristics . In accordance to this, the perfect Japanese body can be thought of as a symbol of the attitudes most important to the Japanese people. We can observe that a perfect Japanese body is toned, skinny, and healthy, and Japanese author and nutritionist and Naomi Moriyama believes the idealistic Japanese physique is representative of hard work and resilience, (qualities most Japanese men and women aspire to have), thus one can derive that the ideal Japanese body is symbolic of certain cherished characteristics within the society .
Attraction is not a static notion. Rather it is an ever-changing part of one’s culture that is unconsciously learned and influenced by one’s upbringing. It is understandable, therefore, for the idea of bodily perfection, (a component of attraction) to vary from culture to culture. Furthermore, notions on attractiveness might inherently be symbolic of important social characteristics within a society.