The latest fashion trend in Japan is†yaeba: women have their incisors artificially enlarged with plastic fronts so they seem to have small mouths with big teeth. Yaeba means “double-toothed” in Japanese and is the talk of blogs and “proudly” displayed by celebrities. †Some suggest that Japanese women are seeking this look to appear deliberately imperfect; to look†”endearing” and to be more approachable by men.
On the other hand, Dr. Emilie Zaslow, an assistant professor of communication studies at Pace University in Manhattan, sees the “snaggletoothed” look as a sign of a fixation with youth:
ďThe gapped tooth is sort of preorthodontic or early development, and the naturally occurring yaeba is because of delayed baby teeth, or a mouth thatís too small. Itís this kind of emphasis on youth and the sexualization of young girls.Ē
Yaeba teeth may make a woman look “less than perfect” but, as Zaslow suggests, it’s one thing to want to look “imperfect” and another thing to accept one’s imperfections, especially when it comes to one’s physical appearance.†Yaeba teeth are not a trend “based in self-acceptance.” †Like Botox, you can add †yaeba to the ever-growing list of things women do in the name of fashion — mini skirts, pointy stilettos — that are all about “women changing their appearance primarily for men” and, in particular, changing their appearance to make themselves look younger and more like a girl.
It’s an insidious trend not only in Japan and not only in Asia. In Seoul in South Korea, one out of five women between the ages of 19 and 49 has undergone cosmetic surgery to add a bridge to their nose, pare down their cheekbones, rearrange their jaws and make their eyes look larger and rounder by removing the epicanthic fold. The last sort of surgery makes women have a cutesie “Thumper” look as a Korean American friend once noted and is yet another way that women infantilize themselves in the name of beauty:
…itís easy to judge Japan as being weird and sexually-suspect, but we have practices with exactly the same effect here in the U.S. Consider the preponderance of bleach blonde hair in America. Itís a natural hair color in some children, very rare in adulthood, and adopted mostly by adult women, not men. Letís add baby doll dresses and shaving our pubes to the list.
This is a disturbing transnational phenomenon, then, and what I like about the Yaeba example is that itís unfamiliar enough to Americans that we can see it for what it is. And, if we can see it for what it is, we can turn our lens onto our own culture and see the things we do in a whole new light.
It’s not just that too many a “fashion trend” is all about women remaking (literally) themselves and their bodies to appeal to the male gaze. It’s about adult women transforming themselves into some ersatz idealization of girlishness and cuteness rather than accepting and just being who they are.
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Photo by Danny Choo