The real story… behind beauty in Japan

Dave McCaughan
McCann WorldGroup Asia Pacific

We all know that for women in Japan and indeed everywhere beauty is non-negotiable. In November and December 2011 we undertook a global study regarding how women felt about the whole beauty experience. Our Truth about Beauty study found that 83% of women around the world agree that it plays a role in their lives that they do not feel they can compromise upon.

Japanese women are well known to have perhaps the most excessive relationship with beauty items. According to different studies they are the world's per capita largest spenders on beauty goods. They carry more items in their bags and purses than any other woman. Their routines are the most complex. And it is always changing. The dynamism of the beauty world fuels a cycle of constant reinvention.

In one exercise we looked at the macro changes happening in Japanese women's lives over the last 50 years in parallel with changing attitudes to beauty (see chart 1). What is not surprising is that beauty reflects the times. You can see that as women's lives and social conditions changed so did the beauty styles and attitudes. Maybe it is no coincidence but around 2003 we started to see in magazines and websites a greater trend for women to be photographed more boldly staring, almost challenging the camera. This was a trend common in the West, but new in Japan. Perhaps no coincidence that around the middle of the last decade we saw that for the first time the majority of female new graduates were starting their first real jobs with an immediate female supervisor. A telling moment in the changing attitudes of women reflecting, at least for younger women, more confidence in their future. And that in turn matches the other trends that have led to the "carnivorous woman," a trend of recent years. Women are less reliant on marriage for their future, they are feeling that they can be more selective in what type of man they will settle down with etc.