Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Too Skinny? Does Japan have a problem?

While the average weight of women in western nations is growing Japanese women are getting slimmer. Although that might sound like a good thing in some cases its definitely not.  The average BMI of Japanese women under 60 is 16 - 20 while doctors say a healthy BMI is 22.


According to a lot of experts social pressure is the main reason for young women's obsession with weight. Japanese women can be ever critical of each other. A lot of japanese magazines also pile on the pressure with magazine diet plans featuring women that are already very slim.

Some Japanese women have trouble buying clothes outside of Japan as they are too slim to fit into size 0 clothing. This is an issue i feel quite strongly that it is wrong.

Japanese health experts are showing a lot of concern and state that younger women in Japan have probably become too slim and common health problems for this group is slowing down of their metabolisms, declining birth weights of babies and their fatality risk in case of serious illness is rapidly rising.

Diet pills are getting lower in price and many women are taking them without considering the consequences and risk to their health. Its long been shown that Japanese citizens live longer than their western counterparts due to their pace of life and their healthy diet. The next generation of Japanese women are building up a portfolio of health problems due to their weight obsession and many will probably not live as long as the older generation Japanese.

Whereas Japanese men are heading in the opposite direction. 20 years ago 20% of Japanese men under 50 were overweight and now its risen to 32%.

Although some think men can be part of the problem when it comes to women's weight obsession.

The claim is Japanese men like slim women and fashionable clothes are sized for slim women. But i think the real reason why women want to be thin is so they can compare themselves to other women.

Research has shown that Japanese women in urbanised areas of Japan  are a lot thinner than those in countryside areas. And many women's weight drops when they start university.

When women are surrounded by a lot of other women their weight drops because they are constantly comparing themselves and competing to be the thinnest.

Surprising still is the fact that Japan has some of the lowest rates of Anorexia and Bulimia which is astounding considering the lengths some of them go to lose weight.

Some may have found this post a little controversial and everyone is of course entitled to their opinion.

What are your thoughts? agree? disagree? comment and let me know!


  1. I dont think Japan has a "problem" as such. I think thats a bad word to use. "Problem" only arises when the West voices its opinion and compares Japan to themselves. For example recently at a doctors visit in UK I was told to not lose more weight, on the other hand, talking by phone to my physician in Japan he said I could still be perfectly healthy and I'd probably feel much better if I lose another 10kg.
    The problem is the West likes to compare with Japan and draw similarites and difference when and where it pleases in order to create a favourable outcome. So for example one minute the West will idolize the healthy lifestyle and slimness of Japanese women whilst saying "but they are naturally slim, its their bone structure", and then the next minute in order to NOT have the rest of the world seem like obese monkeys they criticize Japan for being "the odd one out" and "they have a dieting obsession. they shouldn't be so thin"etc. ; passing judgement how and where it suits them.

    As for eating disorders in Japan, there is no denying a lot of women use terrible methods to lose weight in order to increase their social standing however there is no fact in claiming there are more or less than anywhere else as in Japanese culture such things are hardly ever diagnosed or reported due to social pressures and embarassment. In fact the major point is to think about at what point does it become disordered eating?
    If the body and mind are completely stable and fine only consuming between 1/2 and 3/4 the ammount a westerner consumes, then how is that disordered? It is only perceived as disordered when compared against reccomended daily intake figures dictated by western doctors for western people.
    I feel, regarding the eating habits of myself and other japanese women, that it only becomes disordered eating when mentally the daily intake of the individual becomes an obsession, and the decision to restrict intake is a concious decision; lest binge/purging cycles come into play and thats a whole different eating disorders board-game :)

  2. Alot of my info from my japanese penpals when i said i felt too skinny. And i think that if your weight is causing you health problems then your weight is a problem which actually applies to being too underweight or overweight. And Japanese public health officials themselves have voiced concerns over young womens weights. I think tht if a girl is too slim even for size 0 clothing (even size 0 is super skinny. im v slim and even im not 0) then that is too slim. I think its 1 thing to be naturally that weight but quite another when your eating under 1000 calories a day to get that way. i knew this post would be a bit controversial (and i hope ive not offended any1 especially you Jou)

  3. When I read Japanese magazines I always see that kind of advertising. Why losing 16kg more when you only weight 57kg?
    I can understand it, because I'm a bit obsessed with my weight too, but I don't know...I don't think I'd loose 16kg more (I've already loose 30kg)

  4. Interesting post!
    When I was in Japan I definitely felt on the fat side of average. I saw a lot more girls who were clearly suffering severely from anorexia in Japan in four months than I've seen in England throughout my entire life.

    To be honest, I think Japan and the UK both have problems, anorexia (NOT dieting!) and obesity respectively. Most girls I saw in Japan were a healthy weight (slim), but I think there's definitely more pressure from the media on Japanese girls to be thin. Definitely the models they feature in magazines don't need to lose weight. T_T
    On the other hand, there are way too many fat people in England, which I noticed even more after I came back. I am sick of hearing 'big is beautiful' - it's a lie made up by people with eating disorders to justify their extra weight.

    I guess you have to consider genetic differences - I think Westerners are generally slightly bigger than Japanese people - but not necessarily more prone to putting weight on (? don't know for sure!). I don't think that Japan's problem is anywhere near as serious as that of the West though.
    Plus, I think Jou's doctors' visits just serve to illustrate what is socially acceptable in each country. So does your quotation of 22 as a healthy BMI - I'm assuming that was from Western sources? My BMI is 19, meaning I should be underweight, but I most definitely am not.
    Maybe if you think a size 12 is a good weight, and that's the thing :|

  5. see i tend to differ. my bmi is also 19 and i feel very underweight. my collarbones stick out and to me that means im underweight. i definitely think that westerners have a huge problem with obesity tho and they are passing it onto their children. i think if you are naturally slim its 1 thing but if your very slim and then diet or take pills to get even slimmer then thats quite another

  6. YES, BIG PROBLEM :( especially when it comes to shopping in Japan for foreigners. Their size charts are alot smaller compared to western standards. I was so stoked when I got to shibuya109 but i was SO depressed cuz I could barely fit in some of their L clothing -,- and in North America, I usually wear S -M :(

    ok, i have digressed alittle.
    in Asia, there is never an end to weight loss. The media only adores the thinnest ladies. I personally favor slim models but in reality some girls just need to be more confident about their curves =\

    and i absolutely love your blog and the topics that you bring up. awesome :)

  7. Nice to see this post. I think there is a "problem" that is not always acknowledge and I have dealt with it myself living here. Some people say women are skinny because the men here want slender women but if you look at what the men like (via some porn shops, bikini shots in comic magazines etc) those women are never super thin. However, in women`s magazines you will always see very thin models (of course, they are models!). Plus, tons of advertisement for calorie pills, diet fads, etc are very much the norm (and people USE them). In the west, I never saw people just walk into stores and casually buy diet pills but I have experienced it a lot here. The popularity of these methods baffled me when I first moved here.

    Also, whenever anyone I know is on a diet (friend, coworker, etc) it isn`t about healthy eating or exercise, it is always about cutting out an extreme amount of food from their diet. Definitely not the normal 1,200calories most people NEED to be healthy no matter their weight.

    I think anorexia and bulimia is not reported, period. A lot of women do not even go to the gyno in Japan until they are pregnant (and some don`t even go when they KNOW they have an STD) so it could just be a case of not reporting it. There is still a stigma attached to certain things like mental illness, depression, etc. which is quite sad.

    However, I am not trying to say all Japanese women are in the wrong. Certainly, some women are just naturally slender. And I don`t think the West is blameless either, they have a much bigger problem with obesity and I have noticed that the weight that is considered "normal" is not normally a healthy weight either. There is nothing wrong with curvy women, but sometimes those women are not "curvy" they have just packed on a lot of unneeded pounds.

    But I do agree with this article, especially with the fact that women compete to be thin. I don`t know how many times other women have called me fat when I have a 25in waist in Japan which is a small (by Japanese standards too) or told me that I would be fat simply because I am American or the ever-wonderful I should go on a diet...women who say this to me despite knowing my size normally are the ones wishing they were skinnier & are the ones doing the unhealthy diets. I get just as many oh wow you are so slender and look great compliments as well, but the fact that ANYONE can tell me to go on a diet or that I am fat makes me shake my head at the mentality. If it hadn`t happened so much, with so many different people (strangers, too!) then I wouldn`t be generalizing like this but it has.

    People just need to learn to be happy with their weight--and most of all be healthy (eat right AND exercise) no matter what country you live in. The fact that anyone competes with another (in anything) stems from an unhealthy image of self.

    Sorry to spam your comment box like this, but weight struggles are a near-and-dear position in my heart as I used to struggle with my own perception of weight but I find I am much happier just accepting my body as is despite any flaws and to stop worrying about what ideal the media (or anyone really) promotes.

  8. lol its not spam. I always like long comments especially ones with soo much relevant information. I am of course commenting as an outsider so its nice to hear from someone who actually lives there and has first hand knowledge of the subject.

    Thanks for stopping by Hana xxx

  9. The fact that anyone (hopefully no men) has called you fat Hana makes me want to just jump off a bridge. I wouldn't know how to deal with insanity like that. And that's the best word I can find for it because it's so far out of reality it incomprehensible.

  10. its crazy i have the same size waist as hana and over here every1 says im too thin xx and weird coincidence i was just on ur blog sara mari at the same time that u were on mine lol xx thx 4 ur comment :)

  11. It`s not just the problem of people being underweight, but what`s worst is the kind of normalised anorexia/extreme dieting in Japanese society.
    Crazy fad diets, women who literally have collar bones ribs, and no one bats an eyelid.
    From elm school they have it drummed into them `must not be fat` because you`ll just be rediculed and in adulthood if your `fat` you won`t fit an M size and you think everyone is looking at you thinking `debu~`

  12. I enjoyed reading this post as it's something I feel strongly about, as you know :D

    I really do feel that there is a big problem here in Japan. And I am not saying that as a "'Westerner' putting my views onto Japanese society' because I have noticed that a lot of the problems are also with my non-Japanese friends...but only since they moved to Japan. Of course there are eating problems back home...sometimes more to do with obesity than losing weight but it does feel much more intensified here.
    I think there are so many factors that drive women to lose weight but I would have to agree with you and say that the main one is because they do it for other women. There is so much competition here among girls, more so than back home I think. I have felt it too, but I choose not to go down the path some of my friends have taken.

    I was quite surprised that my friends and other people don't see taking laxatives or supplementing meals with tea (because it's low calorie) as a disorder. If you're not consuming the calories and energy you need daily then you're going to end up with a problem. In my opinion if you are only consuming 600 calories a day, feeling weak and almost passing out because you want to lose weight (that happened to a friend of mine here in Japan) then you have a problem.
    It really upsets me when I know the problems that can arise from it, physically and mentally.

    I myself have never had that problem and I wonder if it's because I don't feel the need to justify myself to others. I am happy with who I am and whereas I know I'm not as skinny as some Japanese I don't bother trying to compete.

    I realise that not all people who are on diets or take supplements have eating disorders, just as I realise my friends probably don't - but they certainly have the beginning of one D:

  13. I Know! it's shocking i feel pretty strongly about it too hence the post i personally have the opposite problem as im naturally very slim but wanna weigh more after aland thanks so much for commenting it means a lot coming from you as i have long adored your blog :)

  14. I read your article and it is defiently something I see as a problem here in Japan, maybe the number of women with eating disorders is low because no one comes foward about it. It is impossible to have such a society obsessed with extreme thinness not have many eating disorders if not one of the highest. Sad that some women really have nothing going for themselves but the way they look and the sad thing is extreme thinness is not even pretty.

  15. Also one sad thing i noticed but my in-laws ignore is that my sister in-law after every meal i have been with her, she has went to the bathroom right after eating....sad. I know eating disorders are a world wide problem but I honestly think people here in japan dont see it as a problem maybe? I know my mon would be like are you going to the bathroom after every meal? Ive had a eating disorder and they are a very ugly thing to get...they really mess with your mind and I dont want my sister-in-law to be unhealthy because of me you know when someone has one when you have had one.

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