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Women with Fuller Physiques Come into Vogue

November 26, 1998

Norika Fujiwara: proof that popularity doesn't depend on skinniness. (Jiji Press)

The "dream physique" aspired to by young Japanese women is changing. Attention is moving from singers and fashion models with sharply svelte silhouettes, characterized by lanky legs and pronounced collarbones, to celebrities with a healthy, slightly rounded look. Although the new look is more than mere flab and requires as much shaping up as before, its growing popularity may still be good news for the many women who have been putting themselves through rigorous diets in pursuit of a skin-and-bone body--many in vain.

Full-Figured, Not Fat
One of the most popular female stars among young Japanese women today is Norika Fujiwara, who first caught public attention as a model in a swimwear maker's ads; she subsequently appeared in a number of men's magazines before becoming an actress. She is now featured in numerous television shows, commercials, and magazines. The secret of her popularity lies both in her physique and her unassuming personality. One sportswear designer describes Fujiwara's figure as "mature but slim; fleshy at first glance, but not in excess." Despite her often revealing fashion, she does not come across as flirtatious. Since March 1998 Fujiwara has been seen in ads for a mobile phone company that had previously been attracting just 1,000 new subscribers per month. The month after her first appearance in the company's ads, this figure shot up to 23,000, then to 68,000 in July. "I was a bit worried at first that Fujiwara might not go over well with women," the company's promotion director admits, "but now I realize I was completely wrong."

A number of other stars with fuller figures like Fujiwara's have recently seen their popularity soar. Until not long ago, female celebrities with prominent busts were appreciated mostly for their sexual appeal, appearing in men's magazines wearing skimpy dresses and bikinis. But their status is changing. More of them have found success as actresses and TV personalities without needing to dress scantily; their distinctive characters have won them a respectable following not only among men but also among their own gender.

Women Returning to Their Natural Selves
The physique held up as ideal for a woman never stays the same for very long. In the 1970s Agnes Lum, a Hawaiian-born woman with a full, sensuous figure, debuted in a TV commercial and became instantly popular, particularly among men. For some time thereafter, women with curvaceous figures became the mainstream on the TV screen. A similar boom was sparked by the appearance of singer Namie Amuro in the mid-1990s, who enjoyed unparalleled popularity among teenagers and young women until quite recently . Known for her energetic dancing that belies her frail appearance, she came to be imitated by her innumerable fans, from her clothes down to her bleached hair and dark tan. The legion of Amuro look-alikes came to be known as amuraa (Amuro + raa, Japan's adaptation of the English suffix -er, as in "dancer"). Amuro's popularity was one big factor that helped escalate the dieting craze.

Although there are still quite a few very slender celebrities like Amuro on the scene, the emergence of stars like Fujiwara--well-rounded but not overweight--points to a changing trend. One fashion critic says that "the ideal for a woman's figure reflects the sexual role women are expected to play," and goes on to analyze that the era when women were seen mainly as sex symbols for men is ending; they are returning to their natural, honest selves. Still, achieving a well-balanced body is no simple matter. As ever, beauty does not come easy.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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