[PAST EVENT] Democracy's Poster Girls: Beauty Queens and Fashion Models in Cold War Japan
American-style beauty contests complete with young women in tiaras, sashes, and swimsuits became big business in Japan in the 1950s. Pageants were held for all kinds of reasons ? to attract local tourism, promote products, and, most interestingly, to do diplomatic work. Contests to crown Miss Black Ships, Miss World, and Miss Universe were also hailed as displays of women?s rights. My presentation focuses on the controversial rise and fall of Miss Japan 1953 Ito Kinuko and Miss Universe 1959 Kojima Akiko, two of Japan?s early runway fashion models and beauty queens. Celebrated as emblems of the new self-confidence of young Japanese in the wake of postwar reforms, the pair inspired envy for their tall, healthy frames and glamorous professions. Soon after their victories in the Miss Universe Contest, however, critics attacked both queens as pawns in Japan-U.S. diplomatic and commercial alliances and as women imbued with a kind of ego and greed new to Japan. By following the highlights of the pair?s pageant experiences, we see how much the beauty queen?s iconic uniforms?her ball gown, native costume, and of course, her swimsuit?shaped her as a cultural figure and a cautionary tale about the allure and dangers of Americanization in 1950s Japan. In conclusion, catching up with the times, we find that beauty contests are again poplar in Japan. What notions of success do millennial queens embody? How do accusations of egoism and non-Japaneseness continue to plague them? How have the multiracial Miss Japan queens of 2015 and 2016 pointed to Japan?s increasing diversity?
JAN BARDSLEY, Professor of Asian Studies in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializes in Japanese Humanities and Women?s Studies. She is the author of Women and Democracy in Cold War Japan (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014) and The Bluestockings of Japan: New Women Fiction and Essays from Seito, 1911-1916 (University of Michigan, Center for Japanese Studies, 2007), which was awarded the 2011 Hiratsuka Raicho Prize by Japan Women?s University. With Laura Miller, she has co-edited two books, Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan (University of California Press, 2011) and Bad Girls of Japan (Palgrave, 2005). Bardsley was an editor of the U.S.-Japan Women?s Journal and former chair of the Northeast Asia Council (2007-08). She is co-producer/director with Joanne Hershfield of the documentary, Women in Japan: Memories of the Past, Dreams for the Future (2002).