But Where Did The Lolita Complex Come From?

I’ve been wondering about this for a while – this fascination with youth, innocence and submissiveness both in American beauty culture and in other countries across the globe. And of course there is no consistent answer because, as Laura Miller points out in her book Beauty Up, not all culture’s standards of beauty are constructed for a desire to obtain Western features or ideals. But the correlation of transnational youthful desires is undeniable. Big eyes, small statures, lack of body hair, flat chests, smooth skin it all point to an ageless feminine aesthetic and I just don’t get it.

The contradiction that most women exist in is epitomized in a line from the 80s classic The Breakfast Club

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Miller acknowledges the depth of this pull in Japanese beauty culture particularly after the US occupation of Japan during and immediately following World War II. Miller states that during the occupation beauty standards, particularly those of women in the gaze of the foreign soldiers, shifted to meet a more Americanized preferences—large breasts and small waists. In addition to these beauty standards, relationships with bodies changed—breast bearing in public became crude and indecent so rather than continue a practice that could garner negative attention from the occupiers, women stopped breastfeeding in public.

Not only did specific practices shrink into obscurity during this occupied state, people themselves shrunk out of the public eye to avoid confrontation. In war, civilians hide to avoid torment so it makes sense that people, particularly women whose bodies have historically been used as collateral in wartime would try to become smaller and stand out even less.

After the occupation, I believe that the combination of this habitual fear and also an aesthetic backlash to the American standards of large-breasted, sexually developed women brought about the “cute aesthetic” in the 1960s and 70s. This idolized immaturity was supported by Japan’s traditional view of body hair being barbaric and the view of white men and women as uncivilized because of their excessive body hair as it would have glorified the image of a hairless pre-pubescent female body. In addition the Japanese view of the white man as barbaric would have helped the Japanese “etiquette” rules to distance all Western beauty standards as uncivilized.

But there has since been another backlash since the “cute aesthetic” found its foot hole into a more individualized Japanese style. Japanese street style is well know for juxtaposing images of innocence with sexual potency and for the women who take advantage of these aesthetics see them as an avenue of expression rather than oppression.

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But in some cases these images continue to be fetishized in the West, take for example Maid Café in China town, where the waitresses are all dressed in pint-sized outfits and call the patrons, “master”.

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The obsession with child-like femininity is, I believe, a culmination of distinct culture fears and conditioning specific each region it is found in. In Japanese culture, according to Miller, it is possible that the cultivation of youthful aesthetics could be yet another incarnation of what it means to be Japanese and how that heritage is put out into the public eye.

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2 thoughts on “But Where Did The Lolita Complex Come From?

  1. Great points about a societal expectation that I’ve always been curious about. From my limited studies on Japan, I can see what the author points about about the strong Lolita complex in their culture and fashion. I feel like this is also prevalent in other countries scattered throughout the world as well. However, I do feel some Western nations are exempt. I am just going by my personal experiences, but with European parents and a great deal of travel in the Mediterranean, I think places like Greece, Spain, and Italy are among those exempt. Though these are traditionally patriarchal societies, I feel like they value a strong and developed woman. A big bust and full backside are considered extremely attractive in these countries. Also, women who are too thin are seen as less attractive and sickly. I remember in middle school, I was hanging out on the beach with my friends in Greece, and our friend Panos said to my (naturally thin) friend Christina, “You really need to gain some weight”. Christina did not take offense to this, she agreed and said that she knew. The other boys nodded in approval at Panos. As a chubby girl coming from the vicious place that was middle school in New Jersey, I was shocked yet delighted. In the next few years after that, I have been continuously surprised at how much more desirable my body seemed in Spain and Greece (Though I do think curves are “back” in the US now, as opposed to the Paris Hilton body that was glorified in my middle school days). I think that the appreciation on women not being small and Lolita-esque is sexual. In Mediterranean cultures, because creating a family is still so important and ingrained into the culture, men seek out more biologically “fertile” looking women. After all, Greece is the #1 country in terms of how much sex is had (yes, #1 in the world. That’s probably why i have 20 first cousins). A healthy, mature, and developed female body is valued and lusted after. This does not mean that these countries value women in general more (because even though we aren’t encouraged to be small, we use our developed bodies to make babies and are still for the use of men), but it does present a contrasting view on what is attractive in first-world nations.

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  2. I find It very interesting and important to discuss and question the changes in beauty ideals and etiquette during the US occupancy of Japan. However, I do not see the direct relation between western influence and youth fetishization in the way you describe it. Miller observes a large shift in beauty practices and preferences in Japan during, and post, World War II. Breast implants and augmentation services emerge for the first time and ‘modern’ western make up gains popularity. As western women filled most of the roles as pop cultural icons in Japanese culture, Japanese women had to find their own roles to fill. I don’t think this should be described as an ‘aesthetic backlash’ but more so an adaptive response to the changing aesthetic ideals promoted by popular western culture. I say this because the US specifically, for centuries past and presently, continues to fetishize youth and commonly defines beauty interchangeably with youthfulness. While Japan has begun to move away from the ‘cute aesthetic’ (both by women individualizing the style with new elements and by the media idolizing different types of Asian beauty) the obsession with youth in the US continues to gain momentum.

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