Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yaeba Superstar

Hawaii is a popular destination for Japanese people. 

When I was living in Honolulu in 2002, my roommate and I noticed that many of the convenience stores there sold Japanese porn magazines, and the cover girls on them were often smiling huge smiles--often with significant malocclusions

"Ugh, those teeth!" my roommate, who was Puerto Rican, would exclaim as we'd pass these displays.  "Man, I don't get it!"

Sorry, I have no idea what this says.  Probably something horrible.

I didn't either.  That is, until earlier this week when I was perusing the New York Times website, and I came across a link to Yaeba SuperstarYaeba is a Japanese noun for "double tooth," referring to the condition in which the lateral upper incisors are more recessed than the canines.  Apparently in Japan, this "fang"-like look is considered youthful, charming, and cute.

Umemoto Shizuka 

Wow, I never knew that.  Probably because I've never been into the Japanese culture thing.  I don't care for anime, or ninjas, or foods like sushi or squid or seaweed candy.  Nothing wrong with that stuff...I just never felt drawn to it.  But this yaeba website was utterly fascinating.  All my life I had been told that straight teeth were desirable, cool, sexy, and even medically necessary.  Meanwhile, one of the most advanced, innovative countries in the world thinks that crooked teeth are awesome.  Where the hell have I been??

And the more yaeba pictures I looked at, the more I could see its charm.  I've also never understood what guys dig about Asian women (aside from their reputation as being submissive, which I have no idea if that's true).  But, again, the more pictures I looked at of these women, the more firmly I decided that they really are quite lovely.  Such cheekbones.  And such glossy hair.  And they're so petite and graceful-looking, like slender flowers.  I totally get it now.

Amano Rie

Oriyama Miyu

Sawajiri Erika

Later, I inspected my own teeth in the mirror, and for the first time ever, I looked at my braces in an entirely different way.  On the one hand, humans have somehow survived for hundreds of thousands of years without orthodontics.  But on the other hand, in my culture, perfectly straight, gleaming white teeth are a status symbol--a symbol of youth, health, wealth, and immaculate grooming. 

Julianne Hough

And like any human, I desire a certain amount of status and am willing to do some extraordinary (or extraordinarily expensive) things to achieve that, believing that it will make my life easier in some ways.  Especially since about 80%* of a woman's status in society is determined by how she well she conforms to current standards of beauty.  Obviously, I fit into neither the Asian nor the Nordic ideals, so I don't really know what my status is.  Peripheral is my guess.  'Cause I can only afford so many status symbols. 

Before braces.

Now, with braces, which are due to come off Feb 2012.

But now I'm questioning the validity of perfect teeth as a status symbol.  Because apparently, Japanese women without any yaeba are paying money to get veneers added to their canines to get the look!

So there, grasshoppers.  Chew on that cultural cud tonight.

*80% is a subjective guess based on my personal experience as a contemporary American woman.  This figure should not be cited as empirical data.