Image courtesy of Megumu

Tokyo model Megumu wants to help diversify Japan's beauty standards

Tired of the uniform industry she works in, Instagram fave Megumu shares her dreams of a business that respects the individuality of models.

by MAKOTO KIKUCHI; translated by Leandro Di Rosa
08 October 2020, 12:01pm

Image courtesy of Megumu

“Fair skin, slim figure and double-eyelids: these are the three conditions Japan’s media expect for their public images.” The Tokyo-born Australian-Japanese model and creative Megumu tells us, matter of factly, based on her experiences in the industry. “It started with my generation, and since then, pretty much only half-white half-East Asian models have been cast to model Japanese fashion. I understand it’s beneficial to me, but the lack of diversity when it comes to race and body shape in this business is unbelievable.”

Monolid eyes and short noses are both traits particular to East Asian people that are widely perceived locally as ‘unaesthetic’. In a 2016 survey by Dove, 92% of Japanese girls between the ages of 10 and 17 stated that they are not confident in their own appearance. Out of 13 countries polled, young Japanese girls were shown to be the most prone to hate their looks. One of the primary factors behind this is surely the excessive imposition of often unobtainable beauty standards by the country’s media.

In Japan’s creative industries, the demand for half-white, half-East Asian models is extremely high. And although recently Japan’s advertising industry has been following Western trends and becoming more aware of a focus on diversity, the bias towards Western looks is still strong. “I’m also getting tired of these fake pro-diversity ads,” Megumu says. “It’s just smug businesses and creators from the industry thinking ‘that’ll show ‘em!’ I want this business to become fair to all models, and not just a one-time ad because of some movement.”

Having represented herself as a model since she was a teenager, last year Megumu signed to Japan’s NUMBER EIGHT agency. “I’ve worked as a freelancer for a long time and thanks to that, I’ve been able to make a name for myself and do whatever jobs I want, without having to listen to the adults around me. It shaped my sense of independence,” she says. “But I realised that negotiating the conditions of a job can bring about a lot of stress. I’ve been rejected many times from big advertising jobs just because I didn’t belong to an agency — they didn’t trust me. No matter how hard I tried, sometimes I just didn’t get anything in return; it was quite a sacrifice.”

According to Megumu, however, this experience certainly wasn’t time wasted. “I don’t have any regrets: I am myself because I’ve tried my best as a freelancer,” she says. “I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought that if you don’t accomplish something all by yourself, it doesn’t really count. I wanted to take a step forward as an individual.” Now nearing her mid-20s, something has shifted in Megumu and she’s come to another conclusion. “I’ve been starting to realise that if you ask for help, it doesn’t automatically make you weak,” she says.

headshot portrait of Tokyo model Megumu

As an example of her recent change of heart, she recalls the time she collaborated with the Korean brand WHY NOT US on a collection that she designed and a campaign she creative directed: “I was trying to do everything by myself, and I ended up physically and mentally too tired to go to shoots I was producing. That’s when I decided to ask a friend to act as an assistant on the shoots — they’d remember all the smaller preparations that I’d completely forget. I realised that people aren’t able to live completely by themselves, and understood that there’s a real strength in asking for help.”

With this inspiring new attitude, Megumu’s immediate plan is to start a podcast or radio show. “I’ve always loved discussing stuff one-on-one with friends, so it’d be nice to broadcast that online. It would be like a ‘secret account’ almost; somewhere where I appear more ‘naked’ compared to on social media. One of my favourite podcasts recently is Majime ni Ero-Kaigi (Sex Talk Gone Serious). It’s a show about OLs openly talking about their sex lives — it’s interesting and refreshing listening to people that don’t really exist around you.”

Megumu’s ultimate dream though, is to open her own modelling agency. “The world is changing,” she says. “I want to open a modelling agency in Japan where we embrace a model’s body shape and the colour of their skin: where we respect their individuality.” Does she have a role model that she looks up when she envisions these dreams playing out, we wonder? “I think all women who have accomplished something are cool, but I can only be myself, not anyone else,” she says. “I want to be the kind of woman who is always growing, who is always better than her previous self.”