Monday, February 14, 2011

The Skin You`re In

I went to Sasebo on Friday morning and the ferry ride wasn`t too horrible. Everyone and their brother was leaving Ojika for the extended weekend. I helped a kid with his English homework on the trip so one would call the trip productive. I had to create a cereal box barrier with my bags while I slept though because the family next to me had a first grade student and her little brother and he kept staring at me. I can`t fall asleep with people watching me. It`s just too much pressure and I`m afraid that my mouth will fall open and I will start to snore - becoming a part of the latest tidal wave of gossip on a tiny island.

I got to Sasebo and sat at a Seattle`s Best coffee shop and read Three Cups of Tea (highly recommend it!) until my appointment. My stomach was in knots over this hair appointment. I`m usually only ever this nervous for certain doctor`s appointments. Anyway, I showed up at the hair place and immediately knocked over the umbrella stand with my backpack. The receptionist, who also ended up being my hairdresser, was also a bit awkward so we were a match made in beautician heaven. He was super nice though and he spoke a fair amount of English. Turns out they get a lot of Navy wives there since there is a U.S. naval base in the city.

One thing I love about living and traveling in other countries is how blatantly honest people are. They are naturally curious about you as much as you are about them and you can strike up some great conversations. Another woman came over and started speaking to me in English that was pretty impressive. She had a bit of an American accent and said that when she isn`t working at the salon, she is studying English. As they were blowdrying my hair, she asked me if I knew about karate. I said I know what it is and she pointed to my hairdresser and said that he used to be a champion at karate. When I asked if he does karate now, she shook her head and said "oh no!" And then she blew out her cheeks like a blowfish and pointed at her stomach.

I am considered huge in Japan. Women in Japan are super tiny - which is surprising considering how many carbs and fried foods are consumed here. But people are obsessed with losing weight and staying tiny. You can often see ads for weight loss pills or doo-dads that will make you lose weight or give the illusion that you have lost weight. A male student came into the teacher`s room and some teachers were giving him a hard time about having gained weight. I don`t blame him. All the kid does and is expected to do is study. You aren`t exactly doing wind sprints when studying calculus or English irregular verbs so I said "you look fine. Don`t worry." That seemed to get a shocked look from one of the teachers. In my opinion, the kid has enough to worry about without people picking on his physical appearance.

Some kind of weight loss belt.

A weight loss bath....mhmmmm. It appears that you take a bath in a plastic bag.

There I go, off on a tangent. The hair cut ended up going quite well. I will probably return for my next cut. After that, I wandered around and bought some things I needed for the apartment and I went and sat and read at Starbucks. That`s right. I hit up all the western coffee shops in Sasebo in the span of four hours. It`s just relaxing to sit there and drink a latte while reading my kindle. I bought a few other things - stickers for my students, a hairdryer, and moisturizing cream. Now normally I don`t care to mention something as small as moisturizing cream on my blog but I just want to point out something about creams in Japan. Most facial moisturizers in Japan have a whitening agent added to them because women are obsessed with having "pure" white complexions. In the summer, you will be the only woman wearing a tank top. It could be over 100 degrees and you will still see women wearing long sleeve shirts and pants, wearing hats that are the closest relatives to the sombrero they can find.

No one seems to buy into the idea that your skin color is beautiful the way it is. So every time you buy a cream in Japan, you have to be careful that you don`t buy the skin moisturizing equivalent of Crest White Strips. Unless you enjoy looking like a mime in order to achieve someone else`s idea of beauty and lining the pockets of beauty product companies forever telling you that you aren`t good enough until you are buying what they`re selling. I remember in Mozambique, some women wanted to have lighter skin because they thought it was more beautiful. Some of the most beautiful women in the world were willing to bleach (and sometimes irreparably damage) their gorgeous, dark skin to meet other people`s warped definition of beauty. So sad.

I had such a difficult time picking out creams because A) it`s all in Japanese and B) it seems like there are even more choices in facial products in Japan. I thought America was thorough enough in their skin care until I watched a Japanese friend go through her beauty regimen before bed one night when I was visiting her. It was more complicated than and took about as long as a ProActiv infomercial. It took about twenty minutes, from cleansing and scrubbing, to applying syrum, and a special formula to treat the T-zone and then moisturizing. Long gone are the days of rubbing some Irish Spring soap on and splashing it off before bedtime.

I was at an enkai (party) last week and was sitting next to an older woman. Toward the end of the evening, she held her arm up next to mine and seemed disappointed that my skin was whiter than hers - not taking into account that genetically, I should be lighter than her. This was the same woman who laments over her athletic granddaughter`s skin being "too brown." Hopefully, this idea of desirable skin color being only white changes in the next generation or two.

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