Anime, Eating Disorders, and the Body Image of Men

Let’s talk about men and eating disorders and, of course this being JP, anime/manga. Eating disorders result from what’s called body image disturbance, a fancy term that means you don’t like how you look. It’s well known that women struggle the most with this: 60% of American women suffer from body dissatisfaction. But 30% of American men suffer from it too (Chisuwa, 2011).  Negative body image helps cause eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and exercise. Yes, exercise–excessive and compulsive exercise–falls under the eating disorder category. I want to focus on the male side of this problem. This side of the problem is often ignored. In fact, male eating disorders remains less studied than female in Japan (Chisuwa, 2011). Of course, I can’t discuss this topic without speaking a bit about women too. After all, women are 10 times more likely than men to develop an eating disorder (Goddard, 2014).

The Differences Between Male and Female Eating Disorders.

Men and women react differently to the pressures that cause eating disorders. Negative body image, social pressures, gender roles, perfectionism, and media push on people to achieve often impossible ideals. Those ideals, however, differ by gender. Women feel pressured to be thin; men feel pressured to be muscled. They also focus on different body areas. Women fret about their butts and thighs more than any other parts of their bodies. Men worry about the upper body, their chest, arms, and abs (Cordes, 2016).  Male body ideals require strong muscle definition and a V-shaped, toned body. Female body definition requires thinness with large breasts and medium (not too wide!) hips.

These American standards have become global standards as American media pushed its messages into other cultures: “the United States possesses a Western culture that exerts enormous influence on the rest of the World” (Tan, 2013). These standards redefine traditional cultural body ideals. They don’t replace them, however. For example, the ideal male Japanese body image lacks the bulky muscles of the ideal American male, but it has still shifted the ideal. Unfortunately, Japanese men haven’t been studied as much as American men when it comes to eating disorders. But the few studies performed found Japanese men also underestimate their weight and muscularity. In a comparison study, male and female Japanese body esteem scores were lower than Americans, Chinese, and Israelis (Chisuwa, 2011).

Japanese Eating Disorders and Body Image

In a study from 1994, 60% of Japanese women surveyed admitted to binge eating at times and 15% admitted to vomiting occasionally. In fact, eating disorders go back further. Shutoku Kagawa (1683-1755) observed patients who would eat only small amounts of food for days, months, and even more than a year. When these patients were forced to eat, Kagawa wrote, they would vomit (Chisuwa, 2011). Considering this, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Japanese culture struggles with eating disorders as much, if not more, than the West.

In similar surveys of men, most expressed general satisfaction with their bodies; however, most desired more muscle, just like their American counterparts. However, whereas Americans wanted muscle to increase attractiveness, Japanese men wanted muscle to help their athletic abilities. They also didn’t want the bulky muscles Americans like. Japanese men also wanted to be a little taller, but not tall enough to look down on people. In Japanese culture, conformity to social norms remains valued. This conformity contributes to eating disorders.  Chisuwa (2011) writes about how children develop eating disorders when they attempt to conform to their parent’s pressure to lose weight or stay thin. Mothers in particular play a role in enforcing traditional body ideals. Teens even ask mothers for help with weight concerns and dieting.

These cultural ideals of how a body should be extends to behavior. Appearance, behavior, and people’s perceptions entangle into three categories of male ideals that each contribute to male body problems across Japanese and American culture.

Categories of Male Ideals

Although there are only 3 categories of masculinity, each have different subcategories of men. This chart comes from Yue Tan’s analysis of men’s lifestyle magazines from various cultures in 2013.

Vigorous and Macho1. Tough and Macho. With a traditional cowboyish look and temperament, the model is muscular in physique and determined in facial expression.
The sharp, angular lines of his face speak of toughness and resolution. With tanned skin, in leather or cowboy clothes, the model appears nomadically unkempt, strong-willed and lion-hearted.2. Vigorous and sunny. Like a boy next door, the model often wears a coy, innocent, and brilliant smile. His skin is tanned. His clothing is sporty and
casual. His look and posture are those of someone who is amiable and easy-going.
Refined and Sophisticated3. Refined and Gentle. With the look of a well-learned intellectual, the model
appears cultured, polite, graceful, and good-mannered. He is often dressed in
preppy style (e.g. shirts, argyle sweaters, etc) and wears glasses. His hair is always neat and tidy, and his appearance is always clean and classic.
4. Stern and Sophisticated. With a confident and firm look, the model impresses the viewers as mature and reliable. He is dressed in formal attire (usually suits).
Trendy and Cool5. Trendy and Cool. Clothed and accessorized in the latest fashion, the model is likely to stand in a provocative posture and displays a freedom-loving and rebellious temperament. His facial expression is either numb or aloof, thereby creating a sense of distance between him and his viewers. He often leers at people and assumes the attitude of indifference and scorn.
Other6. Sensual and Sexy. Often in sexually arousing attire or revealing, tight clothes such as swimming suit and underwear, the model usually looks away from the camera and refrains from appearing smart and sophisticated or springy and sunny. His facial expression and posture—such as caressing his own body—often seem unnatural because they are contrived to seduce his viewers and arouse their sexual desire.
7. Androgynous. With exquisite features, the model dresses and behaves in a more feminine way or wears makeup. He appears in a more delicate, meek, and dependent posture.

Men are expected to sort themselves into these categories. Each ideal has its own body types to achieve, and all of which are not easily attainable by men with school, jobs, and family. Despite having multiple categories, the macho category retains the most focus. The American male ideal focuses on aggression, violence, and big muscles.

Think about typical American action films. A male hero, usually heavily muscled, uses violence to win the day. This links the macho category, muscles, and violence together. Male characters in general are more likely than female characters to be aggressive in media. This contributes to men’s feelings of inadequacy. Few can be James Bond. Strangely, when it comes to sexualized images of women in the media, this too has been shown in studies to increase men’s negative perception of themselves (Tayler, 2016). Violent stories with sexuality make men feel worse about their bodies according to Tayler (2016):

“It is possible that very violent images may be seen as more unsettling and threatening, or they may cause viewers to feel alienated from the stereotypical  masculinity with which such violence may be associated.”

Modern masculinity is designed to foster this negative body image through relentless media messages found in movies and in advertising. In the 1980s, Western masculinity saw a shift toward outward appearance as a method to sell products and fashions to men. While women have suffered from this type of marketing for a long time, companies began to target men’s insecurities in order to sell products (Tan, 2013). Dissatisfaction pushes people to consume products that claim to help them achieve the ideals the media sells. In turn, these messages and increased feelings of insecurity creates eating disorders and compulsive consumption. As I’ve pointed out, this isn’t limited to the United States. Japan and other westernized countries deal with this.

Anime and manga don’t help the issue.

Male Body Image and Manga and Anime

It’s taken me awhile to get down to this point, but anime and manga foster feelings of insecurity in men through the same mechanisms I’ve outlined. Manga and anime reinforce body ideals and the ideal categories of masculinity. They feature ripped, aggressive men doing their hero thing. Look at Ichigo and Goku. All of then are chiseled. Beautiful anime girls contribute to the feelings of inadequacy. Although, waifuism acts as a release valve for those who lack confidence to approach women in reality. But the retreat from the physical world proves the power of media’s messages. Waifuism can leave women feeling inadequate just as pornography does.

Sometimes obesity, another eating disorder according to medicine’s view, results from how media pushes on insecurities. Some people use food to escape their insecurities instead of trying to achieve the media’s ideals. It serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Waifuism and heavy anime consumption does the same thing. They came from a negative self image (there are exceptions to this). In all cases, you are still giving into the messages of consumption–which is the final goal of marketers. Content people don’t consume as much as those who are dissatisfied with themselves. Consumption leaves a hit of dopamine, the feel-good brain chemical, but it is short lasting and requires more consumption to achieve.

Anime and manga offers an alternative male idea to mainstream America, but for most this body ideal isn’t attainable either. We forget that models on magazines look as they do because its their job. They spend hours sculpting their bodies in the gym. Those of us who do other work can’t take the necessary time to exercise and eat as needed to attain the look. Manga and anime model their characters off of these body and from people like Bruce Lee, who made martial arts and fitness his life. However, you will see just as many anime heroes that have thin “nerdy” body types. They aren’t muscled or ripped. They are a thin, normal. However, you rarely see husky men as main protagonists. They are usually supporting cast, like Naruto’s Choiji Akimichi. But alternative body types do exist, even though most shonen action heroes end up ripped like Bruce Lee or hulking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Knowing it’s all fantasy and not attainable blunts the messages’ influence, but contentment with oneself is tough to achieve. Even if you reach it, it can be lost without vigilance. Negative body image remains among the most powerful forces in marketing. People who are content don’t want or need as much, and they value what they have, which reduces their need to buy the newest and shiniest. Because of this, our economy doesn’t want us feeling content. Anime and manga doesn’t collude with marketers to make men and women feel inadequate.

Rather, it is a subtle momentum in how everyone thinks. Heroes need to be strong. Muscles mean strength. The connection was innocent in the age before consumerism and mass media. It was maybe even useful, but now the connections foster negative body images and lead people to eating disorders.

The pressures trouble me. It’s not like we can completely disconnect from media. After all, we enjoy anime and manga. Marketing in western countries is everywhere. People pay companies to market for them. That’s what you are doing when you wear a Nike shirt. We can’t avoid the factors that contribute to negative body image and eating disorders. The only tool I concluded that helps is mindfulness. Being aware of the messages peddled and how they make me feel helps me curb the desire to bulk up (not that I have a body that could).

In fact, emotions play a significant role in eating disorders. A problem called alexithymia appears in many cases of eating disorders. Studies estimate between 23-77.1% of anorexia patients and up to 56% of bulimia patients show symptoms of this problem. Alexithymia is the inability to identify, describe, and mange emotions and separate them from physical sensations. People with the issue struggle to overcome their eating disorders because they can’t identify the emotional reasons behind their eating disorders. Eating disorders act as a way to regulate the emotional response because of this lack of awareness (Beradis, 2011).  Stress is felt as hunger, for example. People who struggle with alexithymia “eat their emotions” without being able to pin down those emotions or regulate them without some involvement of eating behavior.

As you can see, healthfulness goes beyond the health of the body to the health of the mind and soul.

Male eating disorders and body image problems deserve more attention. Anime and manga can (and does!) work to reduce these problems by featuring stories that address them and by creating male heroes without the extreme musculature. Anime does a decent job of this with many of its heroes, but many shonen heroes eventually end up with muscles that few men can attain in reality. But it comes back to us. We need to take action to reduce our consumption of messages that hurt body image, such as men’s lifestyle magazines, and look toward developing a healthy attitude toward our bodies.

References

Beradis, Domenico & others (2011) Alexithymia, Body Image, and Eating Disorder. Body Image: Perceptions, Interpretation, and Attitudes.  135-153.

Chisuwa, Naomi & Jennifer O’Dea (2011) An Historical Perspective of Body Image and Body Image Concerns Amoung Male and Female Adolescents in Japan. Body Image: Perceptions, Interpretations, and Attitudes. 1-26.

Cordes, Martin and others. (2016) Male Body Image and Visual Attention Towards Oneself and Other Men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. 17 (3) 243-254.

Goddard, Elizabeth and others. (2014). Cognitive flexibility, central coherence and social emotional processing in males with an eating disorder. The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry. 15. 317-326.

Tan, Yue and others (2013). The Construction of Masculinity: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Men’s Lifestyle Magazine Advertisments. Sex Roles. 69. 237-249.

Tayler, Laramie & Jhunehl Fortaleza  (2016) Media Violence and Male Body Image. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. 17 (4) 380-384

The Legacy of 4Kids Entertainment

4Kids Entertainment. I’ll wait while you hug the porcelain and bring up your last meal.

Feeling a little better?

Anime fans detest 4Kids for how they localized and censored and cut series like Pokemon, One Piece, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and others. However, the company is behind successful children’s shows that didn’t suffer the same fate: Cabbage Patch Kids and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Before we mark the company as a villain for anime, we have to consider the time period it committed its anime atrocities, as some fans see it. Hyperbole much? Saban Entertainment also gave Dragonball Z the same treatment during its US release (Daniels, 2008).

But at the time, anime wasn’t mainstream. Sure, it was around, but it wasn’t a part of the American childhood. Despite what anime fans say, 4Kids helped popularize anime. Al Kahn, the head of 4Kids, spent over 20 years distributing and promoting childhood stories. He saw kids playing Pocket Monsters on a business trip to Japan, and he convinced Nintendo and the owning companies to bring the game to the US. He also gave it its iconic name (Tsukayama, 2016):

He decided then that the game needed a cooler name than “Pocket Monsters.” “I didn’t like the name ‘Pocket Monsters,’” he said, partially because it didn’t sound different enough from other monster games. “I wanted the name to be more Japanese-y.”

The statement is a little tone-deaf, and his Americanization of the anime proved controversial and uneven. He kept many of the Japanese names of Pokemon, like pikachu, but changed other aspects of the show. For example, he changed the name of the game’s protagonist from Satoshi to Ash Ketchum. The music and scripts were also rewritten to suit American children (Tsukayama, 2016).  Japanese food was replaced with American foods because the company worried that American children wouldn’t recognize rice balls were food, leading to the (in)famous scene of Brock referring to rice balls as jelly donuts (Champers, 2012).

TV stations resisted the show, thinking it was too strange and too much like anime. Many shoved it into the 6am slot, a poorly performing time, but soon that slot was seeing more viewers than the prime after-school slots (Tsukayama, 2016).

But 4Kids’ concerns may not have been too far off, considering the time. During the 1990s, anime was still hidden in a cultural niche despite Ghibli film releases. I’m not justifying what they did, but their localizations did introduce children to Japanese elements. It was a step toward wider acceptance of anime and Japanese culture. They ran into trouble when they tried the same tactics with One Piece in 2004. By this time, people had become used to anime’s Japanese elements, so when one of the most popular show about pirates hit the US, localization wasn’t necessary. But 4Kids wasn’t with the times.

Instead, the company followed their habit and eliminated One Piece‘s Japanese and violent elements, never mind how violent American TV had become. 4Kids digitally changed all firearms to look like toys. Cigarettes became lollipops or poorly edited out, leaving smoke trails behind. They also cut a large number of episodes, including entire story arcs, and compressed multiples episodes into one.

As you can imagine, fans weren’t pleased.

Considering the US’s history of children’s shows, 4Kids’s decisions make sense. It was a few years after 9/11 and violence in media was under fire. Although TV continued to show ever-escalating levels of violence despite the outcry in some areas of the country. But 4Kids had fallen out of touch with its now-Japanese-culture savvy audience. Eventually the Japanese animation studio that created Yu-Gi-Oh!, 4Kid’s flagship earner–earning $152 million for the company between 2001 and 2009–claimed 4Kids owed it for making secret agreements with TV stations and home video companies and handling royalties in shady ways (Gardner, 2011).

A series of bankruptcies followed with the most recent happened in September 21, 2016. The company attempted to distance itself from its now tainted and infamous 4Kids brand by renaming itself 4Licensing Corporation on December 21, 2012 (4Licensing, n.d.; United States, 2012). But the damage was done with fans as the meme “What if 4Kids got show title” shows.

The Dangers of Localization

One Piece and Yu-Gi-Oh! suffered the most from 4Kid’s localization. Pokemon survived mostly intact with only jelly donut-level problems and a few cut episodes. 4Kids had a role in making anime more mainstream in the US, although the most avid 4Kids hater would deny that. However, the company failed to pay attention to their audience’s level of comfort and acceptance for Japanese elements as time passed. Their Pokemon and early Yu-Gi-Oh! localizations had cut a road for new anime fans who wanted the genuine experience. Also, by 2004, anime communities had sprung up online that had access to uncut episodes of One Piece and more.

The removal of Japanese elements and violence can compromise the vision and message the author intended. Violence in anime, for example, may be a comment on the human condition. Eliminating it removes that message. In One Piece’s case, removing cigarettes and making firearms look like toys, denies the danger and roughness of pirate culture. It hurts characterization.

Japanese culture references reveal part of the author’s identity and experiences. It gives context to the story, and without those references, the message of the story may garble. Not to mention it is insulting to substitute American elements for Japanese. It suggests American (or British, or French, or whatever culture is substituting for Japanese) is superior. It also insults the intelligence of the viewer. After all, even a child who had never seen a rice ball and know its food when characters eat it.

Now some aspects of localization are necessary. Some idioms don’t translate well between cultures, and sometimes you run against language limits. Some languages have words others do not have have, so an approximation is needed. 4Kids helped American children wean into anime, but as exposure and understanding of Japanese culture became common, localization of the type the company practice wasn’t necessary.

Vilifying 4Kids

Segments of the anime community can’t forget what 4Kids did. Memes still circulate about the company’s handling. Anime fans are understandably sensitive to localization. They still have the dub vs. sub debate raging. However, even subtitled anime are localized. Localization can only be prevented by watching anime in Japanese and being immersed in Japanese culture. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy a story as close to the original as possible. However, dubs play an important role in making anime more accessible, which benefits the medium outside of Japan. 4Kids doesn’t fully deserve its smearing in the community. Yes, they handled their properties poorly, and they were….unsavory…..in their “Japanese-y” approach to Pokemon. Their method denigrated Japanese culture.

Despite all of this, 4Kids has an important place in American anime culture. They helped make anime mainstream to the point where Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! weren’t considered anime. They were considered cartoons. This small distinction allowed anime to move from a niche and into the American childhood. It created several generations of anime fans that later moved toward other anime series, such as One Piece. No matter how much the anime community vilifies 4Kids, the company had an important role in the development of anime in the United States.

Reference

“4Licensing Corporation Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy | Business Wire”. www.businesswire.com. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160922006380/en/4Licensing-Corporation-Files-Chapter-11-Bankruptcy

Ali, R. (2009). Yu-Gi-Oh! & Cabbage Patch Kids U.S. Parent 4Kids Entertainment for Sale. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/04/AR2009080401638.html.

Chambers, S. (2012) Anime: From Following to Pop Culture Phenomenon. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications. 3 (2) 94-102.

Daniels, J. (2008) “Lost in Translation”: Anime, Moral Rights, and Market Failure. Boston University Law Review. 88 (709). 709-745.

“UNITED STATES SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION: FORM 8-K: 4Licensing Corporation (December 21, 2012)”. Edgar Online. December 21, 2012.  http://yahoo.brand.edgar-online.com/displayfilinginfo.aspx?FilingID=8990367-1208-18945&type=sect&dcn=0001140361-12-052927

Tsukayama, H. (2016) Meet the man who made Pokemon an international phenomenon. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/08/04/meet-the-man-who-made-pokemon-an-international-phenomenon/

How Anticipation Helps the Enjoyment of Anime

I enjoy a good Netflix binge, but in our age of on-demand content, we lost the value of anticipation. When we can watch anime whenever we want, for as long as we want, we lose the slow build of excitement waiting can bring. Unfortunately, American society disdains patience. Sure, we say patience is a virtue, but in practice we hate waiting. But waiting helps us enjoy anime more.

For example, each week I look forward to spending a Saturday night watching Toonami. After working all week, it’s a great way to unwind. Now, I could watch most of Toonami shows online. I could binge on DBZ Kai, but I don’t because I prefer the wait. On weeks when I am socially exhausted, Toonami helps me push through the week. Small goals help keep us motivated. When I sit down to watch DBZ Kai and the rest of Toonami, I quite enjoy the time.

Anticipation helps us savor by building excitement and looking-forwardness. Looking-forwardness makes my couch feel softer and my tea taste better. That’s the odd aspect of habit. Habits comfort us more when they are special and when they endcap our time. Time endcaps allow us to shift our thinking from, say, work to hobby. I use Toonami to shift to relaxation. I have a habit of using Sundays as a Sabbath, and Toonami starts that relaxation day. I anticipate this time. Before I wrote this article, I enjoyed a cup of tea and a slice of chocolate cake. I promised myself early in the day that I would have this snack. I could have had a slice of cake with dinner, but that would have broke the all-day wait I allotted. I enjoyed the cake more because I made myself wait for it.

Anticipation differs from hype. Hype involves expectation and excitement. Anticipation lacks the expectation aspects of hype. When I anticipate something, I don’t have expectations. For example, I still enjoy my time relaxing with Toonami even when the episodes are let-downs. Sometimes, I will hype myself. In those cases, I set myself up for disappointment which makes it harder for me to enjoy the relaxation time. We see hype disappoint people most often in the realm of video games. People allow expectations to grow to the point where no game could hope to match them. Anticipation lacks these vaunted expectations. Expectations quickly get out of hand with the Internet’s echo chamber. Some expectation naturally comes from anticipation, but I find it best to avoid videos, articles, and trailers for content that excites me.

For example, I looked forward to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m a big Zelda fan, but I decided to impose a media blackout. I’ve only seen one early video about the game before I decided to eschew all coverage. I want to know almost nothing about the game until I play it for myself. I am an old-school gamer–the type that grew up drawing maps and making my own guides while I played. I prefer going in without any expectations or knowledge.

In the same way, I blackout anime that I find interesting. When I saw the trailer for One Punch Man on Toonami, I avoided anything that had to do with it. Doing this allows you to avoid anyone coloring your viewpoint. The articles and videos we consume can sway your opinion long before you see the first episode of an anime or read the first page of a manga. Only after I finish a game or series do I seek out reviews. By then, I have my own opinion about the work and want to see what others think.

Cultivating Anticipation

Anticipation is easy to cultivate, and difficult to stick with. The trick is to delay gratification and make that a habit. Waiting to eat my slice of chocolate cake took some effort, but I enjoyed the cake and tea all the more for the wait. Setting small, delayed goals helps you learn resistance to impulse.Instead of bingeing on an anime right now, push the marathon to a future day of the week. Make this a Friday night habit. The habit will endcap the week and help you build anticipation.

Over time, these small habits will transfer to larger concerns and finances. Delaying gratification helps you control your spending habits. Impulsive purchases quickly add up. However, you can use manga and anime purchases to motivate you. Don’t buy the latest copy of Tokyo Ghoul until after you finish Economics with a B. Use it as a reward. Now, this may feel like depriving yourself. After all, some of your friends will continue to buy things, and they will own more than you will. However, you will appreciate what you have more. Your wallet will be healthier too. You’ll also discover the odd result of anticipation: you need less to feel happier.

This isn’t to say the occasional impulsive purchase is wrong, but it shouldn’t rule your actions all the time. Consumption should be planned rather than be automatic. Planning creates anticipation and allows you to set goals to keep you motivated. But this requires discipline. You may need an accountability buddy when you get started.

I know this seems silly. After all, it’s just watching anime. But small habits accumulate and create your character. I like the anticipation period. While it can be mentally painful, when I finally reach the planned point, it is just that much more enjoyable. And length of time affects enjoyment. Once a week anime binges work well for me. I punctuate each month with a movie binge day too. I will set ahead most of a day once every month or 2 and marathon various movies or video games. Rarity makes me appreciate them more.

Anticipation remains a forgotten virtue in our on-demand world. Without it, we fail to enjoy stories, video games, and other aspects of life to the fullest. While it’s cheesy, the best really does come to those who wait.

2 Steps for Better Anime Blogging

Nagaski c.1868

You, the anime community, are great. I’ve seen a lot of positive things in my time with you, and its time we extend some of these positive aspects to other parts of the Internet. Lately, the Internet suffers from vitriol and low-leveling writing: crudeness, profanity, and bad writing. Yet, most of the anime blogging community I’ve seen is helpful and avoids excessive crudeness. The writing quality is decent too. Let’s be clear. I’m not saying other sections of the Internet blog world are worse than the anime community. Nor am I saying the anime community doesn’t have problems. However, much of what we see online–misinformation, political bias, excessive crudeness, personal attacks, slander, and other problems–can be reduced if all of us work at it.

I’ve written against excessive profanity and other writing issues in various articles. I won’t beat that drum again. Other than to tell you to stop it! It really does make you look foolish. Ehem. Anyway, there are two specific issues affecting blogging communities. I’ll address both of them and offer simple solutions to fix them.

Monetizing Blogs with Advertisements Hurts Blogging

Who doesn’t want to make a living with their blog? I tried using advertisements here on JP to make a buck or two. However, a few years ago I realized I was a hypocrite. I hate advertising. I don’t merely find it annoying or dislike it. I passionately hate the level of advertising found across the Internet. Yet I was also contributing to the problem. So I took down all the advertisements.

After I dropped the ads, I saw my traffic increase. I’m not sure if removing ads helped that, but I like to think so. I will promote my books time to time, but I try to keep my book promotions to a minimum. I dislike seeing authors over-peddle. However, not all advertising is bad. Some is needed, but it should be kept to a minimum.  Ironically, if advertisers would reduce the number of ads by, say, 98% they would likely see more people paying attention to them. Rarity creates interest. When a room of people are talking, no one can hear what is being said.

In any case, the level of advertisements used on the Internet chokes access. Ad blockers are required to be able to load many websites. Not to mention it is very difficult to blog for a living. The best way to do that is to write quality books (not that I claim my books are quality) and freelance for magazines. A blog is a way to reach out to people who may find your content interesting or useful. And it all comes down to being helpful to your readers. Blogs that splash advertisements everywhere do not have the reader in mind. They don’t try to give to the reader; they want to take from the reader.  These blogs and websites are self-serving rather than other-serving.

So the first step of our blog movement: reduce advertising. Remove most ads from your blog and kill all those terrible pop-ups, including those that ask the visitor to follow your blog. If they want to follow you, they will. Place the RSS feed or email someplace visible but out of the way of your articles. I refuse to follow blogs that beg me to follow them. But if I like a blog, I will hunt the sidebar for a subscription box.

Also be sure to install adblockers on your browsers. Maybe if people stop seeing pennies come from ads, more will take them down. I don’t know about you, but I long for the day when advertisements are rare but useful.

Return the Social to Blogging

One of the biggest problems blogs face is the immigration to social platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social media have stolen the conversations blogs used to enjoy. I feel like I am railing against the inevitable, but most blogs starve for comments and discussion. I’ll admit social platforms are more convenient for discussion. After all, blogs are fragmented. You can talk to many bloggers on Twitter, but you can only speak to a few (or one) on their blog. However, this is akin to having a private conversation. Social platforms are noisy places, full of asides and interruptions.  Blogs provide spaces for more specific, quieter conversations. Blogs have more in common with friends getting together at a bar than Twitter or other social platforms do. They are closer to meeting at a busy city square.

Perhaps the most important part of commenting on blogs deals with the author. Many bloggers labor in isolation. They feel as if their little blog, which sees little traffic, is lost in the void. They grow discouraged and think about quitting. Just when they are about to order the blog to commit seppuku, a comment pings. Someone has read an article and liked it! They really liked it enough to comment! Comments light a fire under bloggers. Comments encourage, even the argumentative ones.

Bloggers can also encourage each other by writing responses to posts on their own blogs. For example, you can write a response about this article and rip at me for being way off base. Article responses between bloggers help readers discover new authors. It also helps create a better community by feeling like a community. Instead of a blog floating in isolation, it responds and adapts to the conversations of its community. It joins those conversations. The anime community does a great job of this. Not to mention these response posts help you keep writing. It can be tough to come up with ideas week after week.

So the second part of our blog movement is to comment on posts and write response articles. If you like a blogger, let them know you support them. They may well return the favor! But if they don’t return the favor, don’t worry. You contributed to the health of the Internet as a whole.

Small actions add up. While these two solutions are relatively easy (outside of losing advertising income), they improve your small bit of the Internet. Taking your conversation to a blog encourages the author to keep writing. It also helps blogging feel less isolated. Remember, blogging is the original social media. And bloggers need to help the conversation by replying to comments and writing good, useful articles in the first place. Blogging can’t be self-serving. It has provide value to the reader in order to succeed.

This is where most bloggers, and websites for that matter, go wrong. They try to take from readers (usually money) instead of give. Writing is a relationship. There has to be more giving than taking for relationships to succeed. If you give quality writing and information to readers, many will give you their friendship, interest, and (sometimes) money.

Anime’s One-Piece Swimsuit Fetish and the History of Japanese Swimsuits

anime high school swimsuit

Form-fitting, sleek one-piece swimsuits dominate high-school anime’s depictions of girls. Fans demand, in fact, require their anime to feature their favorite female characters in these iconic one-pieces. More than a few fetishes in the fandom focus on this blue spandex swimsuit. The swimsuit features in high-school anime because it is a part of Japanese school life. But where exactly did this one-piece swimsuit come from?

To answer that, we need to look at the history of swimwear in the West. Japan imported Western-style swimwear, along with many other Western ideas and costumes, during the early part of the 1900s.

Casale_BikiniLet’s backpeddle to the first swimsuit: the bikini. Official history states the bikini was designed by French engineer Louis Réard in 1946. The swimwear is thought to be named after the Bikini Atoll, the site of several US atomic tests happening at the time. However, the bikini appears much earlier. A Roman mosaic dating the to the 4th century in Sicily shows Roman women exercising in quite modern-liking bikinis (Spivack, 2012).

When the Roman Empire collapsed, bathing suits and bathing in general numbered among the collapse’s victims. Up until the 1500s, Europeans believed bathing spread disease rather than prevented it (Tousignant, 2014). Bathing didn’t return until the Renaissance and the Baroque period, and by then people expected female skin to remain covered. For example, in 1687, the English traveler Celia Fiennes described the typical lady’s bathing suit (Spivack, 2012):

The Ladyes go into the bath with Garments made of a fine yellow canvas, which is stiff and made large with great sleeves like a parson’s gown; the water fills it up so that it is borne off that your shape is not seen, it does not cling close as other linning, which Lookes sadly in the poorer sort that go in their own linning. The Gentlemen have drawers and wastcoates of the same sort of canvas, this is the best linning, for the bath water will Change any other yellow.

These bathing gowns sometimes had lead weights sewn into their hems so nothing would float up and reveal an ankle (Tousignant, 2014). Swim gowns persisted until form fitting bathing suits became popular in the early 1900s. Made of wool, these swimsuits covered from neck to ankle. In case you are wondering, men covered almost as much as women. They wore vests and swim shirts up until 1937, when they finally went bare-chested.

Annette Kellerman in a period swimsuit.

Annette Kellerman in a period swimsuit.

Anyway, these form fitting swimsuits caused a scandal. In 1907, Annette Kellerman, the first woman to swim across the English Channel, was arrested in Boston for wearing a form-fitting one-piece that showed skin on her arms and legs. Her arrest backfired. Instead of halting the trend of creeping skin, her arrest encouraged women to show more leg and and arm (Spivack, 2014).  As the years passed, more skin appeared, but the invention of spandex marked the beginning of the modern, form-hugging swimsuits we are familiar with today.

The Japanese Modern Girl and Western Fashion

So what does the history of Western swimwear have to do with the Japanese school-girl one-piece? The answer traces back to the Meiji Restoration and the rise of the modan garu in the 1920s.

The Meiji Restoration marked the end of Japan’s closed-off feudal period and the start of rapid modernization. Japan looked to the West, particularly the United States, for examples. The rapid import of Western ideas sent shocks throughout Japanese society. One group in particular noticed a profound different in traditional views and Western views: women. Women became consumers of new Western forms of media: mass market magazines, movies, radio, jazz, and other imports. A small group of women began to emulate the Western fashions they witnessed in American movies. The modan garu, or modern girl, became the symbol of modernization.

As a symbol of modernism, you’d think the modern girl would be a common sight in the 1920s, just as the flapper was a common sight in America during the same decade. However, a 1925 survey of the Ginza area of Tokyo found 99% of women still wore traditional Japanese clothing. Only 1% of women dressed as modern girls. However, that 1% stood out. The modern girl wore bright-colored one-piece dressed that reached to her knees. She wore high-heeled shoes and sheer stockings that drew attention to her legs. Her bobbed hair was modeled after Hollywood actresses like Clara Bow and Gloria Swanson. The hair style in particular marked a significant change. Traditional Japanese women wore their hair in a bun, and an ordinance from 1872 forbade women from cutting their hair (Sato, 1993). Interestingly, during this period it wasn’t unusual for women to dive nude. Known as ama, this fisherwomen would become popular examples of the “Exotic East” for Westerners. They caused less of  a stir than the modern girls.

So the modern girl was a woman who bucked tradition and embraced the Western fashion she witnessed on the silver screen. Among these fashions was the swimsuit. Postcards from the era sometimes showed Japanese women wearing Western style swimsuits. Swimsuits like the ones Kellerman wore. These women were at the height of fashion and controversy. Just as Kellerman ran into problems in Boston, Japanese modern girls faced backlash for showing too much and being too Western. The modern girl faced real challenges. Novelist Mochizuki Yuriko wrote an account of her experience as a modern girl when she cut her hair (Sato, 1993):

The long kimono was beautiful, but it was no longer in keeping with the age. Long Japanese hair was also beautiful, but that,  too, had become anachronistic. Those were the feelings I had when I decided to cut my hair. . . . You  can’t imagine the shock it gave to the people around me. My mother took one look at me and cried out in indignation, ‘You must be crazy! If you go out,  everyone will call you one of those atarashii onna [new women]’-the  term modan garu was not in use yet.. . . I remember another instance after I returned to my family home in the country. I ran into two girls,  fifteen and  sixteen, living in the neighborhood who had had a short cut. Ours was an extremely provincial, tradition-bound village, and it caused a great sensation. The girls were punished severely and their mothers sobbed and wailed, carrying on as if they were lunatics. My own mother confronted me and said,  ’It’s your fault that this dreadful thing has happened. You’ve lost face with everyone in the neighborhood, so I wish  that you’d just go right back to Tokyo.’ In no time I packed my bag and returned to Tokyo feeling as if I were  escaping.. . . It’s  been almost ten years since I got a short cut. During that time there have been a string of  tragicomedies.

When I think back [to 1918], the painful experiences far outnumbered the comic situations. Even today, it’s appalling how many idiots jeer and hiss at me and are ignorant enough to  label me a modan garu.

Japanese modern girls faced real problems for their decisions to embrace Western fashion. They not only faced problems with their families for breaking tradition, but they also faced the label of sexual deviant. Their embrace of Western fashion marked them as a sex object and women of poor sexual morality. Despite police investigations in 1923–which found nothing sexual or immoral going on in modern-girl cafes and other hang outs–the idea persisted. Some of this persistence is because of the exoticism of Western dress at the time. These women represented something new, different, and modern. In a word: exotic, and exotic women stimulate male libido–just as the ama and geisha did for Western men. The sexual attraction of the 1920s modern girl continues with the attraction for Japanese high-school one-piece swimsuits. Much like panty fetishes were caused by Westernization, the fetish for the one-piece started with the sexual objectification of early modern girls and their Western swimwear. And the association stuck.

Modan garu kept up with American fashion changes up until World War II. By the time the war ended, the American Occupation cemented America’s influence on Japan. However, there is another piece of the puzzle. The high-school one-piece isn’t merely a result of Japan copying America. The one-piece is distinctly Japanese. It resulted from the influence of the modern girl merging with the distinctly Japanese school uniform.

The Uniform Swimsuit

This is just one of the examples of how the high school swimsuit for ladies is fetishized. The abnormal pose shows off her lolita figure. The high-school swimsuit and lolita fetish often converge.

Besides the one-piece swimsuit, anime focuses on the Japanese school uniform. The Japanese school uniform, like the modern girl, came out of Japan’s rapid Westernization. Japanese school uniforms are as iconic as the samurai, and Japan engineered that iconography. When Japan entered the world stage, it was obsessed with how other nations perceived it. Japan wanted to present its military as modern, and military uniforms are the way to do just that. Military uniforms are designed to impress foreign nations, after all.

Japan took its modernization so seriously that it extended military dress to its school system. Female school uniforms were modeled after the Japanese Navy uniform, and male school uniforms were modeled after the Japanese Army. These uniforms were a way of advertising how Japan became modern across all levels of its population.

Beginning in the 1950s, school uniforms became associated with morally wholesome children. That is, until the Lolita movement and the push toward fashion started in the 1980s. During the 1980s, private girl schools began to use uniform styles to attract students. This pushed school uniforms into the public eye, including school swimsuits. In 1985, the book Girl Uniform Fieldbook by Mori Nobuyuki outlined various school uniform fashions and which schools featured each uniform (Kinsella, 2002). This, in combination with the shift in using school girl as advertising, brought the school uniform and school swimsuit back into the realm of sexuality. The long running strand of sexuality introduced by the modern girl back in the early 1900s had returned.

Kosaki Onodera from Nisekoi

Anime picked up on this return of the swimsuit as a subject of sexual attraction. The one-piece became an iconic fetish because for many Japanese men it was the first exposure to the female body. First exposures leave lasting influence and tap into nostalgia. The one-piece dredges memories of high school and junior-high, times when you had more freedom. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, especially when it is combined with sexual attraction.

The Japanese Male Swimsuit

So far, I’ve focused on the female one-piece. Although it is not as iconic, the male swimsuit shares similar DNA. However, it doesn’t the same potent sexual symbolism as the female swimsuit in popular culture. Some of this is because female sexual interests tend not to be as public as male. Marketing hasn’t capitalized on female sexual attraction as long as it has on male sexual attraction. This is changing as more marketing and anime aims at titillating women through male objectification. I’ve written about female objectification many times so I won’t get into it again here. If you want to read more check out these links: breast obsession, magical girls and sexism, otaku culture is sexist. The male swimsuit follows the same trail as the female. As women adopted Western fashion, awareness of Western male fashion also increased. Male swimwear has undergone fewer changes than female swimwear. Depending on your perspective, Westernized societies place a higher value on female skin than male skin. This is why males tend to have fewer controversy with swimwear. Female skin is more valuable as a commodity and therefore shouldn’t be shared as readily as male skin. For the record, I firmly disagree with this view, but patriarchal views hang on. This view is changing, however, as female sexual attraction and homosexual male sexual attraction becomes more accepted.

The Revenge of the One-Piece

Anime’s focus on the female one-piece swimsuit traces back more than a century, back to the opening of Japan to the rest of the world. For decades, Western fashion has influenced Japanese, but in recent years that has begun to reverse. The one-piece has returned in many American magazines. While the one-piece hasn’t completely disappeared, it played second-fiddle to the bikini. That is changing. In a 2015 article of InStyle, many women are returning to the one-piece as a backlash against the ever-shrinking bikini (Cheng, 2015).

I suspect Japan’s high school one-piece has had a small hand in this shift as well. Manga and anime enjoyed a period of booming popularity between roughly 2004-2008 here in the States. Many of these fans are now at an age where they can influence fashion. While anime and manga fans are a small cohort, their views cause ripples among nonfans. The constant exposure to one-piece swimsuits in anime and manga–not to mention how anime portrays the one-piece as sexier than bikinis–will shift ideals of fashion. I have to be clear: I don’t have data on this. It is merely a suspicion.

In any case, the one-piece swimsuit sits on a line of influence stretching all the way back through the Japanese modern girl movement, back through the swim gowns of yesteryear, back into the Roman Empire, and back even further into history. The one-piece shows how even a simple piece of material is connected to a web of ideas and people stretching back into time.

References

Cheng, A. (2015) Proof That One-Piece Swimsuits Are Now More Popular Than Bikinis. InStyle. http://www.instyle.com/news/celebrities-in-one-piece-swimsuits

Kinsella, S. (2002). What’s Behind the Fetishism of Japanese School Uniforms? Fashion Theory 6 (2). 215-238.

Sato, B. H. (1993) The Moga Sensation: Perceptions of the Modan Garu in Japanese Intellectual Circles during the 1920s. Gender & History. 3(3) 361-381.

Spivack, E. (2012). How Bathing Suits Went From Two-pieces to Long Gowns and Back. Smithsonian.

Tousignant, M. (2014). The History of Swimsuits, from Togas to Bikinis. The Washington Post. June 2, 2014.

The Shinigami Behind You: Considering the Messages We Consume

A shinigami waits behind you, counting your limited heartbeats.

It’s not a comfortable thought, but one we must all face. We will die. This realization should govern our every action. Many times while watching a terrible anime, the thought strikes me, and I turn off the drivel. Each of us have a set number of hours to spend. We often spend them foolishly.

Many could argue watching anime is a waste of heartbeats. Escapism wastes time. Quite the contrary, good stories enhance life. Good stories allow us to explore different perspectives. They help us develop compassion and empathy for others. However, finding stories worth our time is difficult. Even though drivel consumed someone’s heartbeats to produce, but it may not warrant our heartbeats to consume.

Watching anime, or watching movies or reading books are all forms of consumption. They are food for the mind. The messages we consume form building blocks for our identities and world view, much like how food forms building blocks for the body. Eating poor food creates an unhealthy body. After all, it is hard to build healthy cells with poor quality amino acids, proteins, and sugars. Likewise, it is hard to build a healthy mental life with drivel, short-sighted messages, misogynistic messages, and other poor materials,. The limited nature of our lives doesn’t help matters. It takes time to find good mental building materials and sometimes we don’t know if those materials are good until after they are consumed.

All of this seems rather floaty and philosophical, but anime does change us. The messages and stories we consume either reinforces or challenges our current understanding of reality. In turn, that understanding impacts everything we do. People who consume anime with values centered on friendship, loyalty, love, understanding, and persistence will have those mental nutrients. Those who consume anime with messages of ownership, control, and sexual debasement of women will have those mental building blocks. This idea extends to all messages we consume.

The Internet makes it easy to cocoon yourself in messages you enjoy and agree with. This can distort your perspective. It makes you believe reality is thus when it can be quite the opposite. The limited time you have to live makes these cocoons all the more dangerous. The time spent to consume these cocooning messages cannot be retrieved, and it weds you to those messages. Few of us want to face the realization that everything we’ve believed in or thought was wrong after spending most of our lives with that perspective.

Otaku culture allows its own cocoons. As a guy, I am troubled by the proliferation of massive-breasted women and the messages of sexual availability. These fantasies target a sliver of fans who struggle with forming connections with women. The messages of sexual availability and the focus on serving male sexual needs whenever they arise form a perspective that is unhealthy and self-defeating. These guys only increase their issues with women by consuming these messages. The fantasy creates self-centered expectations and breeds resentment when reality can’t match the cocoon. Many prefer the cocoon to reality, but what will these fans think when a shinigami finally comes for them? What legacy do they leave behind with their final heartbeats?

As a Christian who also practices Zen, these questions needle me. I beat up on otaku culture, but the same idea extends toward American conservatives and American liberals. It extends toward Christians who insulate themselves from other religious perspectives. I used to be one of these. Cocooning creates small minds and reduces empathy. It is easy to ostracize those you don’t know. It is much harder to think poorly about people you speak with everyday.  I understand why many wrap themselves in fantasy and comforting viewpoints. I’ve done it. However, in the end, this stunts us as people.

Don’t feel singled out if you are an otaku. Anime teaches many worthwhile values. In many ways, otaku caterpillars have advantages over conservatives, liberals, and Christian caterpillars. Otakus tend to be more inter-culturally minded. Otakus also tend to be creative. Otakus tend to be open minded. These traits make the culture more receptive to rants like this post.

So the tl;dr:

The messages we consume, and how we choose to spend our limited time, have an impact on the world around us. How we think dictates how we act. Anime and other messages infiltrate our souls, so be careful of what messages you consume.