Here in Japan, I am surrounded by beautiful women. In fact, most Asians have features that I admire, sometimes even envy: Thick, straight, and most of all, jet black hair. Slender figures that look good in almost any clothing, as well as a natural grace that comes with it. And something in their genes that considerably slows down the ageing process. Especially that last thing I am particularly envious about, ever more so since I have detected the first gray hairs on my own head…

All in all, I have never considered myself beautiful, but I have come to accept me the way I am and I have learnt to work with it, or around it in dire circumstances. That’s probably part of why I am always taken aback when somebody calls me pretty or even beautiful. In Asia, interestingly, it is more likely to hear that from another woman. Here are two examples:

Years ago I sat in a concert hall waiting for the concert to begin. Next to me sat a woman who kept staring at me. Since I couldn’t become invisible or change the seat, I smiled back, which she took as an invitation to reach over, touch my hand and say “so beautiful!” She meant my skin tone – I’m a sedentary nerd who’s not going out much, so even in summer, I remain pretty pale, and thus I fit the Asian idea of white skin very well.

A noseThe other day, when I went to my favourite bar with a friend, there was this regular – an elderly lady – who kept looking at me as well. Finally she couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out “Kirei – hana takai!” which literally means “Pretty – high nose!” And she kept saying it, making me feel more and more uncomfortable, even though I know that big eyes and noses are Asian beauty ideals, only outranked by pearly white skin.

It’s funny that people here may see me as more beautiful than I myself ever have. I guess, we all envy what we cannot have?