Everywhere you go, women have things in common -- things that can cross the greatest of cultural divides. I believe that most women, in one way or another, desire to be beautiful (by the way, I read an excellent book on the subject called Do you think I'm beautiful? by Angela Thomas). However, I have struggled to understand what beauty means to a lot of the Taiwanese women I encounter. What follows are my thoughts on the matter. Originally, this was meant to be a heavily researched post utilizing the most up-to-date sociological terms (ever the Human Services major), but I found that I just don't have the time to write anything beyond my own unqualified opinion (laced with a healthy dose of conjecture and cultural bias). Please keep that in mind when you read this, and I welcome anyone who actually knows something of this phenomenon to comment and share their opinion.
Now, on to the issue at hand. The issue is Hello Kitty. I can't stand Hello Kitty, or any of her little minion friends (this is where the cultural bias might be creeping in). But alas, I love Taiwan, and therefore must learn to live with this bigheaded cat thing. How is it that a creature with no mouth has captured the hearts of Taiwanese girls everywhere? Of course not every Taiwanese girl loves Hello Kitty, but A LOT do. And not just girls, women love her too! This is where the cultural differences start to become apparent.
Just so you get an idea of how Hello Kitty has infiltrated the market for older women, here are some pictures of a Hello Kitty toilet and sink. Notice the Hello Kitty tissue box in the left hand corner.
There is also a Hello Kitty car, a Hello Kitty microwave, and more. However, this isn't what most concerns me. If someone just happens to like Hello Kitty, as weird as I think it is, I shouldn't judge them. I just sometimes worry about what's behind the Hello Kitty adoration.
This is where my over analytical sociologist side might emerge, and perhaps some cultural bias as well. After all, perhaps it's only in American culture that Hello Kitty is meant to be enjoyed by children. But it's still a bit unsettling to me because love of Hello Kitty isn't the only childlike behavior I witness in some women here. I quite often see some of my Taiwanese students, usually the high school and college age ones, stomp their feet and pout when talking to a man. Sometimes when a woman wants something, she doesn't ask for it in what I would consider to be a normal way. She might stick her lower lip out and raise her voice a few octaves, and act far more helpless than she actually is. Why do this? Some might say that this behavior is manipulative on the woman's part, and I have to say, I don't see any end in sight to this behavior because a lot of the men love this!
For some reason, "cuteness" seems more sought after in Taiwan than what I would think of as "beauty." I'm not entirely comfortable with this, because I can't help but feel that a woman lowers herself when she acts childlike to please a man. Why are some of the men pleased by this? Perhaps it's less threatening, I don't know. Maybe it reaffirms certain existing roles within the culture. There are a few TV shows here that show beautiful, young girls dressed in tight little "school uniforms" and being spanked by large foam objects -- just enough so that the too-short skirt flips up for a second. I can't say that the popularity of these shows are unique to Taiwanese culture though, because I'm sure it would be popular int he U.S. as well!
Now for the disclaimer (odd that I'm putting it at the end). This entire post, as I stated earlier, was based on my own observations of some Taiwanese women and men. Not every Taiwanese person acts like this, and I am not saying that it's terrible to like Hello Kitty. I am merely trying to sort out my thoughts pertaining to a phenomenon that I believe , based on my own experience, is for some reason more prevalent in Asian culture. I'm sure that in most situations, the tendency to act what I would consider "childlike" is a harmless, cultural difference rather than a raging buru sera fetish. I would like to hear the opinions of other people living in Taiwan, and of any one else that may like to contribute. I tried to make this post as inoffensive as possible, and I sincerely hope I succeeded in that. If I didn't, please accept my most heartfelt apology, and realize that I'm still in the process of learning about Taiwanese culture. It just helps to write my thoughts out as a struggle to understand them.