National / Science & Health

Young women in Japan easing off quest for thinness, aiming for health, happiness

Kyodo

With the ratio of underweight women in their 20s falling below 20 percent for the first time in 20 years, health and fashion experts are looking at whether this means the desire to be thin has been replaced by the quest to be healthy.

According to the latest health ministry report on people’s health and diet, women in their 20s whose body mass index (BMI) is below 18.5 — a figure considered underweight — accounted for 17.4 percent in 2014, the first time the figure was below the 20 percent mark since 1995.

The figure peaked at 29 percent in 2010, but has been gradually falling since then.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on the height and weight of adults, calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared.

“I thought I would be happier if I lost weight, but that wasn’t the case,” said Nao, 30, a fashion model.

Nao, who now appears in La Farfa, a fashion magazine for plus-size women, said she was obsessed with losing weight when she was in high school, and experienced a vicious cycle of excessive dieting followed by overeating.

But as she pursued her career in photography, she noticed there are many people living with complexes related to their weight, and started to feel she was fine the way she was.

“I realized it’s such a waste if I lived my life caring only about my figure,” she said.

At 26, Nao overcame an eating disorder. Then she was scouted to become a model.

La Farfa, launched in 2013, is the nation’s only fashion magazine catering to larger women.

Harumi Kon, editor-in-chief of La Farfa, said fashion magazines have stopped using photos of extremely thin women after several models who had anorexia died.

“Being healthy is a trend now. Chubby female personalities in the entertainment industry are also popular; we are seeing a change,” Kon said.

The general rise in societal awareness of healthy living is also a contributing factor, said Mari Suzuki, director of the Japan Association for Eating Disorders. “Extreme diets such as eating only one particular food are gone now,” she said, adding the mainstream goal now is to control weight while eating well.

Nao, the model, said she is a lot happier now. “I am able to smile more and I like myself now. Appearance is important, but inner happiness is more important.”