The women in men’s grooming: reproducing heteronormative gender relations through the body in contemporary Japan

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This article investigates the role women play in men’s everyday grooming practices in contemporary Japan. The past few decades have seen increasing scrutiny of men’s bodies with rising standards said to be in response to women’s supposed desires. Yet research has thus far focused primarily on cultural representations such as pop idols or models, leaving our understandings of men’s lived, everyday bodily experiences largely unexplored. Addressing this gap, I employ an ethnographic approach by drawing on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with thirty-three heterosexual Japanese men of various marital statuses and ask how heteronormative imperatives of appealing to women inform men’s understandings of their bodies. Working under a common-sense assumption that women are particularly sensitive to men’s bodies, the single participants reported greater attention to bodily grooming in order to attract women in intimate, romantic situations. Meanwhile, married men rely on or are doted upon by their wives in relation to their grooming thus reinforcing orthodox gender roles. Although male grooming may appear to subvert orthodox gender norms according to which men should be disinterested in bodily care, these findings underscore how orthodox, heteronormative gender ideology is in fact reproduced through men’s bodies, thanks in large part to women’s role therein.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-567
Number of pages23
JournalJapan Forum
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • body
  • female gaze
  • gender relations
  • male grooming
  • masculinities in Japan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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