Beauty Over Brains: Japan’s Skin-Deep University Pageants

The contests reflect a culture that often judges women by their appearance and slots them into rigid, gender-defined roles.

Yuki Iozumi was fretting about how her shoulders might look in a wedding dress.

“I feel like I look too muscular,” said the tiny-framed Ms. Iozumi, 20, relating how her friends had told her that practicing karate had changed her body. “I think it’s not so feminine.”

Traditional femininity was her goal. Although Ms. Iozumi, a second-year community studies major, wasn’t getting married, she was competing in a beauty pageant at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo — part of a wildly popular, and unabashedly skin-deep, phenomenon at Japanese universities known as “Miss Con.”


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