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This image is the cover of a package of perfume oil I recently received as a gift. The name of the scent is “fuji flower.” Based on the listed ingredients, this name is most likely intended to associate the product with the intoxicating Orient rather than the actual fragrance of the fuji flower. Fortunately, I believe the friend gave me the oil because it smelled pleasant and not because the packaging was attractive. Nonetheless, this image has always bothered me due to its sexist and orientalist design and implications.

First of all, the woman’s silhouette is reminiscent of Barbie’s disproportional figure. The impossibly thin waist, large breasts, pointy knees, and head bent unnaturally backwards provide a powerful example of the objectified female body. In fact, were it not for the drooping sleeve, I would have assumed that this woman is naked.

While that description is off-putting enough, the image becomes more complicated when elements of the “exotic Asian beauty” are added to the mix. This woman wears clogs, possibly a kimono or qipao, holds a fan, and has done her hair with chopsticks. To “japanocize” the image further, the woman is placed against a background of flower blossoms and butterflies. The designer of this image should be complimented for incorporating quite an array of East Asian stereotypes into a single picture. In his article “On Collecting Art and Culture,” James Clifford notes that Western collectors of foreign cultural goods find “intrinsic interest and beauty in objects from a past time” (145). This image confirms Clifford’s point: pairing the woman with clothing and goods associated with Japan’s past makes the image more exotic, and exciting to the Western eye, than a woman in a modern-day outfit.

The fact that this woman is “pocket-sized” –the box is matchstick-sized- also reinforces an orientalist understanding of Japan. Christine Guth uses an observation by Susan Stewart in her book Longfellow’s Tattoos: Tourism, Collecting, and Japan to argue that “diminutive size ‘frequently served as the realm of the cultural other’” (94). Whoever purchases this oil can literally hold the woman on the box in their hand. She happens to be a mysterious Japanese beauty whose perfume will make you slip into a dream of an “other” woman and her strange but unforgettable ways.

vanessah — Last modified Mar 30 2011 8:01 p.m.

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