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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

BILINGUAL

Wait long enough and daikon legs get fashionable


Bridget Jones said a woman starts to feel her age when the fashion of the times comes full circle and she witnesses the ghostly resurrection of all the stuff she wore in her youth.

I'd like to take that a step further and add that a woman feels her age when she absolutely pines for a time machine just so she can travel back and tell her young self to hold onto that collection of high-waist skirts; they will definitely be back in 15 years. While I'm at it, I might as well advise my younger self to scrap the diet, quit the gym and tuck into that L-saizu (L?サイズ, large size) box of Maccha Pocky (抹茶ポッキー, green-tea flavored Pocky), because one day thick legs will be quite the thing.

No, really. Here's how I know. Last week I was walking along with an old friend when he remarked, "Saikin onnanokono ashiwa dondon futokunaru" (「 最近、女の子の足はどんどん太くなる」, "Recently, girls' legs seem to be getting fatter and fatter"). He's right. Ten years ago the media reported with awe about how Japanese women's legs had become so slim at the time of a boom in dieting. So what if women were wasting away from malnutrition? Their gekihoso (激細, passionately skinny) legs had men swooning. Now, however, it looks like we're reverting to traditional standards of beauty, such as shirauo no yōna hada (白魚のような肌, icefish-like translucent white skin), hosoi unaji (細いうなじ, a slender nape of the neck) and yanagi-goshi (柳腰, willowy hips). Leg concerns, it seems, have been trampled on.

That's a good thing. Many of us are plagued by the accursed genetic triumvirate of ōkyaku (O脚, bow-leggedness), tansoku (短足, short legs) and daikon-ashi (大根足, legs like daikon [Japanese radish]). Thunder thighs acceptable? It's a cause for celebration.

It hasn't always been so, of course. Thin legs were a major object of desire in our family (though none of us females had them). Brothers, cousins and other males all claimed to be ardent leg men without ever actually dating or marrying leggy women. My grandmother had adamant views on the subject, although her legs were always concealed by layers of clothing. Apparently, the quickest way to long, thin legs was acute discomfort, and she cited Marlene Dietrich (who always wore high heels) as an example. She warned that sneakers ruined a woman's legs forever, not to mention the effect on the legs of those types of food that are bad for circulation, such as okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, Japanese-style savory pancakes) and sunakku gashi (スナック菓子, factory-made snacks).

In high school the bikyaku-zoku (美脚族, beautiful-legs tribe) among us were rumored to sleep with legs encased in long girdles, their ankles tied together in tsuri-ito (釣り糸, fishing wire) — the logic of which is still a mystery to me. In college, a girlfriend of mine (lovely face, wonderful personality) was dumped by her boyfriend because he could not cope with the sight of her legs in a mini-skirt. Everyone was obsessed by Julia Roberts, and the one overriding wish — shared by girls and their boyfriends alike — was that one day the girls would wake up to find a pair of long, tapered legs starting directly below their waistline and extending to somewhere below sea level.

But the unthinkable has occurred: Not only have fat, short legs become totally acceptable, but they're actually on the fast track to trendy. The way young men regard women's legs has altered shape. As my 18-year-old nephew says, "Futokutemo ii" (「 太くてもいい 」, "Fat legs are OK"), like he's totally blind to the problem. He and his friends are more interested in their own physiques, because the skinnier, smaller and more otonashii (おとなしい, docile) they are, the better their chances of getting a date.

Often you'll see couples in which the girl looks tougher and more muscular than the boy — her daikon legs seemingly capable of kicking down steel doors and carrying them both to safety should they somehow find themselves in a burning building. The boys, on the other hand, look fashionably limp and fragile, leaning against the girls' arms as if asking for protection. Koseirodosho (厚生労働省, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) statistics show that young men in Japan are shrinking — men aged 25 or younger weigh less and have shorter legs than they did 15 years ago — while women of the same age are taller, heftier and bigger limbed. Consequently, men are more likely to praise and appreciate a pair of daikon legs that are functional enough to navigate through life for two.

Now, if only I had known all this when it counted. All those years of sighing and weeping in front of the full-length mirror in my parents' home, passing up the daikon at dinner because it was too humiliating. Well, gosh, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and gone out for okonomiyakai.

The wish was that girls would wake up to find a pair of long legs starting directly below their waistline and extending to somewhere below sea level.



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