The KuToo Movement: Women In Japan Struggle To Walk Free From Beauty Standards

Knee pain, callouses and damage to toenails. Is it any wonder The Spine Health Institute calculated that heel wearing had been reported to have dropped by 21% between 1986 and 2003, with only 31% of women reporting to wear them at work?

Recently in Japan, women have been campaigning against the policy requiring them to wear high heels in the workplace through the KuToo movement. The name is derived from a play on the Japanese words, Kutsu meaning shoes, and Kutsuu, meaning pain, the two are put together to resemble the MeToo movement. Campaigners claim that wearing high heels was considered to be near-obligatory when job hunting or working for many Japanese companies.

The image of the working woman often includes heel wearing in Hollywood movies. For example, in Devil Wears Prada, the main character Andy noticeably makes the switch to high heels in her style transformation, Cameron Diaz is continuously seen wearing heels in the film Bad Teacher. The fashion industry being the most obvious example of this, the image that comes to mind when you think of a catwalk model most definitely includes a woman wearing heels. Has this culture led to unrealistic expectations for the real-life working woman to live up to this image?

A calculation showed that it takes an average of one hour, six minutes and forty-eight seconds for women to start feeling pain when wearing heels. A lot shorter than the average working day! The refusal of women to be told to wear heels is therefore justifiable on the grounds that it is essentially a campaign to avoid discomfort and physical pain while at work, as well as for freedom of choice. This puts into question whether the campaign is actually a campaign in defence of human rights.

To add flames to the fire, companies in Japan have now started putting a ban on female employees wearing glasses in the workplace. Besides the fact that wearing glasses is actually cheaper than wearing contact lenses, as they don’t need to be replaced as often, and not everyone likes to touch their own eye, the choice between the two should surely be down to the person wearing them. The justification for this policy includes the response that it gives a “cold impression” for retail assistants to wear glasses. It will come as no surprise that the policy is primarily targeted at women wearing glasses. An activist responded perfectly to the policy stating that, “If it is a problem it should be banned for men and women”.

The message being sent out by these companies is that women have and always will be evaluated on their appearance. The fact that wearing heels or contact lenses can increase the chances of women getting a job seems ludicrous, considering it has absolutely nothing to do with how well they can do that job. The consequences of not following the policies are pressuring women to comply with beauty standards.

Heels or flats? Glasses or contacts? Makeup or no makeup? The real question should be – how well can they do their job? Beauty standards deserve no place in society, but they especially deserve no place in the workplace. Women should have a choice between products that do the exact same job. The issues brought forward by the KuToo movement symbolise a gross invasion of women’s freedom along with a long-standing tendency of society to sexualise women in improper contexts. After all, it was one of the most successful fashion designers, Tom Ford, that said, “It’s hard not to be sexy in a pair of high heels”.

Nisha Chandar-Nair