Beyond Skin Deep: Cultural Roots and Psychological Aspects of Asia’s Anti-Aging Obsession

Cultural influences can play a large role in our perceptions of beauty and ageing. These attitudes may differ somewhat between different cultures and ethnic groups. In this article, we will explore the cultural, historical, and psychological aspects of the Asian pursuit of youthfulness. We will look at the societal pressures, along with the cultural ideals and beauty standards that have prompted this fear of ageing among many Asian cultures.

Culture and history of Asian beauty standards

Although the desire for youthful looks is common in many regions of the world, the interest of Asian cultures in preserving their youth has a long history. 

Various Asian countries have long histories of using white skin, in particular, as a key criterion of personal beauty (Advances in Consumer Research). Pale, porcelain skin and rosy lips have long been a symbol of feminine beauty and allure in various Asian visual and performance art. Asian movie stars, opera singers, and cultural traditions promote this pale-skinned appearance as the ideal. This cultural phenomenon can be linked to the idea that white skin is a sign of wealth and a life spent in indoor comfort, rather than a life of labour in the fields. It therefore became a sign of cultural wealth, status, and prestige. Countries such as China, Thailand, Korea, India, and Japan have some history of class division indicated by skin colour.

These cosmetic ideals have deep cultural roots. However, in modern times, pursuing this appearance can prompt a desire to live up to unrealistic norms, rather than embracing one’s natural beauty. Therefore, when pursuing cosmetic goals, it’s important to take a balanced and realistic approach, and to be aware of the factors that impact cultural trends.

Overlap between culture and biology

It’s clear that certain physical attributes are considered more desirable and youthful than others in Asian communities. But there are conflicting attitudes towards this – some believe these ideals are purely cultural, while others identify an overlap between perceptions of “youthfulness” and good health. For example, having toned muscles and a slim figure can be an indicator of fitness, not just youth. In the same way, smooth and unblemished skin can be an indicator of health, not just perceived beauty. 

This means that although the pursuit of an ideal body can be purely cosmetic, we must consider the biological reality that a person’s appearance can be indicative of their underlying health, well-being, and fitness levels. In other words, a person’s desire to take care of their skin and body can be prompted by different motives. Some may want to achieve a certain appearance, while others may be looking out for their long-term health and well-being. 

And for others, it’s a bit of both. The pursuit of a youthful appearance doesn’t imply an indifference towards health. Nor does concern for health imply a disregard for cosmetic goals (In Pursuit of Beauty). Therefore, it’s difficult to completely divorce cultural and biological factors when exploring societal ideals of youth in Asian communities. 

Media Influences

However, it is also common for people to take views of beauty and youthfulness to the extreme due to the influence of media and broader cultural perceptions. 

Some evidence suggests that Western media and appearance ideas have impacted perceptions of beauty in other cultures and regions. In addition to cultural ideals in Asia, Western cultures also tend to portray thin, toned, and youthful bodies as an ideal. Compared to the general population, people who embody these ideals are over-represented in media, and studies show that this can harm an individual’s body image and psychological well-being (Psychology of Appearance)

Along with the rise of disproportionately portraying thin, pale-skinned women in the media, there is also a rise in eating disorders and poor body image among both men and women. This suggests that media portrayals of beauty and “youthfulness” can have ongoing psychological effects. It’s important, therefore, to have a realistic view of beauty and youth, and to understand that media and television don’t always represent reality.


As we can see, many factors impact the pursuit of beauty and youth in Asian communities. The desire for youthfulness goes below surface level, with deep historical and cultural roots. Along with these historical factors, the modern media weighs heavily on people’s self-perceptions and body image. 

Therefore, we should approach cosmetic goals with a holistic view. It is natural to be somewhat influenced by the culture around us when developing our cosmetic goals. But it’s important to be realistic about the factors that influence us, and to look at cosmetic trends in view of the complex interplay of history, culture, and modern media. To help you make a balanced decision about your cosmetic goals, you are welcome to consult with our experienced team at Skin Confidence Clinic.

Beauty attracts the
eye, but personality
captures the heart

anonymous author

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