From #kutoo to #I_am_me: the self-acceptance hashtag launched by Yumi Ishikawa
By Martina Cavallaro
Yumi Ishikawa is an actress, a gravure model, a writer, an activist. She is also the living proof that when a system is not equal enough, you have to “speak up” in order to make a change. This is what she did with her hashtag #kutoo, which became viral and inspired other women to sign a petition against a rule that is literally damaging their feet.
#kutoo. Ishikawa is well-known in Japan for starting the movement marked with the hashtag #kutoo (reminding #metoo, kutoo is a pun that sounds like both the Japanese word for shoes, kutsu, and the one for pain, kutsuu), to protest against the rule that forces women to wear heels as part of the working dress code. The activist wrote a tweet back in January, expressing her frustration for being required to wear heels – between 5cm and 7cm – for her part-time job at a funeral parlor. Unlike many tweets that end up falling into oblivion, thanks to the sharp hashtag, that post was a real provocation. And it was supported by many women who related to her. In fact, #kutoo became soon viral, as many started sharing stories and pictures of their bruised and bleeding feet. Six months have already passed since that first tweet. Now #kutoo is a campaign that had 18,800 people sign a petition. On June 3rd, this petition was submitted to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, demanding to enact a law that forbids employers from requiring women to wear heels at work. “It’s the first step forward” commented Ishikawa.
Ishikawa’s activism doesn’t stop there. As an actress and model, she is concerned about issues such as body and image acceptance. Recently, she discovered a movement called I_weigh, that encourages women to express self-confidence. How will such a movement take form in Japan? We had a conversation with Ishikawa about this and the body acceptance discourse in the country.
How is this movement developing in Japan?
I didn’t know about I_weigh until recently. One day I found an article about it on Twitter. In that period, I was really sad because I was feeling bigger, fatter. Since I turned 25, I have been very scared of putting on weight. Plus, as a gravure model, I felt a lot of pressure from people in my industry. So, I started posting complaints about my body on Twitter. Then I came across an article about i_weigh and I thought it was really fresh. I thought it was a shame that we still didn’t have anything like this in Japan. We lack this focus-on-yourself mindset. We don’t know how to look at ourselves with our own eyes, not society’s ones. Maybe that’s why in Japan a lot of people complain about their image: it’s because they care more about what other people think. With the sex education Youtuber Shiorinu, we started the hashtag #I_am_me: we have to focus on the points of our image that we appreciate and give them value.
What is considered being “fat” in Japan?
I think that if your body is different from the one of the models and actresses that appear on TV or magazines, it’s easier to consider yourself fat. It’s true that recently some plus-size models have become popular and they are considered beautiful. But still, the BMI of a “fit person” is supposed to be between 18 and 25 and those models don’t actually represent these numbers. So when women think about that, they’d rather lose weight.
Japan has been always represented as a healthy country, where people live longer and stay skinny thanks to its food. Do you think this is true or that in reality people, especially women, do a lot of unhealthy diets to lose weight?
There are a lot of articles or commercials targeting women and pushing them to diet. There are so many kinds of diets. So, the sense of duty (“I must diet”) is really common. It is also true that a lot of Japanese people eat junk food, which is also unhealthy. But there are even people who try washoku (Japanese traditional cuisine) to lose weight. I think a lot of people say “I want to be skinny” and diet, but then they lose control. Wouldn’t it be better to think: “I’m okay, even if I’m not skinny”?
True. What about men? Do they also have some beauty standards? Do they also want to be skinny?
Men focus more on muscles. They train a lot to get muscles, but they do it for themselves, not because they feel a certain pressure from society. Diet is different, instead. I have the impression that when women decide to diet, they are moved by pressure, they think they must diet.
Let’s go back to your movement #I_am_me. How do you spread your message?
Instagram. Twitter is a bit different. On Instagram, it’s easier to show your image and it’s fun. We post pictures that we are sent from followers. And we are happy to accept more and more. Anyway, our movement is a bit different from I_weigh. It’s not only about weight issues (feeling too fat or too skinny) but about self-acceptance in general. The point is to focus on what we love about ourselves.
Do you think beauty standard is changing? One example is Watanabe Naomi.
Yes, they are. But there is still a gap. There are skinny models or plus size models only. There are no models in between and I think that is still a great problem. Of course, overweight people are considered beautiful now, but still, no one says: “I want to gain weight to be like her”.
How can women in Japan talk about their insecurities and be confident?
In Japan, no one teaches us from childhood how to be happy and confident about ourselves. I wish they had more talks about it in schools. And media is constantly showing slim people while making fun of those who are not considered beautiful. Sometimes it could be really hard to change your mind about your own image. Even if you try to be happy with yourself, there is still the fear of being judged. This behaviour of society has to change.
Do you have a message for people struggling with their body image? Any advice?
Ganbarō. Don’t be hard on yourself. Find yourself. If you suffer, don’t hesitate to ask for help. And cooperate, help others. It’s okay if you want to change, as long as you do it for yourself and it makes you feel good. And of course, take a selfie, write what you love about yourself on it, then share it using the hashtag #I_am_me. It will make you feel better!
How many people have been using the hashtag #I_am_me so far?
Only a few people so far, but this is just the beginning. I’m waiting for more and more to do that. It’s fun! Actually, there are also people who won’t do it because they don’t want to show their face in public and on social media. You know, there are famous people who have never shown their faces: for example, Myss Keta (Italy). You don’t have to necessarily show your face to speak up.
Wow, that’s cool! We should really take inspiration from them!
Ishikawa Yumi Twitter: @ishikawa_yumi
I_Weigh IG: @i_weigh
I_am_Me IG: @i_am_me.official