Venus Angelic and the Exotification of Asian Femininity

Venus Palermo, better known as Venus Angelic, is a 19-year-old Swiss-born YouTuber. Palermo is known for her doll-like appearance, and draws heavy influence from Lolita fashion, a fashion subculture that originated in Japan based on Victorian and Edwardian clothing. Her videos consist mostly of tutorials on how to attain her look, and her reviews of different Japanese/Asian products. She currently resides in Japan, models for a Lolita clothing brand, and continues to upload videos on a regular basis.

Palermo has built her entire internet presence off of the commodification off of Asian, specifically Japanese, otherness (Lieu). One quick scan of her recent uploads shows that her videos center around the fact that she is a foreigner living in Japan, and her experiences inhabiting a country with such a “cool” and “exciting” culture. This orientalism characterizes the East as excess. Her many makeup tutorials perpetuate the idea of Asia’s excessive obsession with beauty and artificiality. This concept is especially illustrated in videos where she reviews “strange” Japanese beauty products, showing how Japan regularly goes beyond what is “acceptable” in order to obtain beauty, even though the United States is equally, or even more, obsessed with the concepts of beauty and the “perfect woman.”

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One video of hers that is particularly troubling is her makeup tutorial on “How to Look Half-Japanese.” This video explicitly fetishizes Asian femininity, depicting an “exotic” aesthetic as the height of desirability (Chou 91). In the process of fetishizing Asian femininity, Palermo also essentializes the femininities of Japanese women, boiling their huge range of gender identity encompassed within “Japanese” down to a singular femininity. This is an example of how conduits of hegemonic femininity, middle-class white women, can determine and mold marginalized femininities, or the femininities of women of color.

In this process, Palermo also perpetuates the stereotype of Asian women as weak, passive, and domicile. In her videos, the YouTuber speaks with a high, squeaky voice, adopts “kawaii” mannerisms, and dresses in childlike clothing. Although she is now nineteen years old, one could easily mistake her for a child much younger than her actual age. Palermo’s adoption and appropriation of how she thinks Asian women appear and act conflates Asian women with children. Because youth is associated with passivity, weakness, and a general lack of power, the infantilization of Asian women is problematic in its perpetuation of tired stereotypes. This coupled with the hypersexualization of Asian women creates a disturbing yet socially acceptable form of pedophilia.

Palermo also fetishizes mixed-race individuals, specifically part-Japanese, part-white individuals. This fetishization is harmful, because it emphasizes the perceived superiority of Western features. In her guide to looking half-Japanese, Palermo encourages Japanese women to distance themselves from traditional Japanese beauty standards, telling them they should lighten their hair, wear colored contacts, and adopt Western fashion trends.  Palermo also tells Japanese viewers to “tone down their cuteness,” and instead adopt “otona kawaii”, or “adult cute”, again perpetuating the infantilization of Asian women.

Although in the video Palermo states that her video can be used by both Japanese/Asian viewers as well as white viewers, she focuses almost entirely on instructing viewers on how to look more white. For example, there is one section of the video in which she teaches the viewer how to contour to replicate Western facial features, and simply inserts a note after this sequence saying, “If you do have these Western facial features, just skip this step.” This one-sided focus on the two races that make up half-Japanese emphasizes the invisibility of whiteness, how it is simply assumed to the be the default that other races should aspire to. The very fact that “half-Japanese” is automatically assumed to be half-white, half-Japanese illustrates that unless otherwise specified, a person is assumed to be part [insert ethnicity], part-white. It should also be noted that throughout the entire video, she never says “white,” but always “Western.” The one-sidedness of the Palermo’s tutorial combined with the fact that she refuses to even acknowledge whiteness illustrates the invisibility of whiteness, and how the apparatuses of whiteness operate unnoticed unless directly confronted.

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Palermo uses her YouTube channel to provide Western audiences with a glimpse into the magic of the Orient, as her videos are entirely in English, and they feature her experiencing various Japanese products for the first time. Her entire internet presence is a manifestation of colonialism. The trope of a white person traveling to the Orient to experience the “exotic” culture in order to commodify certain aspects of it and export it back to Western audiences is an all too common one.

In some ways, Venus Angelic’s channel challenges norms within the genre of YouTube beauty gurus. While most popular YouTube channels, such as Michelle Phan, promote very American beauty standards, Palermo’s channel promotes Asian beauty standards. While at face value this deviation from the norm may be interpreted as progressive, I believe that the fact that Palermo is a white figure negates any sort of counter-hegemonic potential her videos have, as they simply commodify cultural difference. What’s more, the entire genre of YouTube beauty videos in which Venus Angelic exists is problematic, as more often than not, it simply monitors the ways in which women can express their femininity, usually along white hegemonic beauty standards. The small range of femininities espoused by beauty gurus in turn queers and marginalizes the femininities of queer women, women of color, and working class women (Lieu).

Acknowledging the hegemonic forces at play in Venus Angelic’s YouTube channel and in beauty tutorials in general allows us to examine how these forces impact the lives of real women of color and other women with marginalized femininities. Hegemonic femininity has negative effects on the self-image and self-esteem of women of color (Chou 78). It also contributes to issues of identity for these women, because the harder it is to conform to hegemonic femininity, the harder it is to form a solid sense of identity. Recognizing the ways in which hegemonic femininity manifests itself is also important, because doing so is an important step to forming counter-frames, as well as to forming alternative femininities outside of the current system.

Works Cited:

Chou, Rosalind S. “Asian American Women: Self-Image, Self-Esteem, and Identity.” Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. 77-102. Print.

How to Look Half-Japanese. Perf. Venus Palermo. YouTube. YouTube, LLC, 16 July 2014. Web. 6 Nov. 2016.

Lieu, Nhi T. “Beauty Queens Behaving Badly: Gender, Global Competition, and the Making of the Post-Refugee Neoliberal Vietnamese Subjects.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies 34.1 (2013): 25-57. Web.

VenusAngelic. “Venus Angelic.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

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