Japan univ. brochure’s ‘beautiful’ student collection accused of appearance-based prejudice

This image shows part of a page in Kindai University’s guidance brochure, which includes photos of “beautiful” students.

OSAKA — A west Japan university’s guidance pamphlet for prospective students has caused controversy for including “beautiful girl” and “beautiful boy” photo collections of students, with experts criticizing the move as “lookism,” or discrimination based on physical appearance, while the university claims that it helps present a casual image of campus life.

Meanwhile, some students at the college expressed positive views of the pamphlet, and an issue mirroring controversy surrounding university beauty pageants has come to light.

The sections in question were published in Kindai Graffiti 2023, a brochure for entrance exam applicants of Kindai University, which has its main campus in Osaka Prefecture. The university began to hand out the brochure during open houses from March 20, 2022, and has also sent them for free to prospective students. It is also sold at bookstores nationwide and is available online.

The “beautiful girl” and “beautiful boy” photo collections cover a total of four pages, excluding the cover, toward the middle of the 90-page pamphlet. They show photos of eight male and female students, along with their profiles, which include their height and a description of the “type” of person they are attracted to. In the table of contents, a heading reads, “Revealing the beautiful boys and girls found on campus!”

Kindai University’s guidance brochure Kindai Graffiti 2023, which is available online, is shown in this image.

According to Kindai University’s public relations office, the brochure, which is created with the help of a magazine company, has been published annually since 2015, and aims to have applicants “get a casual feel of the university’s features.” The “beautiful girl” and “beautiful boy” collections have also since been published every year, and the individuals introduced in them are apparently chosen by the magazine publisher’s staff as they interview students on campus over several months.

On April 18, Kindai University’s faculty and staff union posted a tweet reading, “‘Beautiful girl photo collection’ in college guidance brochures places the school’s integrity in question.” It went viral, gathering about 2,100 retweets and some 3,300 likes in one month. The union’s general secretary Kazuhiro Fujimaki commented, “I don’t want to dismiss the brochure entirely, but using images of people on the basis of physical looks in a university’s official guidance book is extremely problematic.”

In response to this, Kindai University’s public relations office explained to the Mainichi Shimbun that “though the title is ‘beautiful girl, beautiful boy photo collection,’ people who are leading fulfilling university lives show it in their facial expressions as well, and the sections are created with the intention to introduce people who high school students will admire.”

This image shows part of a page in Kindai University’s guidance brochure, which includes a corner introducing seven pairs of male-female “teacher and student couples.”

It added, “Each year, we have held talks with freshman students to hear their opinions, and exclude sections that were unpopular. The ‘beautiful girl, beautiful boy photo collection’ pages have a great following, and students use it as a reference for their own clothing and makeup, so we’ve kept them.” The public relations office said it intends to continue gathering freshmen’s opinions to consider the appropriate content for publishing.

It is not only the photo collections that are viewed as problematic. The brochure also contains a corner titled “Kindai teacher and student couples.” A female instructor revealed that several years ago, she was asked by the university to recommend a male student who is “gorgeous and good-looking.” She criticized the inquiry, saying, “I’ve never evaluated my students based on their appearance, and I thought that’s practically harassment. Limiting the couples to a man and woman pair also has the idea of heterosexual love as its premise, which is problematic.”

The Mainichi Shimbun also interviewed students on and around the university’s campus in the city of Higashiosaka. A 21-year-old fourth-year student said she enjoyed viewing the brochure when she was considering applying to the university. Citing Kindai University’s growing fame following its achievement of complete aquaculture production of bluefin tuna and other endeavors, she said, “The university is pouring a lot of effort into promotional activities, so I think the brochures are one part of this. Unlike the brochures of other universities, you can read through them like a magazine. I don’t think they’re bad since they grab the attention of prospective students.”

This image shows part of a page in Kindai University’s guidance brochure, which includes photos of “beautiful” students.

A third-year female student also expressed favorable views, saying, “There’s no problem if the concerned parties agree to the publication.” On the other hand, an 18-year-old male freshman said, “It might be acceptable as a borderline case now, but a university’s action of judging people based on their appearance may become impermissible moving forward.”

Fumio Sunaga, associate professor at Showa University familiar with gender theory, evaluated the pamphlet positively, saying, “When viewing the brochure as a whole, various students were introduced, and it took one step further from normal university guides to become an aspirational pamphlet that conveys its charms.” That being said, he pointed out, “Just the ‘beautiful girl, beautiful boy photo collection’ pages were made from the standpoint of heterosexual love, like including ‘ideal types’ in the profiles. People who many others view as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ are selected and agreed on silently, and this risks encouraging discrimination based on appearance and excluding diverse sexual identities. People are free to have their own personal standards of beauty, but doing so under the name of a university is vulgar, and these pages should be removed.”

(Japanese original by Yuki Noguchi, Osaka City News Department)