Global Mode: Tsuke Yaeba

Tsuke yaeba, or snaggleteeth, are coveted enough in Japan that a girl group was formed around the aesthetic trend in April 2012, scouted in a dentistry office that specializes in creating the “fangs” or protruding canines. Some dental offices are even offering tween and preteen girls discounts on the procedures, which can cost more than $400.

Nana, Mio, and Rika of the “snaggletooth” girl group TYB48, 2012. One of their first singles was, “Mind if I Bite?”

Snaggleteeth are usually defined as crooked teeth, and in the case of yaeba refer alternatively to prominent canines or “fangs.” Kirsten Dunst has been extensively investigated by tabloids for her supposed snaggleteeth, although her dental anomalies are much less obvious than those of the TYB48 girls, for example.

The dental procedure undergone by so many Japanese women is not as dramatic as many media make it sound; it’s often just a cap that gives the appearance of crowded baby teeth, a common cause of snaggleteeth.

In Japan, women who have (or buy) yaeba are considered slightly homelier than women with straight teeth, which is a good thing: it makes them more approachable–and subsequently much less homely. Often seen as a flaw in the West, prominent canine teeth have become an attractive trait to some Japanese men. Yaeba are now often associated with cuteness, or kawaii, a well-documented visual trend and sexual preference in Japan and around the world. As with the girls of TYB48, tsuke yaeba are often accompanied by cute, childlike clothing, such as a schoolgirl uniforms.

Photo from Elite Nights’ Tumbler (http://elite-knights.tumblr.com/), with the caption, “Doing yaeba right.” Photo: uncredited.

Many commentators harp on the relativity of beauty, the sacrifice (monetary and aesthetic) of these young women in their search for mates, and the sexualization of young girls. In a resounding and unsurprising lack of cultural relativism or understanding, websites like the UK Daily Mail Online offered headlines such as, “Japanese cosmetic trend for ‘sexy’ child-like look fuels demand for CROOKED teeth.”  Perhaps this is a response to the wealth of comments substituting one insensitivity for another and comparing Japanese yaeba converts with the British, often lambasted for their apparent dental imperfections.

Is the trend for tsuke yaeba troubling for its connections with sexualizing a child-like appearance? Or is it just another easy target? Is it a step forward (or at least away) from our global obsession with a perceived perfection? What other procedures do you know of that remove, alter, or denigrate a socially attractive feature of the body in order to make a person more approachable (see: Tyra Banks advising widening a gap tooth)? 

If it were a different part of the body, or more surgically invasive, would you feel differently? Where is the line of so-called “sacrifice” drawn? Does this belong on the spectrum of body modification, or can this be compared to our American/Western interest in plastic surgery? What is the difference?

Let us know what you think below!

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