This article is written as a critical response to an article written by Shinshi Okajima for Tokyo Girls’ update. His article, in our opinion, provides an unsatisfactory explanation of the phenomenon of gradols/グラドル [gravure idols] for male subjects. By misrepresenting the use of fabric in the world of gravure/グラビア, he fails in our opinion to underline the essential dimension that drives the appeal of Gradols for male subjects.
The place of kawaii.
In Okajima’s explanation – I don’t think we can call it a theory, the fundamental aspect of gravure concerns ‘covering what is un-cute and show them as cute’ and ‘to emphasize the cute aspects of a girl even more’ – Okajima insistently uses the kanji 子 (child) to refer to gradols.
The gradol phenomenon should indeed be understood from the perspective of kawaii aesthetics, as it rarely leaves the confines of this easthetism. But Okajima’s explanation is enterily subjective. Both sentences can be put into question by the following question: Who decides what’s un-cute and what is cute about a girl? To put it differently: what Okajima seems to deem un-cute about girls is nothing other than nipples and genitals – which are always covered in Gravure. But, from a subjective perspective, these parts of the female body could be considered kawaii/可愛い as well.
In other words, we can not situate ‘kawaii’ in the interplay between clothing and the female body as such (as Okajima’s first sentence implies). While we have kawaii hairstyles, kawaii clothes, kawaii poses, kawaii expressions – things that lots of male subjects would consider kawaii, these aspects make the image of the body or the body aspect in its totality ‘kawaii’ and enable the gravure image to be enjoyed as kawaii by the subject. kawaii is thus to be situated in the very interaction of the viewer, the one with the active gaze, with the gravure image, the one who is gazed at.
Furthermore ‘kawaii’ should not be seen as the finality or purpose of Gradol photography, but as a mere aesthetic method to realize a different purpose for the male subject. As a method it is intermingled with the essential dimension that characterizes the interplay between clothes and body.
The interplay between clothes and body: the essential dimension of fabric.
To put it rather bluntly: in Gravure the main function of fabric is to eroticize the body-image. This is obvious for example in the second picture of Chiyo Koma/小間千代, the first picture of Miyu Suenaga/末永みゆ and the second picture of Rina Nagai/永井里菜. In each example clothing is used to guide the gaze from the male subject to a certain body part (which is covered as well). Other examples like Rina Nagai’s first picture, Rika sakurai’s first picture, and the picture of Aoyama Hikaru/青山ひかる show that other aspects also provide erotic suggestion.
The fundamental dimension Okajima forgets to put forward is that the purpose of Gravure is to eroticize the female body and thus provide visual satisfaction for the male subject by way of erotic suggestion. The aesthetic frame of kawaii is only a frame that serves this purpose: Gravure concerns the erotization of kawaii for and by the male subject. Any innocence or virginal quality that may be observed is only observed in an eroticized way by the male subject or presented to the male subject in such a way.
Furthermore, the consumption of the imagery constitutes ready-made fantasies to be enjoyed, to be savoured by the fantasy of the male subject. That is also the purpose of the sentences that often accompany gravure images in magazines (See Chiyo Koma’s first picture and the picture of Baba Fumika/馬場 ふみか for instance). These sentences are an added aid for the male subject so that he can fantasize himself as the lover of the Gradol. An endless fantasizing that is only possible because there is an inherent impossibility of realizing the fantasy as such.
By using the term “ready-made fantasies”, we refer to the inherent narrative structure that Gravure has in most cases. Quite often this narrative is reduced to the “undoing of some clothes”, but it is a narrative nonetheless. Furthermore, in the succession of pictures that form a narrative there are always some pictures that pull, often by way of eye contact, the male subject into the narrative space (See the second picture of Rika Sakurai and Chiyo Koma’s second picture for instance). The gazing male subject is made present in the narrative, the ready-made fantasy template that gravure presents.
In short, the purpose of this critical introduction was to underline the visual satisfaction male subjects derive from Gravure or, in other words, from the eroticism as framed by kawaii aestheticism. In the case of Gravure, the labeling of these pictures as kawaii reveals as such the erotic enjoyment of the male subject and his investment in the female body-image of the gradol.