How can we understand the relationship between a mother and her daughter through their fashion consumption? Do mothers look at daughters as an extension of themselves? Professors Junko Kimura, Hosei University, and Mototaka Sakashita, Keio Business School, explore this unique relationship.
The Mother-Daughter Relationship in Japan by CoBS Editor Pavan Jambai. Related research: Mother possessing daughter – dual roles of extended self, The Routledge companion to identity and consumption.
Consumerism has been the cornerstone of our development in the past century – both leading to positive social and economic benefits, but also to negative environmental degradation and divides. People consume not only for the functional aspect of the products, sometimes buying buy or consuming products to express their core self. And in such cases, the products become a part of the consumer’s extended self.
Such possessions can be inanimate objects such as personal websites, things in the workplace, cherished objects – or they can also be other living beings such as pets and other people. Perhaps the most common extension of self is observed between a parent and their child, since the child grows under the shadow of the parent in their formative years.
Daughters as Barbie dolls?
The scientific community has frequently stressed the importance of good parenting on the outcome of a child’s attitudes in life. And for daughters, it is especially their mothers’ attitudes that have a far-more reaching impact than their fathers’. Indeed, mothers are significant socializers to their daughters and in many cases, they even force their children to identify with them.
Profs Kimura and Sakashita’s research highlights two major yet contradicting observations about the mother-daughter relationship dynamics in Japanese culture. While on the one hand, the mother treats her daughter as a mere object of possession predominantly to entertain her, on the other hand, she wants her daughter to accomplish all the goals and dreams that she was not able to do herself.
The treatment of daughters as mere objects of possession is exemplified by the dynamics between the mother-daughter relationship when shopping. On certain occasions, daughters are referred to as their mothers’ “Barbie Dolls” as mothers try to choose their own preferred outfits and the outfits that they can no longer wear, rather than the outfits preferred by the daughters.
Daughters to redeem dreams
But the Japanese mother-daughter relationship is not one-dimensional. Despite the objectification of their daughters, Japanese mothers have high expectations regarding their offspring. Indeed, mothers generally regard their daughters’ existence as highly important, and they try to turn their daughters into their extended selves to make them accomplish their unachieved desires.
To understand this contradicting dimension of the relationship, Profs Kimura and Sakashita invoke the history of Japan. Current mothers of teenage daughters, in their late forties or early fifties, received higher education under the post-war school system characterised by liberalism. This was in stark contrast to their own mothers who received little to no education.
However, even with inclusive education and newfound free will, most mothers had to, unfortunately, sacrifice their dreams and desire for the sake of their husbands and children. As a result, Japanese mothers imprint their unsuccessful dreams onto their daughters, projecting their expectations and hopes for their daughters to mirror their ideal selves.
Complex, yet thoughtful parenting
Under the lens of fashion consumption, the mother-daughter relationship in Japan confirms the existing understanding that mothers project a large part of themselves on their daughters. Observing the shopping habits and consumer patterns of Japanese mothers and daughters, Profs Kimura and Sakashita find that mothers exhibit contradictory behavior towards their daughters by treating them as dolls and by expecting lofty achievements from them.
However, all in all, the Japanese mother-daughter relationship takes a unique form as mutual-dependence, where mothers rely on their daughters – by controlling them – and vice versa. Moreover, in many cases Japanese daughters are actually willing to let their mothers control them to make them happy, additional research showing that daughters perceive themselves as care-givers for their own mothers.
Surveys in various countries have shown the family to be the most important thing to a majority of people. And within families, the importance given to children and their upbringing is seldom matched by others. While there may be cultural and historical reasons for parents to act in a certain way, every parent must strive to put the well-being of the child ahead of their own personal beliefs and dreams. Could this spell an end to the extended self?
- Link up with Profs. Junko Kimura and Mototaka Sakashita on LinkedIn
- Read a related post: Japan with a Mission – management philosophy
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