Have you ever noticed that many East Asians and Southeast Asians hold up a peace sign when posing for casual photos?
My first exposure to this was when I studied abroad in Hong Kong. Almost without fail, whenever my local peers posed for a photo, up went their fingers in a V-shape.
I grew up in Santa Barbara, a city with a very small Asian American population, and my parents had never taught me that pose. I asked a few of my local Hong Kong friends, “Why do you hold up the peace sign when you take photos?”
“Because it looks cute.” and
“Um, I don’t know, actually. It’s just what everyone does.”
While in Asia I adopted the pose, but I seldom do it now that I’m back in the States. Well, except yesterday evening, when I went with a group of Asian American friends to Koreatown to sing karaoke. I took a photo with two other girls, and maybe it was the Asian-style karaoke atmosphere, but we all smiled and made a peace sign with our fingers.
I started wondering about the peace sign again. When and why did the pose become popular in Asia?
An article by Icons, a UK website about British culture, suggests that the trend started in Japan. Despite falling on the ice during the 1972 Winter Olympics, U.S. figure skater Janet Lynn smiled and remained cheerful, gaining the respect and admiration of the Japanese people. Lynn campaigned for peace and was often photographed posing with the peace sign. The Japanese adopted the pose and it soon spread to other parts of Asia.
According to an article by Erika Usui in Asians in America Magazine, a second possibility is Japanese superstition. Usui writes, “another Japanese urban legend states that people will have their souls sucked out by the devil if they become the center of attention in a photograph, thus whipping out the “peace” sign to take the focus away from their faces. As the urban legend goes, looking straight into the camera is another way of letting the devil get to you.”
It is pretty clear that the trend started in the 1970s. My parents emigrated from Hong Kong as children in the ’50s and ’60s; as far as I can tell they were not exposed to this practice growing up, notwithstanding the V-for-victory sign that was used in World War II.
Well, whatever the origin, I’m certain that the peace sign pose is here to stay!
— posted by Debbie Chong