Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai
Let me help you add some magic...
Gender roles are explored, distorted, and finally turned upside-down in this quirky, irreverent and absolutely hilarious manga. Kiri Koshiba is a fifteen-year-old high-school freshman with a rare talent. Her father owns Koshiba Beauty Salon, and she has become his unwilling heir. She has learned a thing or two from Pops, but has no intention of becoming a hairdresser herself. That is, until she encounters the S.P.
Narumi, Kai and Ochiai are second-year students and together these three make up the Scissors Project—widely known as S.P.—a makeover project that takes place at Ryokufuu High School. They select a lucky female student and give her a makeover in front of the entire school. All the girls who are selected have one thing in common: they are all pretty. Ugly girls need not apply.
Narumi Shougo is vain, handsome, and temperamental; the heir to the great Shougo Beauty Salon Empire. Narumi's extraordinary ambition is to become Japan's number one hairstylist. He is obstinate and obnoxious, with one hell of a superiority complex, but don't be foold by his gruff exterior. Narumi isn't completely without charm. He has a deeply hidden sweet side (yes, you have to plunge very deep) that he rarely shows. He's a self-proclaimed hairstyling genius ("You should worship this golden right hand of mine!") who has won every national hairstyling competition for seven years, with the notable exception of one that was wrested away from him by a mysterious little girl, number 19, whose memory haunts him to this very day. Kei is a bubble-gum-chewing, spiky-haired, Nike-wearing manicurist (If that isn't enough to elicit a chuckle, then I don't know what is). Ochiai, responsible for makeup and overall composition, is a bespectacled schemer, really the mastermind behind S.P., who maneuvers Kiri into having a makeover competition with Narumi.
Kiri decides to help a fellow classmate, Aoyama—who has been rejected by long-time crush Ochiai—"add a little magic." Perhaps one of the greatest moments is when painfully-shy Aoyama, post-makeover, delivers to Ochiai a crushing set-down when she tells him that she really must learn to be a better judge of character. True, her new-found beauty gives her the confidence to speak her mind to Ochiai, but it is at this crucial moment that Mangaka Kiyoko Arai really drives home her point: beauty is only skin-deep and what really matters is not outside appearance. What is more telling is that Aoyama chooses to return to the way she was before the makeover. When questioned by ochiai as to the reason, she responds by saying she was uncomfortable with the new her. It's nice to be pretty, but don't sacrifice who you really are to attain it.
On the surface, Beauty Pop is a light-hearted comedy. If you look closer, you realize that it breaks down gender-role stereotypes and ridicules the beauty standards that rule our society, and explores how those standards often warp self-perception. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. A noble sentiment, most eloquently realized in Beauty Pop.