Beauty standards in China
The other day, when I was walking Nico in the morning, I saw a girl on her electric bike. She was wearing a bright plastic-looking jacket with long sleeves and the hood up, and black tights. Considering it was like 35 degrees (and only 9 a.m.), I pitied this girl. But, as we say in Spanish, to be beautiful you have to suffer! And this girl was just trying to keep her skin as pale as possible. Let’s talk about beauty standards in China!
– Pale skin
Some Chinese have very white skins and others have darker complexions, but in general I’ve found them to tan quite easily. In Spain this would be a blessing, as we consider tanned skin to be pretty, but in China being tanned is the worst thing that can possibly happen to a girl (except being single, of course). Chinese people think tanned skin proves you are a peasant so they hate getting browner. Pretty, urban girls with good jobs in nice offices don’t get tanned. Because everybody wants to have white skin, most lotions and other cosmetics sold in China contain whitening agents. Make up always makes you look whiter. In Spain, on the other hand, you can buy body lotions with tanning effects and make up usually makes you look a bit tanned.
There is currently an advertisement on Chinese streaming apps that shows several girls in an office with their faces completely brown. Another one has a very white face and they ask with envy: “How can you be so white?” She replies: “Because at lunch time I use the Meituan app to deliver food to the office instead of going out!”
Having a white skin is probably the most important beauty standard. If you don’t fulfil some of the others but are very pale, you will still have a lot of points in the beauty scale.
– Skinny body
Most Chinese young women are obsessed with their weight. As a general standard, if you weight more than 50 kg you are considered fat. [I think the last time I weighted 50 kg I was 11 years old… ahem]. I know the desire of being thin happens everywhere, but I get the impression that here it is even more widespread. In my previous job, all my office mates were Chinese girls. More or less every day one of them would say, “I won’t go to have lunch today, I will not eat anything because I am fat”. None of them was objectively fat. The heaviest one had a size similar to mine.
Every few months, a new “skinny challenge” appears in Chinese social media to prove how thin you are. The most famous ones are the “waist narrower than a A4 sheet of paper”, the “knees together can be covered by an iPhone” and the “holding coins in your collarbone”.
– Small face
Before coming to China, I didn’t even have the concept of small face in my mind. I knew some people have big heads, others have round faces, but… small faces? I had never heard it. In China, having a small face is highly desirable because most people have it round. Basically all the Chinese women I know have at some point told me that my face is so small, how do I do it? Ehm, I don’t think I do anything, I’m just like this, small faced and fat assed.
The best face shape you can have is the “inverted melon seed”: oval shaped and with a small chin. To achieve a visual effect of oval face, many Chinese girls (and also Koreans) put their hands on the sides of their faces when taking selfies and do the kissy or duck mouth.
– Big eyes with double eyelid
Big, doll-like eyes are all the rage. If you have small eyes, you can make them look bigger with make up and some special contact lenses. The double or single eyelid was also a concept I didn’t have before and only learned it after coming to China. Double eyelid is the standard western eyelid, that is, you can see a “wrinkle” above your eye. Around 50% of Chinese people have the single eyelid, and that is considered not attractive. Some girls who want to have a permanent double eye lid undergo surgery, but there are cheaper and non-permanent options like a type of rigid, transparent stickers that you stick on your lid to create a crease.
– Narrow nose
Chinese women always compliment my nose because it’s narrow and tall. Traditionally, westerners are considered to have big noses, but I think the main difference is that our nose is tall (it starts between our eyes) and for many Chinese, the upper part of their noses is flat.
Have you ever realised that beauty standards are mostly a way of nagging people? We always desire what we don’t have! Hundreds of years ago, when most people didn’t have an adequate nutrition, fat women were the epitome of beauty. Now, we want to be impossibly thin. In Spain, most girls have wavy hair and they spend a lot of time straightening it. In China, girls have straight hair and when they go partying or have an important event they curl it a bit. In Spain most people don’t have high cheekbones so we love them; in China most people have flat noses so they love high ones. We are never happy with what we have!
What are the beauty standards in your country?
Agree with everything on this post especially ” We always desire what we don’t have!”, I have some friends from Portugal, they always ask me how do I make my hair so straight and black… :) While I say I love curly hair!
In Portugal the situation must be similar to Spain then :D I have so many friends who spend hours straightening their hair haha. And getting super hot, because they do it in the summer too…
Oh Jezus! I think most Asian beauty standard are like this. I use a lot of Korean skin care and being is like you say pale is the ideal or a sign of wealth. Ironically up the West was like this until Coco Channel who made a tan fashionable. Paleness was a sign you didn’t have to work. Peasants were tanned. Then Coco Channel turned that upside down. To have a tan meant you didn’t work as you had time to sunbathe hence Western beauty values. Like Spain, the UK loves tans especially fake tan! I think the Spanish just like being tan period. The older ladies in my gym are always to each other commenting on how tan they are! I just like a healthy natural glow and not layers of make up. That’s one thing I’ve learnt from Korean skin care, healthy happy skin in the first place. No covering up bad skin then creating a healthy glow on top! The trend at the moment in the UK is slap it on, thick/full drawn on eyebrows, fake tan to the max! My natural healthy skin in the first place doesn’t fit in either Spanish or British beauty standards!
I didn’t know this idea changed with Coco Chanel. Interesting! In Spain, being too pale you will definitely get comments like “Why are you so white? Go to the beach a few days!”. I think I look better when I am a bit tanned, but I don’t really like sunbathing! Those women who spend 8 hours laying in the sand every day and end up “darker than a cricket’s armpit” don’t look too good in my opinion… there’s a difference between getting a healthy colour and becoming completely brown! (Which is so dangerous for your skin…).
Chinese, Japanese and Korean beauty standards are more or less the same. Korean beauty is the most popular now for sure. If you ask a Chinese teenager who is the most handsome man in the world, she will probably mention some Korean actor or boy band member!
I’ve seen those ‘darker than a cricket’ armpit’ ladies and guys at my gym. A walking advert not to stay long in the sun. The wrinkles are another walking advert! I only stay at the beach max 1hr 15 mins, usually 50 mins and than includes a dip with factor 50 slapped on. Plus I get bored. Now I have a bit of colour I’m no longer spoken to much in English as you know, pale skin equals tourist. The start of every summer when shorts season starts without fail, more people speak to me in English.
Yes, Kpop is taking over the world. Though I couldn’t name on boy band member or actor I do watch a lot of Korean dramas on Netflix and those girls (and guys at times) have some amazing skin!
And yes, the grass is always greener on the other side. I envy girls with small chests. They have so much freedom!
Haha! Re body size I am more or less happy with my lot. If only I could manage to have a flatter belly :P
Cardio and abs for a flatter belly (check out Tone It Up. They have it all planned for you)!
I’m more or less happy with mine, though a smaller chest would be nice. I think it comes from getting older and accepting who you are :)
I came a across this article yesterday and thought of you 😛http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170804-why-people-arent-getting-married-in-china
I was affected by the cut in marriage holidays. We were given the amount of 3 days… who can go on a honeymoon with 3 lousy days?? Haha!
What? 3 days, that’s just plain dumb!
I’d say European Countries have all a similar beauty standard…
Oh now to the Chinese wonders, somehow every eldery woman I know from China had the double eyelid surgery, MIL included. I mean they are over 50 and still follow such beauty trend, but I guess I shall never understand this all as a guy
Well, I guess older women want to feel beautiful too! But I wouldn’t go so far as to get surgery just to feel beautiful.
Appearently many of the “elderly women” I know had some messed up surgery as they need to wear sunglasses all the time :p
I think I flunk every Chinese beauty standard except for pale skin and thin nose. But that first advertisement for the white skin? All I could think was that the girl is anemic. She looks scary in the final photo.
Hollywood has similar skinny standards, of course. I’m scared to watch certain actresses on TV — I’m sure their arms are going to snap.
Isn’t curvy also popular in the US now? But maybe not in Hollywood. I am thinking about the Kardashians, haha.
Curvy is popular in social media, you are right about that! But not in movies. TV could go either way.
I have vaguely heard of the small face one. For the older generation I think the round face is popular but these days like you said small and narrow is better…but not til you get sunken cheeks. Here in Australia tan is best but I can’t tan at all 😂
For the older generations, their only concern is that you eat, eat and eat. Not sure if they will call you fat after you ate everything they gave you xD
My husband’s mother always told him to eat, eat, eat, and then scolded him the same day for being fat.
This is what I call Chinese logic xD
In that ad for Meituan, the girl actually look best in the first pic. By the end of the colour progression she looks like some kind of sickly vampiress.
I also think she looks better with a bit of colour. But that’s not the common opinion here!
As an Asian guy I kinda subscribe to the standard of beauty that prizes white skin and I think Asian women in general do look better the whiter they are. (For white women it’s the opposite as I often find them more attractive with a bit of colour.) However, in that particular ad the girl looks freakishly pallid.
If you look at Chinese paintings from the past, if I remember right, they liked single-fold, almond shaped eyes and rounder faces. Of course, white skin is an age-old preference, especially in an agricultural society where the poor work under the sun.
At first I thought it was strange that thinness would be important since most Chinese are quite thin anyway. But then I remembered that older women lose their waistlines, so you don’t want to look like your mom or grandma.
That’s a good point about the Chinese paintings. But then again, the single-fold almond-shaped eyes must have been considered ideal at one point in the Asians’ evolutionary history for this trait to have been sexually selected. Why else would the trait be so common among Asians?
Great scientific point, haha. Beauty standards change every few decades… Marilyn Monroe would probably be considered too fat now!
Chinese people are not so thin anymore!
I see more and more fat kids these days!
Good Post. Australians used to want to be tanned but now we realise this means skin cancer so keep out of the sun so now it’s fair skin for most of us!!
In Spain we are also aware that too much sun can mean skin cancer but still there are people who stay hours under the sun! When I go to the beach I am always covered in SPF 50 and under an umbrella so it is a miracle if I get any colour at all xD
Well, as you know, I’ve written about Asian’s obsession with white skin and funny Thai beauty products and standards, so it’s the same in SE Asia. Although the coins and A4 paper challenges are hillarious – and frightening. Looks like foot binding was just ‘upgraded’ as far as I can tell!
Yes! You’re right, this is the modern version of foot binding…
I’m extremely glad that I’m not the only one who thinks of this! Most of the girls in my class still pick on me for have a large and oval face. It’s just strange yet disturbing based on how many women are obsessed with such small details.
Ugh, seriously, ignore them! People always find something to pick on… when I was in school the mean girls used to say I was “too tall”! Now I’m sure they all envy me, hahaha.
As a black person in China,this has been a shock to me’
China inspires me so much <3 I somehow love the beauty standards from China :)
Great post Marta!! I think you hit every single Chinese beauty standard out there, haha.
That A4 challenge and the collarbone thing… ughhh it makes me shudder. What is wrong with people?!?!?
I also became like a Chinese person when it comes to white skin and the sun… not because I want to look like a peasant, but because I am cursed with Irish genes and I’ll get freckles as soon as I step into the sun, haha. Plus I worry about skin cancer now, so I try to cover up when I can (but I don’t jump into black jumpsuit or ski mask like Chinese women … we all still need a little sun!).
I wonder how vitamin D deficient all these Chinese women are? (we get a lot of our vitamin D from the sun!).
I hope China doesn’t become like Korea where everyone gets plastic surgery and starts to look the same.
The other day when I attended my friend’s wedding, I noticed I was the whitest person in the room. Everybody had been to the beach! I used to do that too when I lived in Spain (because you actually have the holidays to spend a month in the beach if you want) but now in China I never go so I guess it’s good for my skin. A small consolation, haha.
It’s always good to work on our inner beauty than fussing over outer beauty and trying hard to meet the standards..😊
That’s for sure! And we can comfort ourselves thinking that our current shape/face would have been all the rage 200 years ago, or maybe it will be in the future as standards change with time! :P
Interesting. Understanding beauty standards is an important step towards redefining the norm. Hopefully, the future brings change!
I wish I could be so optimist! But every week there are new ads for cosmetic surgery clinics in my elevator xD
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Many of my female students complain about their weight or skin tone. I fire back by complaining about how thin and pale I am (I have a chronic illness that keeps me so). It’s less of an issue for men, though.
I’m sure they think you are crazy… Why would anyone complain about being thin and pale? That’s the best that could happen to you, even if it’s the consequence of an illness! xD
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