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Chinese Beauty Standards & Body Shaming

(Trigger warning: dieting, body shaming, eating disorders)

Q: Can you share your experience with body shaming?

A: I have experienced body shaming many times since I was young. As a child, I have always been quite chubby. When I was fourteen, I experienced some mental health problems, which led to physical changes, and I gained a lot of weight. This made me feel inferior. I have changed a lot in the past few years - although I still experience body shaming, I don't really care about it anymore.


Let me pick a few things to talk about. When I was fourteen, our class had to wear short skirts. I was the stockiest girl in the class, and a boy secretly took a photo of me wearing the short skirt, which was circulated among the students in my grade.


Also, I attended a boarding school two years ago. In the bathroom, I heard my roommate tell another girl that my thighs were thick - so thick that there were visible stretch marks. Then, I said, "I am right here, actually." It was very awkward.


Recently, my friend sent me a photograph of the two of us. One of his friends commented that it was not suitable for me to wear dresses because I had a masculine figure. In my opinion, it was absolutely ridiculous - what gave him the right to judge strangers on their body types?

Q: Have you ever been body shamed, and by whom? Where do you think their right to speak comes from?

A: In life, anyone can humiliate me. Their right to speak and deterrence lie in their belief that they represent the aesthetic sense of the entire society and occupy the majority. Therefore, they think they have the right to override my choice and power.

Q: In China, what gender is body-shamed more often?

A: Chinese beauty standards are too strict. Whether you are male or female, young or old, you can never escape this set of strict standards. I think men and women suffer equally, but body shaming towards women may be more obvious, as cosmetic surgery, breast augmentation surgery, liposuction surgery, etc. are mainly targeted towards female audiences. However, men also feel insecure about their appearance because of the current beauty standards.

Q: To you, what is the meaning of beauty?

A: I think that beauty is existence, and existence is beauty. Beauty exists in everything that is created. I have grown to appreciate everyone’s natural form, because that is their true self.

Q: In China, what is the mainstream definition of beauty? What do you think of this definition?

A: Mainstream opinion usually follows trendy labels, such as “little milk dog”, “little wolf dog”, “big sister” and so on. As long as these labels stay trendy, people who meet the standards are considered beautiful and handsome. These man-made standards are actually somewhat commercial, allowing certain people to profit from them. However, these standards are in fact unnecessary.

Q: Does China have a diverse definition of beauty?

A: China has begun trying to define beauty in a more diverse way. However, I think they tend to overemphasize that this is a different kind of beauty. Wang Ju (a Chinese singer) is an example of this. Someone once said that I was unconventionally beautiful like Wang Ju. However, I think that beauty is beauty - there is no such thing as unconventional beauty. Recently, an underwear brand called Neiwai caught my attention. Among all Chinese underwear brands, they have the most attractive and groundbreaking advertisements I have seen so far.

Q: Many people have expressed their contempt for body shaming, but it is still a common phenomenon. Why is this?

A: Sometimes, people may forget the principle of “not imposing on others what you do not wish for yourself” (己所不欲勿施於人), and consciously or unconsciously do things that humiliate other people's bodies.

Q: What impact do homogenous beauty standards have on young people?

A: Young people often face great peer pressure. Personally, I feel this way too. When I was chubbier, I would think that if I lost five pounds or ten pounds, I would be much happier. In fact, it had nothing to do with body shape, but there’s something wrong with my mentality. I also put a limit on socializing because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from eating when I go out with other people.

Q: Although the phrase "body shaming" has a negative connotation, some people argue that essentially, it can motivate people to attain a healthy body. What are your thoughts on this?


A: I think that having a healthy figure and body shaming are two different concepts. If someone's weight exceeds the healthy standards to the point of obesity, it should definitely be viewed dialectically, and they should be encouraged to attain a healthy body. On the other hand, body shaming means forcing others to change their bodies when they have no intention to do so.

Q: Some people think that homogenous beauty standards should be accepted because the public has the right to favor a particular kind of beauty. What are your thoughts on this?

I think it should not be accepted. However, the emergence of homogenous beauty standards in China may be influenced by our culture and national conditions. China is a single-ethnic country, with a major East Asian population. East Asians have a unique way of judging beauty.

Q: Is dieting common in China? How does it affect the way people perceive body image?

A: In China, dieting is pretty common among women, but there are also other people who deliberately show off that they eat a lot, then induce vomiting afterward. I find both really unhealthy. Eating should make you happy, or at least simply replenish your energy, and I think it should not be regarded as a burden.

Q: Beauty pageants and body publicity are very common in China and other places around the world. What is your view? Should they be banned?


Beauty pageants or body publicity are business models. These marketing methods all aim to create public opinion, influencing people to follow the crowd through advertising. Companies that use methods like these include Victoria’s Secret and Brandy Melville. I discussed the emergence of "size zero" with my friends, who are models. The original intention behind it was to save fabric costs, but it gradually became a state of mind: being unable to fit into a size zero means that you don't look as good as the people who can.


Undeniably, these are ways of objectifying women. However, it is impossible to ban these competitions or publicity within a short time, and it is also difficult to eradicate them. These are the products of a patriarchal society, and many people depend on them for their livelihoods. This is an industrial chain, and it is difficult to tackle the roots of the problem.

Q: What mentality do plastic surgery, breast augmentations, and injections reflect? Should they be banned?

A: These are the negative effects of fixed beauty standards, as well as the economy and industry. If there is demand, there will be a market, so as long as certain standards are promoted, someone will always respond to the call and strive to meet them, and there will always be people willing to spend their money on these things. This is a business model where "one is willing to punish and one is willing to suffer" (一個願打一個願挨). Therefore, the most important thing is to figure out what you want. Regarding plastic surgery, I think everyone has a so-called love of beauty. Everyone wants to be accepted by the general public and match the mainstream definition of beauty by looking good. I think it is understandable.

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Xin Wang is a 19-year-old student in her second year of the IBDP at UWCiM. Photography is her way of self-expression.


Interviewed by Brittany Wong

Translated by Chloe Yeung

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