Beautiful and handsome are two words that are very present in the business world and in daily Chinese conversation. The outward appearance of someone is commonly discussed--in fact it is a common way to greet someone--when my principal met the new foreign teachers the first thing she said was hello you are handsome! hello you are beautiful!
Beauty is very important to Chinese people and their standards of beauty is a little different from other parts of the world. It always intrigues me when Chinese people call me beautiful or when I discuss beautiful/handsome celebrities with Chinese people.
So what exactly is considered "beautiful" in China? From observing advertisements, products and talking with Chinese people, this is what I have observed:
1. A white skin tone that is flawless--the white porcelain look.
White has been associated with beauty since ancient times. People who did not work outside had fair skin, which was a sign of wealth (while laborers worked outside, under the sun). In order to achieve this look in China, women avoid the sunlight and they use various products that whiten their skin. 白富美 (bai fu mei) is a term that recently became popular in China, used to explain the perfect woman. It translates into "white, rich and beautiful".
All beauty products (face wash, moisturizer, face masks...ect.) have many whitening products. After arriving in China and accidentally purchasing whitening lotion I have been very careful to read the labels on everything.
Men also desire to be white.
Last week I went to the store to get new deodorant--they only have the roll-on kind here :/--and didn't even think about reading the label. WHITENING deodorant. Yikes.
If the sun is out, women often avoid going outside or use an umbrella to keep the UV rays out.
Sometimes I lay outside (don't worry, I always wear sunscreen!) to get tan and enjoy some vitamin D. When I tried to explain this to a Chinese friend, she thought I was crazy. I tried to explain that women in America go to tanning beds and pay money to get tan. She refused to believe me, so I had to go online and show her pictures.
An essential part of the beauty regimen is a face mask. Face masks are wildly popular here. They have many hydrating masks, whitening masks, pore tightening masks, anti-acne masks...literally one for anything you can imagine.
2. Face shape
One of my friends was telling me how all women in China have one of three face types: pancake face, apple face, and goose egg face, and melon seed face. Pancake face is circular, apple face has round cheeks (like a baby face), and goose egg face/melon seed face are what we would call an oval shaped face. Melon seed face has a more pointed chin. Goose egg face and melon seed face are the most beautiful and desirable.
Below are some Chinese actresses/models who are considered to be extremely beautiful.
Actress Fan Bingbing
Melon Seed face
Actress/model Zhang Ziyi
Melon Seed face
Goose egg face
Apparently even dating websites ask what shape face you have, next to age, job, salary, height, weight...ect.
3. Big eyes/double eyelids
By human nature big eyes is an attractive feature. Genetically, Asians tend to have smaller eyes and sometimes do not have a crease in their eye lids. For this reason, I think that big eyes is seen as even more desirable. Many people who do not have a crease in their eyelid desire to have one and will go to the extreme-have "double-eyelid surgery", (known as blepharoplasty)-or they will wear "eye-lid tape" which is like skin colored eyeliner.
Before/after results of double-eyelid surgery
It is common among men as well
Double eyelid tape
In all Chinese advertising big eyes are a must.
Larger eyes and double eyelids are a desired trait by many Asian cultures. Some Western people claim that they are "trying to look more Western" when in reality they are just trying to look more beautiful. That is like saying that Westerners who are on a diet or desire to be more slim are trying to look more Asian (who are naturally slimmer and have smaller body frames)
Westerners should embrace the fact that they are genetically blessed with double eyelids and large eyes. Colored contacts and fake eyelashes are new to the Chinese beauty market...and a top seller to make eyes look larger and more attractive.
While we are on the subject of surgery...many Asians will undergo plastic surgery to look more appealing. This is especially true in South Korea and is becoming increasingly more common in China. A common joke is that it is hard to judge South Korean beauty pageants because all of the contestants look the same! (they have undergone plastic surgery).
Check out this article: Chinese Women go to South Korea for Plastic Surgery and have difficulties getting through airport security on the way back because they look so different.
Or this blog which does a much better job explaining The Asian Face and the Rise of Cosmetic Surgery. This Chinese woman below had extensive plastic surgery in South Korea. After getting married and having a child (who did not resemble the facial features of the mother) her husband sued her for neglecting to tell him about her procedures.
4. Slim figure
I think universally a slim figure is desirable and seen as attractive in today's world. Chinese women are naturally thinner than American/Western women and it is important to them to maintain their figure (this is mainly because their diet and genetics). Family and friends are also more straightforward about appearance (while westerners are more straightforward about how they are feeling or their emotions towards something). Imagine coming home for Christmas and your parent's first reaction is "OH MY GOSH you are fat!". Pressure from family and society shapes this beauty standard.
I must say though, times are changing in China and I think body types will be changing too. McDonalds, KFC and Taiwanese bakeries are on every street corner and are a popular place to eat for middle class people. Maintaining a slim figure is becoming more difficult as people stray from traditional foods.
This is inside one of my favorite bakeries-Cafe 85 C
These bakeries are on every single street corner and they are always full of people
They serve pastries and a variety of drinks--most of them coffee or tea but sugar laden
Milk tea (this one has bubbles) is one of the most common drinks here in China. I have tried it a few times and it is so sugary I can't drink it.
The end! Do you think there are any strange or unusual standards of beauty in your country? My Chinese friend thinks that American woman's obsession with no body hair is very strange (they do not shave their armpits, legs...ect.)