About 41.1 percent of Chinese men are overweight or obese, compared with 27.7 percent of Chinese women, according to a study published on August 17 in the medical journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, news portal China Daily reported. Ironically, like the waistlines of Chinese adults, the trend of shrinking women’s clothing sizes, too, continues to expand.
In recent years, China’s fashion industry has been dominated by a petite craze that has resulted in the shrinking of women’s clothing. Young Chinese women are squeezing into ultra-petite outfits that are sometimes smaller than children’s clothing.
This shift to extra-small sizes has been fueled by a growing obsession among some Chinese women to look ultra-skinny, an op-ed titled “Why are women’s clothing sizes getting smaller and smaller?” (女装尺码为什么越做越小？| nǚzhuāng chǐmǎ wèishénme yuèzuò yuèxiǎo？in Chinese) on Chinese news portal CE.cn read on August 19.
A series of unrealistic body standards advocating the ideal A4 waist, which compares waist sizes to the width of an A4 sheet of paper, and the perfect L-shaped shoulders have led many to experience body image anxiety and engage in extreme fasting and overly intense exercise. Another factor perpetuating women’s clothing’s shrinking sizes is the lack of uniform size standards.
High Temper Time to size up the phenomenon.
Off the Charts
For example. When one orders a clothing item on Alibaba’s shopping Walhalla that is Taobao… Life is like box of chocolates. Ya never know whatcha gonna get. Standing at 1.75m (5’9) with a European (think Mango/ZARA) size S, this author usually has to go for a Taobao XL. What she then might receive is said European-sized S or an actual European-sized XL.
China does have a set of national standards in place, but the most recent update was in 2018, so the standards are arguably rather outdated. Additionally, the standards are only recommended, not mandatory, leaving room for brands to create their own size charts. Petite sizes should be an option for apparel brands, not a standard. For the authorities, mandatory standards should be introduced and constantly updated to ensure that the apparel industry continues to operate properly. Consumers should also always remember to love themselves and embrace their own body image, the op-ed continued.
On super popular Chinese lifestyle slash e-commerce Walhalla 小红书 (xiǎohóngshū| Little Red Book), hashtag #女装尺码越做越小 (women’s sizes are getting smaller and smaller) features a myriad of videos ridiculing and denouncing womenswear’s shrinking sizes — often asking “is this for a woman or a child?!” Related posts have raked in hundreds of thousands of views, likes and comments.
Oh Tempora, Oh Mores
Many decades ago, when the population was actually focused on putting food on the table amid bouts of famine, eating disorders were (obviously) extremely rare in China. Cicero would say the tempora and mores most certainly have changed…
In the Roaring Twenties 2.0, aka today, as the connotations of “being thin” have become more toxic, young Chinese women face different societal pressures. “Now, being thin is associated not just with beauty, but also with discipline, success and even social class,” Beijing-based marketing master Daxue Consulting reported in 2022.
While there are no national statistics, because of the shame and lack of awareness attached to mental health issues–eating disorders included, state broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) in a 2022 documentary about mental health found that the number of eating disorder patients in China had increased five-fold over the past decade. Hospitals in major Chinese cities have reported a sharp increase in the number of people seeking treatment. In Shanghai, a mental health clinic said it treated just three cases of eating disorders in 2002–but treated 591 inpatients with similar problems in 2018.
According to CGTN, the Shanghai Mental Health Center reported that eating disorder outpatients had gone from eight in 2002 to over 3,000 in 2020.
State-run newspaper China Youth Daily in 2021, citing a Beijing hospital, said the number of eating disorder inpatients had jumped from about 20 a year to more than 180 between 2002 and 2012. In 2011, the hospital opened a specialized department.
The increase in people recognizing their eating disorders has led to suggestions that the problem is a “foreign phenomenon” that has only recently arrived in China. “For my parents’ generation, when they were young, being fat was a way to prove you came from a good family background,” a 21-year-old student told CGTN last year. The media outlet also linked eating disorders to the country’s growing affluence.
With economic growth often comes a rise in eating disorders; people are more sedentary but indulge in more food. Usually, this reflects an economically successful country, but for women torn between a skinny, cute-centric society and food-oriented socializing, it’s anything but a recipe for success.
The narrative here clearly focuses on the women. But what this author would like to find out more about is the Chinese man’s perspective on the topic of body image–both his own and that of his ideal woman. #staytuned
Slowly but surely, as Chinese society begins to focus more on personal well-being and higher living standards, more women are speaking out about their struggles with obsessing over weight loss and a achieving or maintaining a flawless body image.
Treatment is difficult because of the cultural stigma associated with mental illness, so many people do not want their friends or family to know and choose not to talk about it. The perception of eating disorders has been heavily influenced by parents who, in the past, never had the information or even the language to discuss mental health. Therefore, it is not surprising that many cases today go unreported and the number of women suffering from eating disorders continues to rise.
On a positive note, there has been an increase in awareness of mental health and body image in China as more women try to push back against the country’s toxic beauty standards. This has already led to a slight shift in brand marketing tactics to be more body positive, Daxue Consulting added.
And then there’s the growing number of body-positive Chinese influencers fed up with the distorted, filtered images coming at them from every pixel on their super-app screen. From WeChat (the country’s ubiquitous super app) to Douyin (China’s TikTok) and Weibo (a popular microblogging platform), they refuse to conform to social media’s perception of the perfect body.
But the question remains…
Can and will their tactics and efforts be able to dispel the shrinking of sizes in China’s womenswear section? If yes, how long will that take? When will sizes go from off to on the charts?
All in all, this China Fashion phenomenon is…
Food for thought.
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