Prove your humanity

An growing number of Chinese influencers have had it with the distorted, filtered images coming at them from every pixel on their super-app screen. From WeChat to Douyin and Weibo, they refuse to conform to social media’s perception of the perfect body.


Q To The R, From Tùzi (兔子) To Tù (吐): Eating Disorders In Online China

Ever the food-oriented society, Chinese compliments of yore include gems like “ni pang le” (literally, “you’ve fattened up”), indicating you’ve been eating a lot, indicating life’s been treating you pretty well.

Anno 2022, above remark pretty much denotes you’ve been stuffing your face; gracing any (fe)male with these words, usually ends in a crash diet. Or two.

While a movement for acceptance of different types of bodies is gaining traction in many parts of the world, being thin is still an unchallenged standard for female attractiveness in much of East Asia, where women have been found to be most eager to lose weight, according to a 2021 PubMed piece on disordered eating trends in Asia since 2010. 

High Temper time to cue some curves, then!


Beauty Standards — Social (Media) BS?

On March 31, Vice Media released a short YouTube documentary entitled China’s Viral “Skinny Enough” Challenges Are Making People Sick, featuring three Chinese women who have come of age in an era where being thin has been amplified across social media. Please find above.

As a new generation of online users is exposed to the latest viral “skinny enough” challenges—we will circle back to those–more cases of eating disorders are being reported throughout the country.

One VICE production team member, on condition of anonymity, tells this author, “In China, mental health remains a stigmatized discussion. Any mental health issue is almost always referenced as a physical ailment. Many women who are suffering from eating disorders will often describe their ailments as having a headache or stomachache as a way to divert the conversation. We wanted to put the story out there and raise awareness before the damage done becomes irreversible.”

For young Chinese women, millennials (born after 1980) and Gen Zs (born between 1995 and 2009) alike, beauty ideals frequently include pale white skin, large round eyes and super(-app)-slim figures. The constant reminders of these standards are prompted by friends, families and employers, making it hard to break the “norm.”

Image via LTL Shanghai

Skinny Enough?

Many of the nation’s beauty standards stem from days long past. The “white skin ideal,” for example, is an old Chinese idea that only rich people had pale skin as they didn’t have to labor in the great outdoors. But many of these outdated notions still run rife in a country that thrives on tradition. The ultra-thin ideal is all over the digital stratosphere. Short-video apps come with filters that make a person’s face smaller and legs unrealistically thinner.

Social media content about food, thin bodies, and weight-loss vies for female attention, driving many women into the arms of anxiety, depression, and at times eating disorders. Similarly, for males there is a pressure to be tall, thin and on-trend. Influenced by K-Pop and Japanese anime culture, Chinese teens often find themselves striving for that unattainable body image.
Celebrities and influencers for years have indulged in social media “skinny enough” challenges showing off their bodies like measuring their waists against an A4 paper, putting coins in their collarbones, and trying on children’s clothes. China’s social media body testing craze all began with the 2015 belly button challenge. This fad encouraged people to wrap their arms around their backs to touch their belly button, falsely asserting that this achievement proved they were fit and healthy. And who can forget the “iPhone 6 knees,” aka the ability to hide both knees underneath an iPhone 6 (15.8 cm in height) “strategically” placed on top of the kneecaps. This trend was all about promoting pencil-skinny legs and accumulated over 90 million views and 80,000 comments on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent.

Fitting into tiny clothes has become a fashion in itself. Brandy Melville, an Italian fast-fashion brand known for its “one size fits most” philosophy, sparked a global social media craze for creating an exclusive club of slender women who could fit into its extra-small clothes. In China, they’re called “BM girls.”

But today, some Chinese influencers choose to carve out their own, curvier path.

Image via Wang Yu’s Weibo

The Tang Taste for “Plump”

Let’s get to the body-positive part, now shall we? First up, one hell of an “accidental” influencer–well, sorta. Bear with us. At first, 28-year-old Wang Yu felt absolutely gutted after finishing work every day because of all the negative remarks she would get. But this plus-sized woman has actually helped start a conversation about body confidence for Chinese girls. Wang, from Shanxi Province in central China, plays the role of legendary imperial concubine Yang Guifei in a Tang Dynasty (618-907) sorta setup designed to attract customers to a themed shopping center.

Videos of Wang’s performances have gained a lot of attention on Weibo, both because of her bodacious curves and her acting skills. Wang’s job involves entertaining tourists for up to 10 hours a day by acting out the daily lives of people living in Tang times through costumes, make-up, food and drink.

After experiencing the rush of positive reactions, she gets “pleasure” from her cosplay job.


Close-Up: Hanfu, A Saga of Passion, Fashion and Fusion

Wang, who has 15k followers on Weibo, is a fan of traditional Han Chinese dress aka Hanfu {汉服| hàn fú in Chinese), which she said makes her feel confident whenever she puts on the outfits.

“I gained weight after taking hormonal meds, which really got  me down,” she told Chinese online news outlet Bailu Video per South China Morning Post. “The first time I put on Hanfu for my job I was immediately aware of just how good it made me feel.”

Fun fact–well, sorta: The female figurines made in the beginning of the Tang (so around the first half of the 8th Century) were slender and willowy. However, by the mid-8th Century, female figurines became plump and rounded. Figurines like the one in the pic below, with a voluptuous face and figure and long hair tied up in a towering bun, were excavated mainly from tombs from the beginning of the 9th century. The preference for a plumper, more voluptuous form by the middle of the 8th century had become the accepted trend by the beginning of the 9th Century. #TemperTeachings

china body positive influencers

Plumpalicious: a Tang Dynasty (618-907) tomb figurine of a woman holding a pekinese. Image via Kyohaku

No Recipe for Success

Body-positive Douyin influencer Theresa (pseudonym) wants to create a new message of curvy acceptance. FYI: Douyin is basically the OG TikTok. Anyhoo. 

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.
China’s body image to this day tells a tale of pride and prejudice, the slightly heavier women among society often forced to bear the sandwich board burden of “loser” or “weakling.” Social media still firstly and foremostly features skinny girls.

“Bigger girls putting themselves out there may appear more accepting of their size, but the image they channel remains a bit weird,” Theresa explains, “Shaking their belly fat when wearing clothes that are three sizes too small, a very popular sight on Douyin, gives off more of a ‘what not to wear’ vibe. Rather than showing bigger can be just as beautiful.”

Influencer Scarlett Hao (@scarletthalo_) speaks up for that curvy Asian woman active within the fashion industry. Hao is the first curvy Chinese influencer and promotes a body positive attitude to women around the globe. Hao has thus far gained over 160k followers on Instagram, with an average engagement or 3k to 4k per post. High. End. Photography by @jchchechenchenchen. Image via Scarlett Hao (@scarletthalo_)

Meet the one and only ambassador for the curvy Asian woman: Scarlett Hao. Photography by @jchchechenchenchen. Image–straight outta the Temper vault because we adore this doozie dudette– via Scarlett Hao (@scarletthalo_)

China-born, Los Angeles-based influencer Scarlett Hao is an ambassador for the curvy Asian woman. Operating under the brand name Scarlett Halo, the 29-year-old has over 200k followers on Instagram (@scarletthalo_), with an on average engagement or 3k to 4k per post. In 2018, Hao made a guest appearance on a primetime Chinese talk show when the host asked her, “Do you think you look good or fat?”

Hao’s plus size has in the past led to crash dieting. But no matter how few crushed garlic-y cucumber squares she ate, 10 kg down the line… The curves were still there. “Enough,” she told herself. The time had come for a complete overhaul, taking the negative thoughts and turning them into positive assets of self-empowerment.
Instantly, this Beijing host’s choice of words summed up a cultural preference embedded in a society’s thinking and actual wording. “Fat” signifies “ugly” and being “thin” is a compliment. That same year, Hao’s first-ever post on China’s Little Red Book app raked in 4k likes within three hours. She indulges in her intense passion for spreading the body-positive word.

Concerning that perception of body image and subsequent pressure to be thin among China’s urban twenty- and thirty-somethings, China’s social media, Hao reminds yours truly, is at stigmatizing fault. “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder,” Hao told this author, “There’s no need to toe the social media line. There’s no need to crash diet and burn more than the calories–basically burning down your life and self.”


Close-Up: A Prickly Past, A Bright Future, Women in China’s Tattoo Culture is as Thick as Ink

A Filtered Reality

With social media usage at an all-time high, the flow of information China’s younger generations take in is stronger and more powerful due to the never-ending technological advancements. It’s almost becoming impossible for China’s youth to scroll through their many feeds and avoid the stream of influencers, and celebrities all telling them what to do–to look like their app-altered selves, basically.

“These super-apps create a false reality. The creation and borderline exploitation of warped and edited pictures makes teens become increasingly confused about what they ‘should’ look like,” the Vice team member adds, “The importance of promoting ‘inner beauty’ and a healthy body (image) on social media is becoming ever-more prevalent.”

Unable to dodge influencers and ubiquitous advertising, many Chinese youth have started to doubt and question what they see in the mirror. Hopefully, with the international message of body positivity and authenticity now slowly trickling down via Chinese social media platforms, more and more Chinese scrolling through the onslaught of “beauty” influencers are waking up to the idea of body confidence and positivity.

Cultivate your curves. They may be dangerous, but they won’t be avoided.

— Mae West.
















FEATURED IMAGE: Photography by @jchchechenchenchen. Image–straight outta the Temper vault because we adore this doozie dudette– via Scarlett Hao (@scarletthalo_)
Elsbeth van Paridon
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