Nothing stirs up some China Fashion flak like the “concept” of the 大码模特 ( dà mǎ mótè| plus-size model). 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”. The question beckons… How does China’s bigger and bolder fashionista balance those scales?
Ever the food-oriented society, Chinese compliments of yore include such gems like “你胖了” (“you’ve fattened up”), indicating you’ve been eating a lot, indicating life’s been treating you pretty well.
Anno 2020, 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.
Founded in mid-2019 by Gu Leilei (顾蕾蕾 or just Teresa), plus-size brand AB ALEI wants to create a new message of curvy acceptance and throw haters a fashion curveball.
The nation that is the Middle Kingdom is gaining weight as nutrition and living standards improve and lifestyles change. In a recent report, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission stated that more than 30 percent of the adult population is overweight — defined as having a body mass index of 24 to 27.9 — up from 22.8 percent in 2002.
Concerning that perception of body image and subsequent pressure to be thin among China’s urban twenty- and thirty-somethings, one or two concerns remain. In China, having a bad relationship with food and dealing with an eating disorder is still very much a taboo — R-Rated, insert major wink — topic. For example…
Online communities have developed to serve as a support group to women who love eating but want to remain thin. Those who participate in these online groups are named “Rabbits”, in Chinese, 兔子 (tùzi). The name was derived based on its similar pronunciation to the word for “to vomit” in Chinese, 吐 (tù). Rabbits are also cute, of course.
Live-streaming in China has turned into one of the popularized forms of entertainment. One of the larger channels is hosted by The Big Stomach King Floggers, a group of women who post content on social media of them eating a sh*t ton of food, challenging themselves to excessively overeat, with an implied vomit session post-meal. They have over 7 million followers on Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter-esque platform) and have quite a significant impact on these online communities of struggling women.
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The obsession with physical appearances can lead to the phenomenon that is “beauty sickness”. Renee Engeln, author of “Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women”, highlights how the average first-world urban woman owns some 40 cosmetic products and spends about 55 minutes getting ready every day.
Unfortunately, as Gu puts it, “Aside from Alibaba still offering up the same ol’ same ol’ style-less clothes, the plus-size models in their ads and live-streaming events are very heavy, and by no means healthy.”
In keeping with the “ball” theme we got going here, girlie frocks seem to have become the “chubby girl” ball and chain. Ergo…
AB ALEI sells clothes to a weight under 90 kg; to women over 25 years of age. Pitch. Thrown.
The Bigger And Bolder New Made In China Body Image
The thin ideal has now spread to urban China. The social emphasis on feminine physical attractiveness alone has the power to elevate body image concerns for women. Nonetheless, Gu, a Hong Kong Polytech University graduate, is taking her vision and realization thereof into almost unknown, bodacious territory. The AB ALEI slogan reads, “Extra large is extra beauty!” It’s about re-shaping and re-writing the bodily narrative, transforming a “weakness” into strength, confidence and an inspiration to others. It’s about acceptance. Self-acceptance.
In the words of Gu herself, “China still has a wrong perception of the plus-size model. People believe big girls don’t and won’t wear beautiful clothes. This ‘reasoning’ applies to more than one layer in life, from fashion suppliers, all the way to their friends. Add to that the whole ‘thin’ rage, and we now have a generation of Chinese women in their thirties wanting to look like 少女 [shàonǚ| young girls in Chinese), or teenagers.
Social media, too, still firstly and foremostly features skinny girls; bigger girls putting themselves out there — via Weibo, Douyin, etc. — appear more accepting of their size, but the image they channel remains a bit weird. Shaking their belly fat when wearing clothes that are three sizes too small, very popular on Douyin right now, gives off more the ‘what not to wear’ vibe. Rather than showing bigger can be just as beautiful.
Women lose weight, gain weight, etc., and if you simply cannot control your weight, you’re branded a loser and it almost feels like you don’t have the right to eat. When you have no self-love, this can spiral out of control and affect your relationships, career, and self-image.” Sizeism is universal.
Q The Curves!
AB ALEI wants to create a new message of acceptance and bring to the table new patterns of plus-size fashion. Herself having had to turn to the plus-size U.S. and Hong Kong market for some decent gear, Gu offers the curvier fashionista the choice she herself never had – in China.
Unlike the rather touch-and-go quality displayed and delivered across Taobao — 80 percent of the time, admittedly — AB ALEI has taken a leaf out of the more European palate and comes out with a first range of clothes indicating a strong desire to touch upon all the softer, feminine senses. Tinges of pastel accompanied by tasty bites of light though sultry (wools, cashmere, and Chanel-like tweed) materials take China’s plus-size fashionista into new, tempting territory.
A keen eye for tailoring, fitting, getting in those precise, so very necessary shape| length proportions, and other details one must take into account when designing for anything other than a size 2|0, Gu’s only just begun. WITH a plus-size community in the making, organizing parties, beauty talks, the works, and both her physical (Hangzhou) and Taobao (well, online) shops en route to expansion…
It’s high Temper time for AB ALEI to go bigger, better and bolder.
“Cultivate your curves. They may be dangerous, but they won’t be avoided.”
— Mae West
FEATURED IMAGE: COURTESY OF AB ALEI, 2020. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
CONTACT GU LEILEI| AB ALEI VIA:
- WECHAT: ABALEIXL
- IG: @ABALEI7
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