Chinese Perceptions of Beauty


Shirley Shuzhou Li, Staff Writer

“Put on some sunscreen, so you won’t get tan. Stay in your pale skin, my girl.”

Perceptions of beauty in China are always unpredictable, frequently transforming every dynasty. The trends in China right now are big eyes, high bridges, a small face, and white skin. All of these facial features resemble European characteristics. Nowadays, we promote women’s rights and freedom, but is it okay for women to change their own facial features to mirror another race? What are the motives behind this trend? In order to find out the answers, I interviewed the student body at SSFS, whose opinions ranged extensively.

According to statistics, there were three major opinions. 30% of interviewees disagreed with the trends in China, 44% of people did not have a strong opinion, and 22% agreed with the trends. Here are some of the thoughts of those who disagreed with Chinese beauty standards: “I think she is beautiful without that makeup. You don’t need that makeup to fit in,” an American sophomore said, while many others agreed. The interesting part is that the same person also stated, “I want to know what influences she has received from her peers and the environment.” A Chinese student also brought up the factor of ethnicity: “People’s ethnic identities have been decided since they were born. People shouldn’t change it or be ashamed.” An African student who agreed with the trend said, “At this time, a woman should be able to do what they want to do when they want to do it because of her own reasons.” This idea directly correlates to women’s personal right to make their own makeup choices. A Chinese student mentioned that, “It is actually pretty common in China,” later stating that it is a cultural issue. All the other students who did not have a strong opinion were stuck between the choice of women’s rights or staying true to one’s ethnicity.

After my research, I realized that identifying right or wrong of the Chinese beauty trend is like a paradox. We believe it is wrong at first when we believe it is a cultural and ethnic issue until the explanation of women’s rights arises. I decided to do more research to find out the truth behind the Chinese beauty trend. In the 1920s, the trend in China first shifted towards promoting Western beauty standards, which is indicative of a global movement. In the 1930s, the Shanghai girl’s pale skin with rosy cheeks was considered the ideal beauty standard. Shanghai is a port city that has absorbed a lot of influences from European cities throughout history. In 2010, China felt the impact of the K-pop industry, which promotes a certain trend, called the “ulzzang look.” It includes huge doe eyes and pale, pearlescent, dewy skin. All of these historical events caused the newest trend in China. Apart from all of these historical reasons, I believe there is another cause. In Ancient China, the rich people had slaves to hold their umbrellas for them to prevent sunburn, which meant that those same rich people were always extremely pale. With clear cultural distaste against looking “slave-like,” people could pursue an “ulzzang look” to prevent their inner selves from becoming uncertain and unconfident in their appearances.

After all of this research, I realized that it is difficult to determine which answer is “correct,” as everyone has different opinions. Apart from the cultural, ethnic, and historical influences, beauty trends in China are still changing today. No one knows which trend is next, but take a moment to think about it: what is your opinion?