Part I of this hot China Body Image “debate” — or my monologue ruched with some contributing opinions, depends on who you’re asking — can be found here.
Fast fact: Speaking of female bodies and images, the 2016 Pirelli Calendar – always a major work of art — had its big unveiling today. It was photography lighthouse Annie Leibovitz who shot this edition starring “women of achievement”, from Serena Williams to Natalia Vodianova, in a clothed twist. Included in the model lineup is Chinese actress Yao Chen (姚晨), the first Chinese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and a shining example of a positive China Body Image Beacon. In my opinion.
So where were we… Right, the March of the Dragon Design Gladiators.
From Lio He of Zephyr’s silk scarves to QQ of AbsoluteLi womenswear to Siren the Photographer; my ladies spun together their graphic takes on today’s Chinese landscape in terms of the nation’s female body image.
Take Joyce Wang of Up-Cycling who kicked off the personal designer perspectives: “I’m not perfect, but it’s MY body and hell no that I would ever have my legs extended or any such invasive thing. I’ll take it and love it as is. Maybe I’m a bit overly confident at times; but what the hell. I’m me. And my design motto for women is to ‘Dress me, Be you’.”
Hear the words of smith-inspired Ozzie-Chinese jewelry artist Hannah Ren: “Ah, The Ideal China Body Image? Pointy chin and big round eyes. Is all.” Iris Wang of her namesake ahead-of-time-and-trend brand: “Too much of a thing is just that: TOO much. And right now, it’s all getting too thin and too fake.”
Interestingly and refreshingly enough, this new crop of female Chinese designing divas, all clearly and daily aware of fashion’s current all-inclusive dimensions, does not even remotely try to adhere to these high-set standards on a personal level and instead sticks to the paths of non-conformism, non-fad-dieting and Absolutely Fabulous je m’en foutisme.
Underwear vixen Irene Lu, among others, has gone off on the occasional rant regarding Chinese women and their “boobs pushed up to the skies, sporting the extreme and unnatural cleavage, all the while trying to imitate Fan Bingbing [yep, the much-debated screen siren pops up again, pun intended]”. Lu is, however, quick to add that there’s hope on the horizon, saying: “In my line of work, I have met plenty a female who doesn’t give a FF about attracting a man’s gaze and so does, wears and eats whatever she feels like, as long as it makes HER happy. That’s what I call ‘modern’.”
Additionally, we mustn’t forget the media manipulation involved in depicting and advertising The China Body Image ideal nowadays. At this point, QQ chimed in: “The images shown in the papers or magazines shouldn’t matter; easier said than done, true. I design to make women feel good about themselves and create a style of their own; not enforce that of someone else. It needs to be natural.” Yang Que of QYang shoes leaned in on that, rounding it off with: “Hey, it’s the superficial truth. Chinese women like the borderline bony body, a big chest and long legs. I personally favor having some in the front and back, so that’s what I strive for.”
Another outspoken creative power who springs to mind here is Alicia Lee, who nowadays clads China’s high-flyers in her feminine-but-unpretentious designs from head to toe and once stated to me along the same hemlines: “Style comes from within and the (body) image you aim to portray and identify with, should be your own creation.”
It might just be me by my lonesome self in a deserted prairie of pep here, but creativity or style or fashion or anything related supposedly all come without limits and are meant for all to enjoy without shame or reservations of any kind. These ruling China Body Image standards, however, often act as restrictions. Since je m’en fous as well, I can certainly wrap my turban around the designer “disdain” for them.
All in all, the appearance stakes are high in the 21st Century Middle Kingdom. As is happening everywhere, the images flattered by filters have trickled onto the streets and into the non-celeb living rooms. Berlin-based former Beijing TV producer Wang Yang concluded: “It’s all become about ‘thin’. Not ‘healthy’. Chinese women may SAY a toned and exercised body looks great or best, but in practice it’s all about ‘thin’. All my Chinese girlfriends strive for an extremely ‘lean’ physique…”
Aside from ma girls here, plenty of people have their two maos to put in on this topic. Websites such as Weibo, China’s Twitter, are often buzzing with social critiques on Chinese celebrity (from A to Z) appearances, dishes-du-jour like Vincent Lau (plastic surgery product), new fads such as the so-called finger trap test or extreme cosmetic doctoring heavyweights like 15-year-old Lee Hee Danae from Henan Province.
Live and let live, but an increasing number of people going to these extreme lengths might be cause for some (social) concern. The netizen verdicts are often unforgiving and more so, in my opinion, expose the underlying and ever-growing contempt for The China Body Image ideal currently holding court — blatantly that of a thin Caucasian woman. This is only the tip of the plumper-filled needle.
Still, brace your bras and stand tall (I’m well aware of the irony in making this remark right now)! In the optimistic light of the feedback I received from my girl band counting a few new designer ruffles, the days of The China Body Image being all about the polished-to-perfection pointy chins and big round eyes with Disney princess waistlines or legs (though I’ve never really seen Snow White’s stamps; just her ankles… Maybe Ariel’s?).
This flaunted China Body Image appearance, the flaws of which are slowly starting to show, might soon be traded in for something a bit more real, raucous and raunchy where there’s definitely some smoking, drinking and plenty of groovy mirror-images going on. No mirages.
My Happiest Place on Earth insight of the day:
Your body is created in Your Image. Work it, Spanx’it or just go “Nude”.
PS: I have no idea where that “prairie” remark came from, but was picturing myself in 70s flare etc… Anyway.
PPS: It’s quite “funny” that some 30 years ago, back in the iron bowl (铁碗) day, “你胖了” (“you’ve gained weight”) counted as a compliment with a capital C.
PPPS: “你吃饭了吗?” (“have you eaten?”) to this day is used to express “hey there, what’s up,…”.