Q as in Cute, that is. The word is universal. It’s a harmless, sweet word; until it is not. Eating disorders in the 21st century are a rampant universal disease. Yet they are anything other than cute. From Sina Weibo “thin” support groups to vomit tubes sold on Taobao, Jessica Laiter writes about this R-Rated viral disease on the rise.
Ironically but literally, eating disorders of any kind eat their victims alive. In the West, they appear in many forms, the two most well-known are Anorexia and Bulimia. Over in the Middle Kingdom, these disorders are to this day referred to as the “beauty sickness”, with anorexia (厌食症| yànshízhèng in Chinese) being translated as the “hate to eat disorder”.
This is, actually, a fairly inaccurate translation given most women or men who suffer from this kind of disorder do not hate eating food. The struggle is loving food but being afraid to eat it for fear of weighing more than what is socially acceptable in order to be viewed as beautiful. Ergo the new nickname: the “beauty sickness”. Question arises…
As eating disorders anno 2019 manifest themselves across China’s first-tier urban landscape — both their physical and digital versions — how far does its social indigestion stretch?
Q To The R
Being cute in China is what it’s all about, it’s how many Chinese women prefer to be portrayed. Cute is often considered the equivalent of sexy. Not only is it because most Chinese women look younger than their biological age, but there is also an undercurrent of male-female social roles that draw from the traditional form of the passive female and dominant male.
This tug of war in China is snuggly related to the culture because it is a “no food left behind” mentality. On the contrary, the media encourage women to be haphazardly thin, setting an unachievable beauty standard.
So the question often remains, is it more important to respect the culture, or to be beautiful and admired by others? The answer? Both.
From Tùzi (兔子) To Tù (吐)
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.
Within the aforementioned online communities, women exchange ideas and methodologies for vomiting after food consumption to become the ultimate, well-rounded woman they were born to be. A woman who can eat and be skinny and cute? That’s the dream.
Dramatically enough, vomit tubes are being sold on Taobao. The acid reflux is real. And its future social reflections remain to be seen.
That is just how woven eating disorders are into the fabric of China’s modern urban society.
Featured Image: Design by Ye Limeng (叶黎萌 ), the 24/ Moments Collection — Modeled by Jen Liu. Photography by Lu “Luna” Weijia for Temper Magazine’s “The R-Rated Issue”. Copyright @Temper Magazine, 2019. All rights reserved
WRITTEN BY JESSICA LAITER FOR TEMPER MAGAZINE, “THE R-RATED ISSUE”
EDITED BY ELSBETH VAN PARIDON FOR TEMPER MAGAZINE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Lu “LUNA” Weijia FOR TEMPER MAGAZINE’S “THE R-Rated ISSUE”, #3, 2019. COPYRIGHT @TEMPER MAGAZINE, 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
THE CONTENT AND IMAGERY IN THIS FEATURE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN TEMPER MAGAZINE’S “THE R-Rated ISSUE”, NO. 3, 2019. ANY FORM OF REPRODUCTION WITHOUT PRIOR CONSENT IS PROHIBITED.
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Laiter went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Chinese Studies and Communications Rhetoric at The University of Pittsburgh and a Master's Degree in Translation at NYU. Immediately after college, she moved to New York City and since then has worked in a number of different industries such as branding, manufacturing, fashion, public relations and real estate. China always acting as the common denominator.
Inspired by her career, Laiter launched a website called Chinese Graffiti, on which she features emerging Chinese designers, talks about the intersection of tradition and modernity in China, as well as the evolution of society and business culture. As time went on, she sought out like-minded businesses individuals who were interested in a similar market, which is how she became involved with Temper Magazine.
The China market is creating a whirlwind around the glob and it’s only just getting started.
The world can be a small place with a dash of mutual understanding and Laiter loves to be the storyteller who helps to bridge that gap.