Opinion / Forum Trends

Shallow prettiness in China

(chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2014-04-03 11:19

Editor's note: Our American reader lexalee is astonished at the paramount role prettiness plays in China. She calls it shallow.

You are welcome to join the discussion at the China Daily Forum (bbs.chinadaily.com.cn), the world’s no 1 online China community.

Her blog reads as follows:

I never thought prettiness might be more important to Chinese than it is to Americans, but that certainly seems to be the case, at least to me. In America, girls love to say “cute.” They'll say a boy is cute, whereas boys will say a girl is “hot,” and they don't just mean her face. In Japan, cute is all over the map. The country has gone juvenile. Everything is about cute. In South Korea, the women are mad about plastic surgery, and many of them end up looking very similar. When I see Asian clothing ads, young models look eerily alike, posed to resemble even younger schoolgirls.

I wonder why the China Daily article “10 Top Countries for Plastic Surgery” has been on the top viewed list for weeks. It's because prettiness is paramount in China. Why? The generic term for pretty, “piao liang,” can be used for males or females, and it's used a lot. Students worry aloud about not being pretty or thin enough to attract a boyfriend or girlfriend. Too often I'd catch kids looking at themselves and posing anytime there was a mirror. Once I was giving oral exams in an office with a large mirror, and I'd notice my student assistant, a plain-looking girl, turning this way and that and checking her appearance every time I glanced up.

But what was most amusing to me was when a male student kept asking me if I thought he was getting fat. I didn't know whether he was asking everyone, or just me. But every time he did this, I had to keep myself from laughing, because in America, this is a question women ask men, not vice versa. If a guy is smart, he will never answer a woman directly, because she will always get upset. If he says yes, you're fat, the woman will be hurt. If he says no, you're not fat, the woman will not believe him. The best thing to do is probably mumble something about not being able to tell for sure, and quickly change the subject.

Shallow prettiness in China

American men don't ask women the same question because they don't usually think of themselves as fat, they don't much care, or they don't want women to think they care too much. But in China, everyone cares. A boy brought a classmate over to visit me, and said, look at him, don't you think he's pretty? I was astonished. Not liking this question, I said something like, I suppose so. A girl once said to me she thought I was beautiful because I looked younger than her mother, even though I was older. This I found quite funny. No one's ever given me a compliment quite like that.

Then there's the direct way Chinese people will say, “oh, you're very pretty, you're so thin,” or “you're fat” to just about anyone. That's hard to get used to. Anyone who says, “You're fat” to someone in America is asking for trouble because it is not politically correct. People are very sensitive about it. They think you're insulting them by telling them the truth. Not even doctors will say it to their patients. Euphemisms such as heavy, full-figured, and large-boned are substituted. When I was an actively practicing physician, 80% of my female patients said they wanted to lose weight, but the only ones I thought would succeed were the ones who were able to describe themselves using the word fat. That way I knew they had faced the truth.

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