Views of ideal female appearance in China are changing
Young women in China, living in a rapidly changing society with more personal independence, disposable income and exposure to Western media than ever before, are also altering their views of female beauty.
“The beauty industry is booming in China, and these young women I interviewed in focus groups are really endorsing the Anglo-European image of beauty,” said Jaehee Jung, professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware, whose research was recently published in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal.
“It’s a combination of factors, not just the Westernization of the culture, but also changing gender roles and increased consumerism in the Chinese economy, which is growing so fast.”
Jung presented her paper at the November conference of the International Textile and Apparel Association. The research grew out of earlier studies she conducted about women and body image, an area where misperceptions can lead to such behaviors as eating disorders.
“To my surprise, I found that Chinese women are even more dissatisfied with their body image than American women are,” she said. “So I wondered if these cultural changes in China were having an impact on traditional and contemporary views of ideal beauty.”
To explore that question, Jung conducted in-depth interviews with 23 women who were university students in Shanghai. She asked them their views of what Chinese society has traditionally considered to be ideal female beauty and how that compared to their own views.
While most of the women recognized that women with round faces and curvy bodies were the traditional ideals in China, most also said they preferred thin bodies and angular faces. The women generally cited fashion magazines as a place where they saw that type of thinner woman featured.
“They all want to look like those models,” Jung said, although most of the women she interviewed denied comparing themselves to images in the media. Fashion magazines in China feature Asian models who embody the American, European and Korean influences in appearance, she said.
This type of cultural change in views of beauty has occurred in other countries as well, but Jung said China is especially interesting because its economy has grown and adopted a consumer culture so rapidly. That’s clearly reflected in the beauty industry, she said.
“China has become the world’s second-largest market [after the United States] in the total consumption of cosmetic products,” Jung said. “You also see other booming industries relevant to beauty, such as diet clinics and health clubs, even cosmetic surgery, which were all almost unheard-of in China just a short time ago.”
Her article in Family and Consumer Sciences quotes some of the women she interviewed, including one who said that “losing weight is a trend in China.”
Another woman mentioned the “perfect female images in fashion magazines,” saying that the message is that everyone should look like those models. “So everyone will feel like, ‘I’ll never be skinny enough,'” she said.
Others also talked about the influence of the media and the prevalence in fashion and entertainment of “tall, slim women in Western countries,” adding that in China, “we just changed our standard of beauty.”
When gender roles change, as they have in China, women gain more professional opportunities but also are subjected to more pressure to meet a higher standard of beauty, Jung said. Combined with having economic freedom and more control over their lives and bodies, that pressure can result in eating disorders and other problems, she said.
“The views of beauty have changed drastically,” Jung said. “The standards in contemporary China seem to be unrealistic and remarkably similar to Western standards.”
She hopes to conduct additional research in the future, possibly interviewing women of different ages about their views.
Women Lead More Than Half of Tech Startups in China
“Women hold up half the sky” has been a common saying in China for the past 50 years, but for most of that time it hasn’t been the reality in business. But China is changing fast, and in the past decade women have been holding up their half — and often much more — in big cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai.
Women own 30.9 percent of all businesses in China, according to the most recent Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. That puts it on par with neighboring Singapore (29.2 percent) and well ahead of Japan (17.6 percent).
In some Chinese industries the percentage of female founders is much higher. Among new technology startups, for example, 55 percent are being founded by women.
China also happens to be the only country where women outnumber men at WeWork. More than 51 percent of WeWork China’s members are women, compared with an average of 47 percent worldwide.
What makes all these numbers even more striking is the fact that in China, women make up only 45 percent of the total population.
What’s fueling the momentum? A mix of enthusiastic government support, robust startup communities, strong growth in small- and medium-sized businesses, access to educational opportunities, and the rapid growth of companies like WeWork that provide affordable office space has ushered in rapid advancements over the past decade.
“China is totally different from what people imagined five or 10 years ago,” says Anna Wong, co-founder of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide, a Hong Kong-based organization that recently expanded to Shenzhen and Shanghai. “It’s evolving rapidly. Offices use facial recognition software for security and coffee shops accept WeChat pay. Society is changing, too. Female founders are very well-respected in China.”
An entrepreneurial era
Changes to women’s status in China started with the 1954 constitution, which granted women “equal rights with men in all areas of political, economic, cultural, social, and domestic life.” In the decades that followed, government reforms began to protect and empower women with national education requirements and anti-discrimination laws, including the Women’s Work Protection Regulations in 1988, Women’s Rights Protection Law in 1992, and the Labor Law in 1994.
By the 1980s and 1990s, more social programs — like the Association of Women Entrepreneurs in China, the All-China Women’s Federation, the Women’s Successful Career Program, and the Tianjin Women Entrepreneurs Centre — were born. Such programs offer a mix of career services, including subsidies for professional training, preferential tax treatment, loan programs, and mentoring.
As far as the most recent push to encourage entrepreneurship, most experts point to the country’s flagging economic growth. In a 2014 speech, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” through more financial incentives for those starting businesses and stronger intellectual protections for innovators.
“In the past few years, the local governments have been competing with each other to build science parks and startup hubs, [enact] lower taxes, or even grant loans to attract people to start the businesses,” says Wong. “Government bodies encourage female leadership and entrepreneurship, so they can contribute to the GDP.”
Wong says that several smaller cities tried to convince her to relocate her business with promises of economic incentives.
“We were offered office space, loans, apartments for staff, and tax breaks in several cities just so we’d register the company there,” says Wong. “These governments are always looking for good companies that contribute to and diversify their GDP.”
Cities like Beijing and Shanghai often aim to attract big tech companies, but also hope to boost cultural and creative capital by providing favorable tax policies for small businesses in creative industries — think film, design, animation, publishing, and more.
These incentives, combined with China’s development of the private sector, an influx of foreign capital over the past two decades, and higher levels of education across the nation, have created a framework where women founders can thrive alongside men.
Starting up in Shanghai
When China native Wen Yao relocated from Chicago to Shanghai earlier this year, she wasn’t sure what to expect. A WeWork Creator Awards finalist in Detroit, the serial entrepreneur has already started two businesses in Chicago and is now leading her third: Powwful, a female sportswear brand that aims to empower women of all shapes and sizes.
“When we expanded Powwful into China, we realized that we couldn’t just copy and paste what we were doing in Chicago,” says Yao, who worked as a marketing professional before starting her first business. “Everything works so differently in China — the social media platforms are different, the customer preferences are different, the behaviors are different….”
But despite the learning curve, the Taiwan-born Yao has found herself at home in a like-minded community where women are highly regarded. “Out of all the cities in China, I feel like Shanghai is one of the best in terms of gender equality,” says Yao. “Our sportswear business is really about female empowerment, but what’s interesting is that when I met the China WeWork manager, he mentioned that women have higher status in Shanghai than in the U.S.”
Lucia Shen, founder of popular millennial-focused video site called DiX (loosely translated to “In the Moment”), agrees. “Every single city in China has its own unique culture, and you really can’t generalize,” says Shen. “But in Shanghai, specifically, women enjoy equal if not higher social status. We don’t really distinguish between female and male entrepreneurs. You’re just an entrepreneur.”
Chinese companies offer ‘dating leave’ to single female employees aged over 30
Two companies in China are giving single female employees over the age of 30 an extra eight days of annual “dating leave”.
Hangzhou Songcheng Performance and Hangzhou Songcheng Tourism Management have said unmarried women over 30 in “non-frontline” roles would be given an additional eight days of leave over the Chinese New Year to “go home and date”.
Employees at the firms – which are in Hangzhou, a city in eastern China – were said to have welcomed the move.
“Female employees mostly work in internal functional departments, and some are show performers,” Huang Lei, a human resources manager at one of the firms, told a local publication.
“They have less contact with the outside world; thus we hope to give more leave to them to give them more time and opportunities to be in contact with the opposite sex.”
The dating leave announcement comes after a secondary school, also in Hangzhou, last week reportedly introduced a new policy to give single, stressed-out teachers an extra two days off every month of “love leave” to relax and help lift staff morale.
Single women in China in their late 20s and early 30s are deemed to be “leftover women,” or shengnu, due to engrained traditional beliefs that women who are not married by then are undesirable.
More women in the world’s most populous country are choosing to focus on their careers and are marrying later or simply not marrying at all.
Data from the Ministry for Civil Affairs shows there were more than 200 million single adults in China in 2015 and the marriage rate has fallen every year since 2013.
Earlier this month, it was announced that China may have reached a “historical turning point” after some estimates suggested deaths outstripped births in the Asian country last year for the first time since records began.
In 2018, there were 15.23 million live births in China, a drop of two million from the year prior, according to official data.
According to a recent survey by LinkedIn China and L’Oreal China, nearly 80 per cent of women born after 1995 choose to describe themselves as “economically independent”, compared to just over 20 per cent who ticked the traditional “loving wife and mother” option.
In spite of the abolition of the government’s one-child policy in 2015, alarm bells have been raised that an ageing society and dwindling workforce could damage future prospects for economic growth.
After decades in which the state aimed to restrict the number of children that parents gave birth to in order to control population, China is now looking at measures it can take to increase fertility.
With life expectancy increasing, almost a quarter of the country’s population is expected to be over the age of 65 by 2040, a statistic that could prove problematic unless there is a large enough workforce to support an ageing society.
But raising the birth rate could be tricky – with the number of Chinese women between the typically child-bearing ages of 20 and 39 expected to drop by more than 39 million over the next decade.
By Staff Editor
Source: Wework/Science Daily/Independent