BEIJING — Pale skin. Big eyes. A narrow jaw. For many young Chinese women, that's the ideal.
For a story about Meitu, a Chinese company that makes some of the world's most popular beauty apps, the Post's Beijing bureau talked to women about the pressure to be beautiful — and to post beautiful pictures.
Our poll was not scientific; we stopped women in one of the capital's glitziest shopping districts, Sanlitun, and asked them to share their thoughts and take a selfie.
We also asked them if they use apps to "beautify" their snaps before posting. Most said they did. In fact, one woman, Wang Mingyue, 19, declined to take a picture on the spot, preferring to send a selfie that she edited at home. "Looking fake, not like the real you, that's my standard," she said.
"Internet celebrities, those who look fake, I think that's beautiful. Looking fake, not like the real you, that's my standard. All my selfies are tweaked through Meitu to make my face super tiny and my eyes super big. I'm a master at this." -Wang Mingyue, a 19-year-old freelancer, on Chinese beauty standards.
Several women we met mentioned the growing popularity of plastic surgery. A 2016 report by HSBC argued that a desire to look good in pictures was fueling the boom. Rising incomes and a widening gender pay gap may also play a role — women have more money, but are losing ground to men in salary growth so looks and marriage are more important than ever.
A recent middle school graduate, Liu Yuqing, 15, said her classmates' talk about getting injections or going under the knife to change their face shape. They also wear colored contact lenses to school, she said.
"Some have injections to make their faces smaller," she said.
"I think one's personality is more important."
"Among my friends people usually wear colored contact lenses to make their eyes bigger. There is so much pressure on girls now. In my school almost all the girls want to be famous at a young age. They want to become online celebrities. Some of them even wear colored lenses and makeup to school. Some have injections to make their faces smaller or have plastic surgery. But they are just teenagers! I think one's personality is much more important. If you are good looking but a really horrible person, then that's not beauty. But if you are friendly and outgoing, as long as you don't look too "sorry," it's okay." -Liu Yuqing, a 15-year old student, on Chinese standards of beauty.
While nearly everyone acknowledged the pressure to stay thin, pale and fashionably groomed, many told us they were basically "over" the mainstream look. "You have to be thin and have a small face with a pointy chin," said Tiffany Wang, 18. "But I don't like that."
"I think healthy is beautiful, no matter if you are fat or thin."
Of course, you could swap "pale skin" for "perfect tan" and "thin" for "toned" and be talking to women in the United States. Many women feel they must strive to look (and dress, and act, and speak ...) a certain way. The focus on female beauty is constant, even though standards vary from place to place.
China's current beauty trends are particularly striking given the country's recent history. The great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers of today's young women grew up in a different world, coming of age during war, the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, or the lean years that followed.
Lin Shufen, a 66-year-old retiree, said she can scarcely believe what she sees on the streets of Beijing these days. When she was a young, women wore plain clothing that allowed them to toil in fields or factories. They tied their hair in long, thick braids.
"Back in my day, a woman had to be strong and well-built. You had to be able to labor, and you couldn't be too absorbed in your looks," she said.
"These days, girls are different, they all want to be thin," she said.
"And all that makeup!"