Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — and much like the Evil Queen’s magic mirror said, the fairest of them all usually fits a specific description. Let’s look at some of the female beauty standards of both Chinese and Western society.
Loveliness has shifted across ages, in multiple latitudes. The aspects deemed beautiful now are not identical to ancient views, and they remain different in each country.
If you are someone coming to China from a western background, you might be surprised by how people’s view on beauty can be so different.
How different? Take a look to discover the four ways China and the West differ on their conception of beauty.
1. Skin Tone: Pale vs. Tan
In China, a pale skin tone is highly desirable. A creamy complexion is considered proof of a sheltered lifestyle, as it shows the person has no need to work under the scorching sun.
So deep is the love for white skin, that there is a saying for it—一白遮百丑, meaning: white skin covers many flaws, the motto of correction fluids everywhere.
Western society, on the other hand, is far less homogenous and features multiple skin tones. However, one feature is appreciated above others regardless of complexion—tans.
In the West, tanned skin is associated with health and beauty, as it proves the person regularly exercises and has the free time needed to engage in outdoor activities, or at least it did until fake spray tan became a thing.
2. Body Type: Slimness vs. Fitness
In current Chinese society, a thin body is considered the ultimate goal—a delicate bone structure, long and slim legs, a tiny waist, and soft curves. The size of the chest or behind is not as relevant, and is often ignored in favor of a thin frame.
Western standards are different. While being slim is also a staple sign of beauty, the emphasis lies elsewhere—fitness and curviness.
In the West, having low body fat and tight muscles is better, preferably if they also display pronounced curves, coupled with a flat stomach and slim waist—though proportions differ between women and men.
3. Ideal Face: Shape vs. Symmetry
Body shape is important, but the actual window to a person’s beauty is the face—and different cultures have contrasting standards.
In China, the ideal shape for a woman’s face features a V-shape—a thin, small face with a delicate jawline that ends in a pointy chin, commonly called 鹅蛋脸, or goose egg face, because calling you egg-faced is the ultimate compliment. On the other hand, a square face is considered manly and attractive for men.
Western standards for the perfect face, regardless of gender, favors symmetry. This fascination with proportioned features is longstanding and has led to the creation of mathematical formulas to measure the beauty of a face, because that’s what nerds do.
4. Attitude: Cute vs. Sexy
All the factors we have considered so far—skin color, body shape, and facial structure—lead towards the grand difference in beauty standards for women in China and the West: cuteness vs. sensuality.
The preference for pale skin, thin body frames, and slender faces is a result of the search for innocent beauty—a youthful look that disregards sensuality in favor of purity.
In the West, the tendency is the opposite—symmetrical features, a curvy fit body, and tan skin are meant to display a woman’s sensual beauty. Sex-appeal is considered the ultimate beauty.
Beauty Has Many Faces
There’s a Chinese saying goes “爱美之心人皆有之”, meaning the love for beauty is a nature of all human beings. However, these days, with the amplifying of social media, females in both China and the Western society are feeling the pressure to look “pretty” to live up to those strict beauty standards. More and more people start arguing that we should have a more inclusive beauty standards in order to have a healthier society.
From the official cancellation of Victory Secret Show, to “网红脸“ ( The Plastic Face, which meets the typical beauty standards in China) become a term with a negative tone, we can see that people are starting to view beauty with a wider perspective.
As we mentioned at the beginning, what were considered beautiful in ancient times might not be viewed pretty at all in our modern eyes, vice versa. Many years later, when we look at those beauty standards we worship now, we might have different opinions, too.
Therefore, regardless of these wildly contrasting standards, true beauty does not have to fit into a pre-established mold, be it Chinese or Western—loveliness comes in many shapes and forms, no matter the culture.