Western vs Chinese Beauty Standards | Main Differences Explained
How big are the differences between Chinese beauty standards and those of the West?
Well, to put it simply there are some really big differences in what is deemed as the “ideal” in China versus the “ideal” in the West.
Although there are some similarities, it may surprise you just how different some of the Chinese perceptions of beauty are compared to those in the West.
A Chinese woman considered beautiful in the West won’t necessarily be viewed that way in China and the reverse goes for those women viewed as beautiful in China.
Take famous Chinese model Lu Yan (吕燕 lǚ yàn) who is renowned for her stunning features in the West, but is regarded in China as rather unusual looking and certainly not a perfect example of Chinese beauty.
So what are the key differences and are there any similarities?
Chinese Beauty Standards || Skin Tone
Chinese Beauty Standards || Body Shape
Chinese Beauty Standards || Face Shape
Chinese Beauty Standards || Facial Features
Chinese Beauty Standards || Plastic Surgery
Chinese Beauty Standards || Beauty “Challenge” Trends
Chinese Beauty Standards || For Men
Chinese Beauty Standards || FAQs
Chinese Beauty Standards | Skin Tone
One of the biggest key differences between Chinese beauty standards and the West is skin tone.
In China white, pale skin is the beauty ideal in stark contrast to the West where a year-round tan is sought after by most.
You may be familiar with the internet Chinese slang to describe “Ms. Perfect” which is 白富美 (bái fù měi) which literally means: white, rich and beautiful. This shows the importance of fairer skin in Chinese society.
Anyone who has lived in China during summer will be familiar with the sight of Chinese women sheltering under umbrellas to avoid the sun.
Go to a Chinese beach and you won’t be struck with the sight of sunbathers trying to catch a tan.
In fact a “facekini”, (a face mask that covers your entire head to protect you from the sun) became a Chinese fashion trend a few years ago.
In China whitening products are hugely popular with everything from whitening moisturiser and facemasks to whitening deodorant (yes really that exists).
Big brands such as Nivea subscribe to this pale skin beauty ideal with whole lines of products dedicated to whitening.
It can actually be hard sometimes to find beauty products that don’t contain some kind of whitening agent, so if you’re buying cosmetics in China watch out!
In the same way many girls in the west will use bronzer or fake tan in China many girls will apply makeup to make themselves look paler.
But where does this obsession for the palest skin come from?
The desire for pale skin dates back to Ancient China when only rich people had fair skin because they didn’t have to work in the fields like peasants would. This ideal still exists in China today with white, smooth skin being a sure indication that you’re not lower class.
During Victorian times in the West pale skin was also sought after for the same reason, but once the rich started going abroad on holiday having a tan to prove you could afford to travel became the beauty norm.
It will be interesting to see if the same change will occur in China in the future with more Chinese tourists travelling abroad, but for now pale skin is firmly set as one of the ideal Chinese beauty standards.
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Chinese Beauty Standards | Body Shape
Next up we have the differences in Chinese beauty standards towards body shape.
Currently in Chinese society the most desirable body shape is to be as slim or thin (瘦 shòu) as possible.
Now, of course, in the west being slim is also an ideal beauty standard, however the “perfect” figure is more curvy with a small waist, large hips and breasts (think Barbie’s weird proportions).
In recent years there has also been a rise of body positivity in the West with more curvy figures being embraced by the beauty industry.
With butt implants now becoming one of the most popular plastic surgery procedures the difference with Chinese beauty standards has become more pronounced.
In the west there is also more of a focus on fitness, with women being expected to be skinny and toned, whereas in China the emphasis is really just on being thin.
Most Chinese women are naturally quite slim so to even have a little bit of extra weight seen in a very negative light by most.
The majority of Chinese women are under immense pressure to conform to the skinny stereotype and those that are labelled “chubby” are deemed unattractive.
For instance on the popular Chinese dating show If You Are the One some of the curvier contestants have been rejected on these grounds.
Throughout Chinese history small, dainty women have often been valued in Chinese culture.
If there are any TV shows or films featuring an “overweight” character this is normally used as a plot device with the character losing weight in order to get the guy etc.
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Chinese Beauty Standards | Face Shape
Following on from Chinese ideals of body shape, it probably won’t come as surprise that a thinner face is viewed as the most beautiful face shape.
Face shape (脸型 liǎnxíng) actually holds a lot of importance in Chinese beauty standards. This dates back to face reading which has been commonplace in China since ancient times.
In the West there are really just the main face shapes: square, round, oval and triangle whereas in China there are many more:
|Melon seed face
|Goose egg face
|dào sānjiǎoxíng liǎn
|Inverted triangle-shaped face
|yuán liǎn/bāozi liǎn
Out of these the two most ideal face shapes are melon seed face and goose egg face.
Basically faces which have a very thin chin and jawline so they are shaped like a “V”.
Having a square shaped face is viewed as the most unattractive face shape in Chinese beauty standards as it’s considered very manly.
In fact most selfie cameras on Chines smart phones will have a “slender” beautify setting that will give you more of an oval shaped face.
Chinese Beauty Standards | Facial Features
In China having big eyes (大眼睛 dà yǎnjīng) with a double-fold eyelid (双眼皮 shuāng yǎnpí) is the most desirable eye shape. Most Chinese people don’t have the double-fold eyelid that Westerners have and instead have single fold eyelids (单眼皮 dān yǎnpí).
Having single fold eyelids as well as slim eyes (细长眼睛 xì cháng yǎnjing) are not viewed as attractive in China.
Many people believe this comes from the belief that Chinese people want to look more Western, however some sources say this actually just part of Chinese culture where bigger eyes are viewed as more womanly, innocent, and doll-like.
If you’ve ever lived or travelled in China as a Westerner you may have been complemented on your “big nose” by Chinese people. This is because having a more prominent nose, with a high bridge is seen as the most attractive.
The majority of Chinese people have more of a flat, broad nose so many can be envious of foreigners who have more pronounced noses.
Like in modern Western beauty, full lips are the sought after mouth shape in China.
However, although full, luscious lips are desirable, a more narrow mouth is preferred rather than one that is super wide.
This again dates back to the tradition of face reading in China where fuller lips are thought to be good luck and show a more warm, fun-loving and expressive personality. Thinner lips, on the other hand, indicate a more cold, calculating and determined personality.
Chinese Beauty Standards | Plastic Surgery
In recent years there has been a huge boom in plastic surgery in China, with many Chinese women (and some men) opting to undergo the knife in order to conform to Chinese beauty standards.
You can see from the chart below which plastic surgeries are most popular to least popular in China:
With 50% of all plastic surgery being eye surgery it’s clear that this is the most common and popular plastic surgery to have in China.
This comes from the Chinese beauty standards relating to eyes, wanting bigger eyes and also the all important double-fold eyelid.
The second most popular is nose surgery, which given how an ideal nose has a more pronounced bridge isn’t too surprising.
Although face shape in China is very important, only 5% of plastic surgeries are facial sculpting.
This is a very painful procedure which can take months to heal from so generally most Chinese women will opt to just edit their faces in selfie mode instead 😂.
Chinese Beauty Standards | Beauty “Challenge” Trends
Over the past few years there have been quite a few beauty “challenge” trends which have gone viral across China.
In the West most trends or “challenges” that have gone viral have revolved around TikTok and are often a mixture of humour, dancing and a chance to show off your body (such as being able to twerk).
Whereas in China things have taken a rather different turn with the main focus being Chinese women showing off how thin they are in a number of rather unique ways. Here are some of the biggest ones to have swept over China in recent times.
A4 Waist Challenge
Women were challenged to share photos of themselves holding up an A4 piece of paper in front of their waist to show that they were thinner than the width of the piece of paper.
Understandably this sparked a lot of controversy with the challenge being accused of promoting unhealthy lifestyles.
However, some women took a more humorous twist on the challenge and posted photos of themselves with there degrees held up in front of their waists instead.
100 Yuan Wrist Challenge
Another challenge involving paper was a viral trend where women were wrapping 100 yuan notes round their wrists to show how skinny they were. Some women took the trend even further by wrapping even smaller bank notes around their wrists.
Belly Button Challenge
Now this is definitely one of the more weirder challenges to have taken China by storm. Participants were asked to reach their belly button by wrapping their arm behind themselves around their waist.
This was supposed to be proof of a person’s slim waist, however it soon became apparent that this challenge really came down to the length and flexibility of your arms.
iPhone 6 Knees Challenge
This is another challenge that may leave you just asking why?
In this one Chinese women posted pictures of their knees with an iPhone 6 balanced on top to show how “pencil thin” they were.
Women who could successfully hide their knees behind the phone were deemed to have the ideal standard of leg.
Coins on the Collarbone Challenge
Lastly we have a challenge that also involved money, though this time in the form of coins rather than notes.
To prove one’s skinny figure women were balancing stacks of coins standing upright on their collarbones. The more coins you can balance, supposedly the better figure you should have.
Some people were able to balance as many as 20 coins, which although probably says nothing about how you look, does show that you have good balancing skills!
No matter what you think of these bizarre challenges it certainly shows that a real obsession for being thin exists among Chinese netizens.
Chinese Beauty Standards | For Men
We’ve had a look at the different Chinese beauty standards for women, but what about men?
For Chinese men, having paler skins is also the desired skin tone for men.
Like women there are tonnes of whitening skin beauty products available which are targeted directly at men.
However, there is not as much pressure on men to have more pale skin and having a tan is more acceptable. Lighter skin is still preferred, but in modern day China men can also have tanned skin still be deemed attractive.
There is also much less pressure for men in Chinese society to be as thin as women, however men with a slim build are preferred.
Unlike the West being very muscly and masculine is a lot less important when it comes to male body shape.
In fact, in recent years more of an effeminate look has become more popular with the rise of 小鲜肉 (xiǎo xiān ròu) which means “little fresh meat”.
This slang describes a new young generation of male Chinese heart-throbs who look more androgynous.
But, there is one similarity to the West when it comes to height with taller men being viewed as more attractive.
For example the equivalent slang phrase of “Ms Perfect” (白富美 bái fù měi) for men is 高富帅 (gāo fù shuài) which literally means: tall, rich, handsome. This is pretty similar to the English phrase “tall, dark and handsome” if you think about it.
In the same way that a more narrow, oval face is viewed as more feminine and therefore a more desirable face shape for women.
When it comes to men a strong, defined jawline is seen as more masculine and so the male beauty ideal.
When it comes to eyes, bigger eyes are preferred the same as they are with women.
Although, having single-fold eyelids is much more acceptable for men, which means far fewer Chinese men have plastic surgery on their eyes.
One definite similarity between Chinese and Western beauty standards is that women are under much more pressure than men in both societies to conform to “beauty ideals”.
Want to find more out about Chinese beauty standards vs the West? Check out our blog about how makeup differs.
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Chinese Beauty Standards | FAQs
What are the ideal Chinese beauty standards for women?
The ideal Chinese beauty standards for women are having fair or pale skin, being thin, having large eyes with double-fold eyelids and a “goose egg” shaped face.
Why do Chinese women want pale skin?
In China pale, smooth skin is desirable because it is seen as an indication that you’re not lower class like a peasant who has to work outside in the sun all day and so gets tanned skin.
What is the ideal face shape in Chinese beauty?
In Chinese beauty the ideal face shape is more of an oval face with a narrow chin, two very desirable face shapes are: goose duck egg 鹅蛋脸 é’dànliǎn or melon seed 瓜子脸 guāzǐliǎn.
What are the ideal Chinese beauty standards for men?
The ideal Chinese beauty standards for men are to have pale skin, to be of a slim build and to be tall.
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