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Prof. Jaehee Jung was surprised to find that Chinese women are even more
dissatisfied with their body image than American women are.
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.
Its 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
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
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Prof. Jaehee Jung presented her research at an international conference in November.
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
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.
Thats clearly reflected in the beauty industry, she said.
Fashion magazines, seen here in Shanghai, influence young women's views of beauty and body image.
China has become the worlds
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
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, Ill 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
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.
Article by Ann Manser; illustration by Jeffrey Chase; photos by Jaehee Jung and Ariel Ramirez