The VICE Guide to Right Now

People in China Are Wrapping Earphones Around Their Waists to Prove They’re Skinny

It's Weibo's newest show-the-world-you're-slim challenge.
Koh Ewe
(L) Photo from Weibo. (R) Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Chinese netizens are no strangers to bizarre beauty standards. Every once in a while, a figure-centric internet challenge goes viral and blatantly pits people against one another. There’s the A4 waist challenge, which had people placing vertically an A4 sheet of paper in front of their torsos to prove that they’re slim, and the collarbone challenge, where people competed to see how many coins they could balance on their collarbones. There’s also the belly button challenge and the iPhone 6 kneecap challenge, all reeking with the not-so-subtle message that thinner is better.


These challenges use the same formula: they all involve an intriguingly random but ubiquitous enough item that can be used to measure one’s body. Every completion earns the challenger bragging rights and makes others feel inferior in the process.

The latest outlandish trend uses earphones to test the circumference of your waist.

Weibo Earphones Waist challenge in China

“To see how much weight you’ve gained while lazing around at home, just look at how many rounds your earphones can go around your waist…. Tag us in your photos and tag your friends to do this challenge together!” reads this caption by TouTiaoXinWen, a news account on Weibo. Image from Weibo.

As expected, Chinese netizens flooded Weibo with photos flaunting their tiny sculpted waists.

Weibo China earphones waist challenge

“That’s right, if I suck in my tummy a little I can still do it,” one post reads. Image from Weibo.

China Weibo earphones waist challenge

“Seems like this isn’t much of a problem haha,” another netizen said. Image from Weibo.

There were varied reactions to the challenge. Some expressed envy while others were sceptical.

Weibo comment on China earphones waist challenge

“Is this a challenge of who has longer earphones?” someone asked, sarcastically. Screenshot from Weibo.

Weibo comment on China earphones waist challenge

“I’m not fat but this waist… I’m envious,” said one netizen. Screenshot from Weibo.

Weibo comment on China earphones waist challenge

“Most of the people posting about this challenge just want to show off their figures,” another observed. Screenshot from Weibo.

There was also one really annoying show-off.

Weibo comment on China earphones waist challenge

“I’m the kind of person who can eat everything and not gain weight, there’s nothing to challenge here,” this commenter said. Screenshot from Weibo.

With a cultural obsession over numbers on the weighing scale, being thin is a necessary condition of attractiveness by Chinese standards. In the country, fat-shaming is often no big deal. When Chinese celebrities grow a little pudgier, they are immediately criticised by ruthless netizens. Female celebrities are also relentlessly compared with their peers and scrutinised for their weight.

The unhealthy preoccupation with being skinny is a pervasive problem among Chinese girls. I remember one flatmate during my second year of university in Singapore — a petite and slim exchange student from Beijing who was quiet and enjoyed baking. When I walked past her room one day, I saw a note that she had written to herself and framed at her desk: “If you can’t even control your weight, how do you control your life?” It was a permanent fixture holding her accountable to unrealistic beauty standards, a merciless reminder that her body wasn’t good enough.

The toxicity of China’s obsession with slim women has also created contemporary proverbs that Chinese girls swear by in their weight loss journeys. A disturbing one goes like this: “You can either be skinny or be dead.”

Find Koh Ewe on Instagram.