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.
As expected, Chinese netizens flooded Weibo with photos flaunting their tiny sculpted waists.
There were varied reactions to the challenge. Some expressed envy while others were sceptical.
There was also one really annoying show-off.
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.”
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