The Chinese Women Who Ignore ‘Beauty Duty’

High heels, makeup, diets, and other standards of appearance that some Chinese people believe to be expensive and unfair to women are being rejected.
The traditional Chinese beauty ideal was Legend Zhu. She headed the modeling squad at her institution, a group of tall women with shoulder-length hair who were frequently asked to walk the runways at college fashion events while donning body-con gowns and intense eye makeup.

Ms. Zhu, a recent college graduate, has once more drawn attention to her appearance, but this time in a very different way. Over the summer, she posted a selfie with buzz-cut hair and an unmade-up face on the Chinese social media site Xiaohongshu, which is popular with lifestyle influencers.

In the article, Ms. Zhu wrote, “From a model to a natural woman,” and provided “before” pictures from her modeling days. “It’s so cozy!” you exclaim.

More than 1,000 people liked and complimented Ms. Zhu’s photo. She received praise for standing up against the pressure placed on women to meet conventional beauty standards. One commenter remarked, “This is so brave.”

The internet approval of Ms. Zhu’s new appearance is only a portion of the story, therefore bravery is required. She erased the unfavorable remarks as well.
In China, anything related to feminism can be a touchy matter. One of the founding principles of the country’s Communist Party has long been the promotion of gender equality, although it is skeptical of grassroots organization. Online harassment directed at feminists is common, and accounts on social media may even be removed for “gender discrimination.” Those who have brought legal claims against powerful men for sexual misconduct have lost or have been coerced into silence.

Legend Zhu during her time as a model.

Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China,” noted that young women in China, particularly those with college educations, are becoming more aware of these issues. Some young women have resisted gender stereotypes, especially those related to beauty, as a result of discrimination against women in the workplace and in college admissions, according to Ms. Fincher.

Ms. Zhu, 23, is one of many young women who have been motivated by a growing tendency to reject what is known as “beauty duty” on the Chinese internet: the expensive and perhaps painful adherence to prevailing ideals of beautiful. The goal is to focus time and resources on personal development, such as education and career advancement, rather than on external beauty standards.

Three women stand on a bridge overlooking a river, holding mobile phones. Two of them are using the phones to take photos of themselves.

The woman from Qinhuangdao, Ms. Xie, said that a previous partner claimed she had “given up” on herself. She remarked, “I believe it is ludicrous. “I don’t want things to go back to the way they were before.”

Not all of the criticism is directed at men. On social media, several women have claimed that women who adhere to traditional beauty criteria shouldn’t be made to feel inferior.

According to Fiona Chen, a feminist influencer in China, women who reject such conventions frequently perceive other women who disagree with them as not being advanced enough. She countered that their criticism should instead center on the actual cause of unjust expectations.

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