Chinese beauty standards

In the last decade or so it seems that the west has begun to embrace a far more open and diverse idea of what it means to be beautiful. Beauty can be found in all shapes and sizes these days and no longer are we constrained to the heroin chic thinness of Kate Moss or the Amazonian proportions of the supermodels of yesteryear. Gone are the days when we were aggressively sold the bottle blonde look, or told to fit a certain dress size and now it’s not an aesthetic sin to have a plentiful posterior, I mean many celebrities today have done pretty well for possessing that particular asset.

But here in China things are different.  The age-old adage that beauty is the eye of the beholder is rather limited. In fact, most Chinese beholders are looking for a standard of female beauty which is very slim lined and precise indeed. In order to be perceived as a beauty in the middle kingdom, you must possess big eyes, a small mouth and ideally a small face which is e dan lian 鹅蛋脸– translation: “shaped like an upside-down goose egg”.

Your skin must be not only pale but as white as possible.  Yes, ladies and gents that Anglo Saxon pasty whiteness, which we scorn back home, is prized here. In fact, it’s not uncommon in China, especially during the hotter months, to see women shielding themselves from the sun’s rays with umbrellas and parasols. Whitening creams are big business and a small fortune is spent each year by countless women, on whitening creams to help give them that desired pearly white glow. Another desired trait in the ideal Chinese woman is that she is slim, hopefully tall with long legs, small feet and a Pippa Middleton style bottom.

Do you match up? Don’t worry, seldom Chinese women do either and just like their western counter parts, Chinese lasses lament on their lack of the desired body type or face shape. One of my best friends Michelle is a prime example of this. She is very pretty, with a slim figure and long beautiful black hair, which the other staff admire and envy and yet she still often complains that her face is too big.

But all hope is not lost. Don’t despair those of you who still aspire to this Chinese idea of beauty, there is advice to be had.   I have been busy interviewing my Chinese friends and learnt some of their beauty secrets, which may help you on your way. But I warn you, you may scoff and or laugh at some of their suggestions as I did, even though they were made with great earnestness.

I’ll let you decide how…. ummmm …. helpful they really are.

1. Don’t Eat Eggplant
If you eat eggplant during the day, it will – and I quote – “turn your skin black.” No one can tell me exactly why they believe it, but that it is a common belief passed down through generations.

2. Eat Pig’s Skin
If you eat the skin of a pig (or any animal), this will help you to keep a clear completion and starve off wrinkles. Pigs trotters are apparently best as it contains a lot of skin.

3. Eat Your Tomatoes
This will make your skin whiter and help keep you looking fresh and pimple-free.

4. Eat Black Foods
If you want your hair to stay shiny and black, eat black foods such as sesame seeds and black beans.

5. No Chocolate or Cold Food/Drinks
If you are not feeling or looking your best during your time of the month, stay away from chocolate and cold foods and drinks, as this will make your pain last for longer and nobody looks good when they grimace.


Personally, I know I’m never going to fit to the Chinese ideal of beauty and I’m perfectly happy to be the fat smiling Laowai in the office. A sentiment which I once shared with my friend and delightful colleague Sweet. She chastised me and it was then that I learnt one of my favorite Chinese expressions. “Ayah! Fran”, she said, “you are not big, you are feng man (丰满). It means sexy fat.”


Thanks Sweet, I’ll happily take it!


How would you measure against Chinese beauty standards?

Teach English in China with EF English First and find out!



Post by EF Teacher Fran Church
Fran is a thirty-something English woman who lives in the winter wonderland of Harbin. She loves to travel and in her spare time, she can either be found curled up with a good book, gorging on chicken wings and bourbon whiskey or happily embroidering her own designs. She likes colourful tattoos, adorable dogs and writing fiction.