Guest Post: "The F-Word" - Body Image in China | Speaking of China

31 Responses

  1. Madame Choi
    Madame Choi May 8, 2015 at 7:23 am | | Reply

    Thank you Laura for this great post! I have had similar experiences in Korea, where people tell you right away whether you look better or worse. It is a way of expressing concern and empathy: they recognize you are going through hard times (whey they tell you you’ve lost weight), or they congratulate you on your appetite (when you’ve gained a few kilos…).

    1. Laura
      Laura May 8, 2015 at 11:45 pm | | Reply

      Hi Madame choi, thanks a lot, I am glad you liked it! I like your way of looking at it, concern and empathy, it makes it easier to bear haha

  2. marghini
    marghini May 8, 2015 at 7:56 am | | Reply

    Hi Laura! This topic is extremely interesting and worth discussing, thank you for raising it!

    I think part of the origin of the problem is also that many Asians are genetically very petite, so the average standard is thinner compared to the West. Frankly in Europe (which does not struggle with obesity as much as the US does) you rarely see women as thin as most of the Chinese women you see on the streets in Shanghai or Hong Kong.

    However, I am always surprised by how the Asian society has a double standard when it comes about “straightforwardness”: one hand Asians usually don’t address problems directly in the family or the workplace and don’t open up easily about their feelings and their desires. On the other hand, when it comes about weight or “where are my grandbabies?” their are so blunt! I just don’t get it.

    Anyway I think Fan Bingbing looks healthy and normal to me, it is crazy that anyone could ever think she is fatty..

    1. Laura
      Laura May 8, 2015 at 11:47 pm | | Reply

      Hi marghini, thanks a lot for the support!
      I so agree with both the contradiction and Fan Bingbing, when I saw that news I almost keeled over – she has a great figure!

  3. robert
    robert May 8, 2015 at 8:51 am | | Reply

    The study seems to confirm what I’ve been thinking. By all means, with the narrow definiton of “fat” (which is as narrow as the Chinese definition of “old”), it’s a wonder China isn’t anorexia paradise (or that the retirement age doesn’t start at 40). The whole definitions of “fat” and “old” confirm the saying some Chinese have: we Westerners really just don’t understand China. At least I don’t, in that regard…. it’s just odd and funny at the same time. The only scary thing is, that doctors too seem to stick to this definition.

    1. Laura
      Laura May 8, 2015 at 11:49 pm | | Reply

      Same here…utter incomprehension, I find it very easy sometimes to be a little bit brainwashed by it too – there are days when I feel quite insecure about myself, which I rarely did back in Europe, luckily most days I couldn’t care less haha

  4. Marta
    Marta May 8, 2015 at 9:44 am | | Reply

    I don’t even pay attention any more to the people around when I am outside. I don’t know if they still talk about me or not, hehe.
    I haven’t had a “you’re fat” comment in a long, long time, now that I think about it. I get a lot of “you lost weight!” comments when someone hasn’t seen me in a while (that I don’t understand, as my weight hasn’t changed in years) and I think they are mainly because my face is very skinny (all the flesh is in my belly and thighs haha).

    I am glad I never got any comment related to my bum… it is not small though. I do have received comments about my bossom… jealous ones, haha.

    1. Laura
      Laura May 8, 2015 at 11:51 pm | | Reply

      Hey Marta, yes that’s the flip side of the coin, the small face compliments. I used to get those a lot in the beginning.

  5. Jen W
    Jen W May 8, 2015 at 9:54 am | | Reply

    This is always an interesting topic for me after living in China for 12 years and marrying my husband, who is from Fujian. It is true that there is more ‘workplace discrimination’ against heavier local people (because every company wants to put forward a good image). Chinese people seem to accept that a public face should be beautiful. Thus, they don’t see it as discriminatory to advertise for young girls between 18-24 with even a weight requirement to be waitresses. Celebrities are expected to dress fabulously all the time and wear make-up all the time in a culture where the majority of women still don’t (and would never consider it). The sentiment is that ‘this is their job and they have to entertain us’.

    However, I feel that in some ways, the Chinese culture has a more positive attitude towards weight and appearance. Traditionally, I think Chinese just accept who they are instead of trying to become something they are not (bound feet aside). In the last 12 years while living here, I have cyclically lost and gained 15+ pounds. In all that time, I never once had a friend or colleague shun me because of my weight. Now, this may be because I am a foreigner, but I also felt like the kids at the school where I taught who were called ‘Fatty’ still had a lot of friends. One the other hand, I think weight in the US has become another PC issue that cannot be talked about. I feel like in the US people are often unpopular because a bad appearance seems somehow ‘catching’. It seems like people think if they have overweight friends, it will reflect poorly on them. I don’t get that vibe from the Chinese.
    In fact, Chinese people are blunt about a lot of things related to appearance. I have a couple of friends who were called ‘Rabbit’ growing up because they had buck teeth or big-headed friends, who were called just that. The thing is, they seem to have accepted their features and moved on to be well-adjusted adults. My big-headed friends even found others like them at their school and take a lot of big-headed ‘family’ selfies.
    Through living here, I have found the freedom to say, ‘Yes, I am overweight,’ without cringing or feeling major guilt. It’s true: I am overweight. That doesn’t make me a horrible person. It just means I need to work on my discipline and try to be healthy.
    I think appearance here doesn’t carry nearly the psychological pressure that it does in the States. People here feel that pressure focused on their performance more than their appearance, I think.

    1. Laura
      Laura May 8, 2015 at 11:55 pm | | Reply

      Hi Jen, that is very interesting, the experience I have made with friends who had a figure (they werent fat just had a figure) and a male friend with a “big head” was that they were often self-conscious and unhappy about it. There was also a story in the magazine I write for – a interview with a plastic surgeon who said it is quite common for men and women to get facial surgery where they saw off the bones to make the face look thinner. These experiences all make me feel like there is not much adjustment to such comments in my immediate surroundings.

  6. Miyagi Mermaid
    Miyagi Mermaid May 8, 2015 at 10:03 am | | Reply

    Mm this cultural aspect holds true in Japan as well. I remember an occasion when we had a Japanese student at my university and he told my male friend straight to his face he was overweight and then offered to bike together. Once he wasn’t present, the friend relented how irritated it made him. But in retrospect, even though in Western society there are more polite ways to say it, the fact that he offered to work out together, I’m sure it came from a place of concern.

    On another occasion, I was living with my boyfriend’s sister for a while and one morning after she went to work, she had left me a 5 page long note on the table regaling how she would help me slim down and then wanted to know how I got my boobs so big so I could help her in return. Needless to say, I was happy when that pressure was out of my life.

    I’ve seen on Japanese TV too, idols being weighed in a studio audience and then are judged by the whole cast of guests about what happened to them when they still weigh under 60kgs. It’s unheard of in the West!

    Anyways, now I take all the blatant comments with perspective. Since I’ve lost weight, I get a lot of positive comments and everyone wants to know how I did it. A lot of offers to join me in the “weight loss cause”. I’ve adjusted my mindset to it, but it’s not an easy adjustment.

    1. Laura
      Laura May 8, 2015 at 11:57 pm | | Reply

      Yes, I agree that you also reap the rewards, when you lose wait people notice 🙂

  7. Eileen黃愛玲
    Eileen黃愛玲 May 8, 2015 at 10:54 am | | Reply

    I’m not skinny by any means but then again, there are many Shanghainese women who are bigger than me here. The only time somebody even mentioned my weight was a woman at the gym about how I lost so much weight. That’s about it.

  8. Autumn
    Autumn May 8, 2015 at 11:50 am | | Reply

    I enjoyed this post, Laura, from the anecdotes to the analysis. Nicely done!

    And you really captured the contradictory parental behaviors, too — my Chinese-American guy’s mother will tell him he’s gotten fat, and he needs to exercise more in one breath, then encourage him to eat more char siu bao in the next!

    I finally called her on it, and you know what she said?

    “Oh, you can diet when you go home! Eat now!”

    1. Laura
      Laura May 8, 2015 at 11:58 pm | | Reply

      Thanks a lot Autumn, I love your story, whenever one points out the contradictions to Chinese people they always have a comeback at hand, I love that 😀

  9. Timo
    Timo May 8, 2015 at 7:39 pm | | Reply

    Yeah, there is surely a weird sense when it comes to the body image in China. A couple of years ago I started to do sports again and when we went to visit my in-laws again half year later all the people said that I look too thin, I need to eat more etc (really, I wasn’t even slim or anything..) but at the same time they told my wife how fat she got (actually slim person…)

    Oh well, each time in China we just try to ignore these things even though it is not always easy as many Chinese got also weird ideas about the body image through what they see daily on tv and on advertisements around the cities

    1. Laura
      Laura May 8, 2015 at 11:59 pm | | Reply

      Yes, I think in that way it is similar to the West – TV sets an unrealistically high bar…

  10. Ruth - China Elevator Stories
    Ruth - China Elevator Stories May 8, 2015 at 8:07 pm | | Reply

    Great article, Laura!

    To me it’s the other way around – people always comment that I’m too skinny (I don’t gain weight easily although I’d really like to have a few kilos more). I think there’s really no making it right, you’re either too fat or too skinny in China. There’s no “just right”. So it’s really just about how you feel and if you’re comfortable with your body.

    When I was pregnant, I used to get “wow, your bump is really big” and “you’re not showing yet” from different people on the same day, so I don’t take people’s words that serious anymore. I think sometimes people say these things just as conversation starters without really considering if this might hurt your feelings or not (of course, if they say it behind your back, it’s a different story).

    1. Laura
      Laura May 9, 2015 at 12:00 am | | Reply

      Haha, that is so funny Ruth, and it really helps you realise that there is no point listening to any of the “feedback” coz everyone has a different opinion!

  11. Fred
    Fred May 9, 2015 at 4:53 am | | Reply

    @ Laura.

    Thank you for this wonderful post and for exploring the issue of weight gain/loss in China. As a Chinese man when I was much younger, I have seen on numerous occasions that we refer to one another from time to time as “Fatty girl” or “Fatty boy” so and so, and the recipient of the name calling appeared not to take offense. Nowadays, I refrain from using such names to reference friends, acquaintances and family members because even the Chinese are being more conscientious about their weight, and given the age of political correctness, the other person can easily take offense and make a sarky remark back.

    I am sorry to read that my fellow Chinese treated you with such disrespect by your commenting on the size of your buttocks. Personally, I like women who are a little chunky, and that is why I was not quite compatible with a fellow Asian female life partner and opted to marry a white girl. My white girl is a little chunky but I love her bigger buttocks.

    I hope that you will keep up the greatness!!!!


    1. Laura - Our CN Wedding
      Laura - Our CN Wedding May 9, 2015 at 5:09 pm | | Reply

      Hi Fred, thanks for your lovely words and support, they are very touching, and I love how you love your ladies buttocks, you are a great man! Well done 😀

      1. Fred
        Fred May 10, 2015 at 12:56 am | | Reply

        @ Laura. Thanks for your wonderful words of support. I know that I have been criticized on more than one occasion for opting to marry a White girl and also questioned about the size of her buttocks. I apologize in advance for this question: I was wondering if you show us a pic of yourself including your waistline FULLY CLOTHED please? Then we can all see and appreciate your amazing size. I hope you don’t take offense to this request, and once again sorry for asking.


  12. Holly Hollins
    Holly Hollins May 9, 2015 at 5:56 am | | Reply

    Hi Laura, great post!

    One thing, BE PROUD OF THAT ASS. The only physical characteristics I like about myself is my ass and boobs. That’s it. I’m average in size but I hate my muffin tops…even though that’s the best part of the muffin. 😉

    As for mentioning all these facts and other important factors of what they believe over there… I guess that society around the world still has to change on keeping things to themselves of this sort.

    I am though, trying to lose some pounds (hoping my butt and my boobs are the same size in the end)…however mostly working on my midsection…. because I’m absolutely terrified when I go to China…and if I meet my bf’s family. I’m a little scared they’re going to think I’m fat just because I’m not skinny skinny.

    Before my bf and I officially met (we met through friends, talked first on WeChat)…I was always concerned that he wasn’t going to like me because of my size. He said not to worry about it. And when I met him, I asked him, “What is it that you like about American women?” he replied with, “Well, bigger.” mentioning my boobs LOL! 😛

    Not all men are the same when it comes to liking women. Bless the men that are not Western and like us big booty ladie! haha!

    1. Laura - Our CN Wedding
      Laura - Our CN Wedding May 9, 2015 at 5:13 pm | | Reply

      Well said Hollie, I love your attitude 😀

      I can totally relate to what you said about the family, while immediate family have never said a thing, there is one female family member with whom I have a bit of a rivalry going on and she called me a fatty once and for a while I was really freaking out about losing weight for the upcoming wedding coz I was scared she will say something like that on my wedding day. Now I am thinking bring it on bӣ$%! Especially since my husband says he will kick her out if she does heehee.

  13. Sakura_Fujiko
    Sakura_Fujiko May 9, 2015 at 7:38 am | | Reply

    I really enjoyed that post and can relate probably more to it than I want to.
    I’m fat (really no other word for it), I have a Chinese Husband and live in Japan, and it really is very similar in both countries. People tell you “you are fat” as means of expressing concern like a mother would when you gained a few pounds. The Problem is: They are Not my Mother! I really get Irritationen (and incredibly selfconcious) when I hear such comments. Be it to my face or behind my back.
    Curiously japanese people seem to get bigger as well. Some years ago I saw maybe one or two people that could be considered a little chubby, now I see chubby and fat people regularly. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy for them, as the same body Standards apply, but with chubby girlbands and a Magazine specifically for chubby girls, it seems society is slowly recognizing that chubby people DO exist in Japan.
    (Lucky for me as I’m able to actually buy clothes now here as well as shoes even though I have a size 27 ^^)

    1. Laura - Our CN Wedding
      Laura - Our CN Wedding May 9, 2015 at 5:17 pm | | Reply

      Hi Sakura, thanks for sharing your experiences – it is the same here, I am increasingly starting to notice more voluminous women, though as you say quite rightly, societal acceptance is a long way off…

  14. Lena
    Lena May 9, 2015 at 8:44 am | | Reply

    Lovely article!
    It’s very much true according to my experiences as well. Luckily, the Chinese seem to comment more on my blue eyes and Mandarin skills, or else I probably would have left by now 😉

    Love your last comment about your husband. My Chinese flirt was honest in the beginning, told me to go to the gym one day I wasn’t happy about my figure, now I taught him to do the same as yours 🙂 cut out the honesty when it comes to my stomach :))) cheers

    1. Laura - Our CN Wedding
      Laura - Our CN Wedding May 9, 2015 at 5:19 pm | | Reply

      Haha well done! Yes with a bit of encouragement *read continous badgering* they learn how to talk to you so you won’t bite off their head 😉

  15. Sorrel
    Sorrel May 9, 2015 at 6:10 pm | | Reply

    I have wondered if, especially amongst groups of university girls, comments like’ you’re fat’ or ‘I’m so fat’ are a form of reassurance for themselves due to an element of insecurity.
    It is not uncommon for me to see groups of them – who in all honesty look like stick insects – complain about how fat they are.
    I’m a (British) size 10 and feel fat beside them, but I know that there is nothing wrong with my weight.

    at the same time they appear to binge on processed rubbish while not exercising – as if working up a sweat while taking part in a sport was somehow unfeminine.

  16. Mimi
    Mimi May 21, 2015 at 2:56 pm | | Reply

    Hi! I loved the post and it made me laugh. I am a Chinese born in Spain, thin in Spanish standards (XS, 34-36) but chubby in China (some distant cousins even nicknamed me little piggy cousin when I was younger).

    I am currently living in Korea and I see the same obsession for weight and looks, but in very different ways. I feel Chinese care about their size, but they are far less concerned about looks than Koreans.

    Here in Korea I see girls putting on make up in the toilet constantly. Many of the pretty girls have had some type of surgery done in their faces or bodies, and most of the young women I´ve met here are on a diet or eat 1/3 of their meals. I also rarely see a young woman (18~30?) with glasses.

    I haven’t been to China since 2012 though, so I cannot tell if things are changing fast and Chinese teenagers are so concerned about looks and fashion~ I remember having young female friends who would just care about their weight, but just wanted to look cute and childish, not really caring that mcuh about dressing or make up.

    Anyway, cheers and good luck in life~

Leave a Reply