During a recent Chinese lesson, my teacher began explaining the sentence structure to describe going to a local theme park. My teacher, Amy, enthusiastically interrupted her own lesson to digress into a story, as often happens during her lessons. She asked me and my co-worker who is learning Chinese with me to guess how she gains free admittance into a local theme park. My colleague and I shrugged prompting her to explain further. She giggled and exclaimed, “It’s not just because I’m pretty! Well, I could get in for free because of that. But I also work as a tour guide and my tour guide license gets me in for free!”
I obligingly laughed along with my co-worker, but her point was pretty much lost on me after she declared she was beautiful enough to gain free admittance to a park. Amy is strikingly beautiful. She’s extremely petite with enviable cheek bones and a great sense of style. Her beauty is something that everyone in a room undoubtedly notices instantly. Although her blatant remark about attractiveness is common among Beijingers, it remains a cultural characteristic that still makes me uncomfortable.
Within just a month of living in Beijing, the standard of beauty was very apparent. Chinese people are, in general, naturally petite. If someone is overweight, they stick out like a sore thumb. There is an obvious admiration for people who are tall. I’ve been told that there are height requirements for men entering the military and that taller men generally are the most successful in business in China. There is also a general desire for an job that allows the comforts of the indoors. Farmers that work in fields and develop golden-brown tans are stereotyped as lower-class citizens.
Therefore, if you are thin, tall, and pale, you are automatically considered beautiful. This standard of beauty is as rigid as a Chinese gymnastic coach. There is no variety (as far as I can tell) in what the majority advertises as beautiful.
While I can see why they consider women to be attractive who are statuesque and slender with creamy white skin, it makes me wonder why they don’t seek diversity in beauty standards. Sure, the U.S. still has a long way to go as far as equality racial and size equality, but it’s refreshing that North American media praises women across a variety of racial entities like Sophia Vergara, Gabrielle Union and Reese Witherspoon. Not to mention the praise that women like Mother Theresa and Princess Diana received for holding such inner beauty that provided for the less fortunate. I don’t believe there’s one way to be beautiful and I’m happy to be from a country that doesn’t think so either.
So maybe I’ll spend the rest of my time here scratching my head at why everyone is seeking to attain the same look. Maybe I’ll continue to squirm uncomfortably at immodest statements about one’s own beauty. But I’ll know that my country understands me and my zany idea that beauty is not a cookie-cutter definition.