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Chinese women get mixed social signals

Didi Tang
Associated Press

Beijing – — Chinese women are being taken on a roller-coaster ride by social media, getting bombarded on one side by extreme expectations about physical beauty while getting support for female independence in a society where women who aren’t married by their late 20s are considered “leftovers.”

In recent months, social media here has been swept by a series of body image crazes. The “A4 waist” fad challenged women see how skinny they were by posting photos of their middles to show that a piece of standard copy paper 8 1/4 inches wide covered their waists.

Then “iPhone knees” tested whether a cellphone would cover the knees, an indication of slender legs. Most recently, the “100-yuan wrist” had women showing they could wrap a bank note around their wrists.

The online fads — slammed by women’s advocates as unhealthy and emotionally harmful to women who feel like they don’t measure up — come even as Chinese women are attaining higher educational, professional and economic status than ever. Yet as they try to break old barriers, women still feel pressure to meet cultural expectations about getting married in their early 20s, having children and being the main caregiver — as well as traditional notions equating slenderness with feminine beauty.

“Male-oriented aesthetics still dominate the mainstream, and the Internet or the new media have magnified this proclivity,” said Beijing-based social scholar Wu Qiang.

Taking the opposite tack — and also garnering lots of attention — has been a four-minute online ad by a cosmetics brand SK-II that depicts the struggles of unmarried women in their late 20s.

The video starts with several women talking in painful tones about the pressures they face from family and society. A few parents also appear, including one father who tells his daughter he won’t be able to go peacefully to his grave until she’s married off. But it ends with the women speaking confidently about their right to choose their way of life, including one who says she’s happy being single.

“The campaign really is to inspire women to overcome their limitations, to make their own destiny,” said Markus Strobel, global president for the cosmetic line, which is owned by Procter & Gamble Co.

Since being posted on the brand’s official microblog on April 7, the video has been shared more than 25,000 times.