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Amber: Hey everybody, welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese buffet. I am Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), 我是 (Wǒ shì) Victor.
Amber: And today’s show, we have Chewing the Fact episode.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: Today’s topic is standards of beauty.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Chewing the fat for those who don’t know is that we take an aspect of Chinese culture and delve into it.
Victor: Digest it.
Amber: Digest it for you.
Victor: Chewing it for you with you.
Amber: And the interesting thing, standards of beauty in China and the west sometimes are very different.
Victor: Yeah. So historically in the Chang dynasty, I think it is a couple of thousand years ago, actually, there is a phrase called 以胖为美 (Yǐ pàng wèi měi)
Amber: Speaking of fat.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: Which means
Victor: Fat is the standard of beauty, that’s what it literally means.
Amber: Those were the days Victor.
Victor: That’s why when you look at all these historic paintings from that period, all the women are portrayed as having round faces and round body types.
Amber: Well I think that that has carried down to today Victor because you know in China now-a-days, people will say to you, you are fat and it’s not necessarily that they are – An insult.
Victor: An insult at all.
Amber: They are kind of maybe complimenting you.
Victor: Yeah I think because of in the past century or so, China has gone through a lot. So most of those times, people didn’t have enough to eat.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: So if you have some fat on your body
Amber: Yes.
Victor: It kind of means that you – you know are living pretty good life.
Amber: Prosperity yeah. That you are like rich enough to have food to eat which is a good thing.
Victor: Right. Of course recently there is all this obesity with you know KFC and MacDonald’s and things like that.
Amber: All those American’s faults.
Victor: Kind of like going overboard a little bit but you know right now still people kind of think if you have a little fat on your body, it looks good.
Amber: Yeah and this is important for everyone to know because I’ve known not a few girls who’ve perhaps been reduced to tears and western girls when they get to China and people will go around saying, oh you are really fat, trust me, it happens. In fact, one time this is very interesting because I wouldn’t call myself fat.
Victor: No, not at all, never.
Amber: However one morning, when I was in Taiwan, I had an English student in the morning and one in the afternoon and in the morning, I went to the student and she said Amber, she is like, you look so fat. I am like what! She is like, you gained weight. I am like really, I don’t think so. Then two hours later, I went to the other student and she said, Amber you look too thin, did you lose weight? But I think what happens is sometimes a lot of times people will comment on your appearance in China and so they are just maybe they notice something different and so they just throw out the fat line.
Victor: Yeah they just say it.
Amber: maybe it’s that you got fatter and that’s not a bad thing. So #1 thing is remember that the standard of beauty, fat is not a bad thing in China so….
Victor: Right.
Amber: It’s kind of nice because there is lot of good food to eat there. So if you gained some weight….
Victor: Oh yeah definitely.
Amber: It’s not a bad thing.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Okay then, now speaking of China, now-a-days though, I would have to say that it is very popular for the young people to be thin. Girls nowadays will do a lot of drastic things to be thin. In fact, there is a lot of diet fads now, I know many Chinese friends that don’t eat all day, the girls or even diet pills, there has been a lot of – really bad things have happened…
Victor: Diet teas.
Amber: Yeah oh they love diet teas as well but people have even died because some of these pills are not very regulated or they haven’t been tested yet or people don’t know how to use them and so nowadays, I think that the young people especially girls have lot of pressure to be thin.
Victor: Unfortunately yeah like everywhere else in the world, it seems like.
Amber: That’s right.
Victor: And talking about traditional standards of beauty, yeah there are a few phrases in Chinese. One is called to describe female beauty. The first one is called 樱桃小口 (yīngtáo xiǎokǒu)
Amber: Okay now what does that mean?
Victor: 樱桃小口 (yīngtáo xiǎokǒu) Okay this is like I think…..
Amber: 樱桃 (yīngtáo), is that the word for cherry?
Victor: For cherry.
Amber: And then
Victor: 小口 (xiǎokǒu) is “small mouth”. Your mouth is as small as a cherry.
Amber: And little red cherry in mouth. So that’s considered traditionally very beautiful.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Small lips, small mouth.
Victor: And another one is….
Amber: Very different than Angelina Jolie, they must think she is like butt ugly. Okay.
Victor: And the other one is 浓眉大眼 (nóngméi dà yǎn).
Amber: Oh what does that mean?
Victor: 浓眉 (nóngméi) is very thick or very striking eyebrows and 大眼 (dà yǎn) is very big eyes.
Amber: Oh I better stop plucking them. I didn’t know that.
Victor: So 浓眉大眼 (nóngméi dà yǎn).
Amber: Right.
Victor: So these things sound very poetic and very good in Chinese. However if you actually draw a picture based on these standards, you know mouth like a cherry…
Amber: Giant eyes.
Victor: Giant eyes.
Amber: It looks like an alien. No the truth is, I was in the subway one day contemplating a billboard and I was thinking that girl looks like an alien and she did look like that. Her mouth is very tiny, her chin quite pointed, her eyes extremely huge. In fact, I think it might have been photoshopped, I don’t know but I said to my Chinese friend, I am like, wow, that girl is a model. It looks really odd and she is like, oh she is so beautiful and it was exactly that, the small mouth, big eyes.
Victor: Yeah and once again, if you go back to historic Chinese paintings from way back when, you see the women all have very, very small mouths painted on them and that’s what they consider to be nice on women.
Amber: Well speaking of the big eyes, a huge obsession in China which was something I never in my life had even noticed or considered before is whether you have the double eyelid.
Victor: Yep.
Amber: Now for those of you who don’t know a double eyelid just means basically you can see your eyelid and I never noticed it in my life until I got there and people started telling me about how this wonderful double eyelid that I guess a lot of Chinese people you can’t see the eyelid but some people you can.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So if you are born with this double eyelid, you are blessed among women basically and if you are not, well a lot of girls get a surgery that actually kind of they slice your eye and create an eyelid.
Victor: Yeah. So the plastic surgery in Asia is very common.
Amber: Yeah and the thing is that I don’t know if anyone’s noticed this eye surgery, once I started looking for it, I saw it everywhere. Often they don’t do a very good job. Sometimes there is a good job but sometimes you can actually see a line, a scar on their eye. So it’s I don’t know. They want it bad enough that they think it looks good.
Victor: It’s almost like an obsession, not a very healthy one.
Amber: And the other thing that sometimes girls will do that you might find looks a bit odd is some girls will actually take a piece of a sticker and stick it on to their eyelid and it looks so strange. In fact, one time I did this magazine cover that they did my makeup for and they stuck that on my eyelid and I was like wait a minute, I have an eyelid. It looked like I was some kind of alien you know. It looked really odd.
Victor: So it’s called 双眼皮 (shuāng yǎnpí) the double eyelids.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: 双眼皮 (shuāng yǎnpí).
Amber: It’s probably one of the first things that a Chinese person will notice about your face whether you have that or not.
Victor: Yeah if you do immediately almost the compliments will follow.
Amber: Yeah and you know, one time I had the occasion to visit a plastic surgery clinic in Shanghai. I was not getting anything done by the way but I did interview a couple of the doctors there. The first thing when you walk into the clinic is everything is very like pink stuffed animal chairs and it is like this happy, happy place in the hospital full of girls with like bandages and casts on their face and their nose and it’s very popular now in Shanghai to get plastic surgery and in fact one girl was telling me that it was actually her parents that forced her to because in China, appearance is very big right now. You know you get a better job if you are pretty. So it’s a really big industry.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Actually it’s kind of – it’s not like here it’s a bit of a stigma sometimes.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: In China, you know people will be like bragging you know they got, you know, nose job or something.
Victor: Because you gotta have any money to pay for it. I mean not sure it’s a really good thing but you know, whatever. Talking about obsession with, you know, eyelids and things like that, also another female obsession is fair skin in China.
Amber: Very true. I once met a girl in Taiwan who had never gone in the sun. She was translucent.
Victor: You know, so all those of you who are really pale in the west, you think you go tanning, not in China. It’s the opposite.
Amber: Yes this girl, she would use an umbrella everywhere she went. She would wear sleeves 24 hours a day. They have these actually when you are wearing a shirt – sleeve shirt, they have these things you can buy that are sleeves that you put on when you go outside.
Victor: Right, yeah.
Amber: She would also – you know, here we have tanning creams, there they have whitening masks. She did five whitening masks a day. She spent a lot of money to be white and she looked very, very white.
Victor: Speaking of whitening creams, a few years ago, I was back in China and I saw a commercial on TV of a whitening cream for women and they had a before and after picture of this woman using the whitening cream and to me, the before picture actually looked better because it was normal and healthy.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: But the after picture was almost paper white.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: But that was supposed to be the better one on TV which I thought was really interesting and if you go to China in the summer, you notice almost every single woman will have umbrella even on sunny days…
Amber: Yes.
Victor: To protect themselves from the sun.
Amber: Yeah, and for example, if you are in China and you go on a holiday, maybe you go to Hainan and go to the beach, we come back tanned, all the girls in the office when you come back, they will stare like why…很难看 (hěn nánkàn), they are like, so ugly, so dark.
Victor: Right, right and they will use the word black &white to describe your….
Amber: Yeah, they are like you’ve turned black.
Victor: Right. They don’t mean like black skin but they mean a darker complexion.
Amber: A darker shade of pale.
Victor: Right.
Amber: It means 黑 (hēi) to them, "black."
Victor: Yeah and people don’t read it like that. I guess it has something to do with your status because in the old days, if you had the status, you know the leisure to not work in the field, of course, your skin will always be white or be very light. So you know, that has something to do with the status.
Amber: Yeah and it’s very telling that the first time I ever went to China, I made the mistake of taking a tour, but it was much cheaper but the very first stop on the tour, the thing that’s bad about tourism in China is they take you to buy a lot of things that they are sort of appointed government shops and factories but the very first destination before the great wall, before the Ming Tombs was the Pearl Cream factory. So they take you to this place where….
Victor: Commission, commission!
Amber: Yes where you can buy this cream made of pearls and because the pearls are white, it’s believed to make your skin white.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: They didn’t really understand why none of the westerners wanted to buy it. Another thing that I’ve noticed lately it has become more popular too is, I mean in my mind, the beautiful hair is that sleek black straight Chinese girl’s hair but a lot of girls have taken to getting highlights but the problem is I think that there is not a lot of materials that are really sophisticated developed for a Asian hair and so what happens is a lot of girls get highlights and it looks like they have really orange hair but it’s interesting because to them, you know, it’s like all what you are accustomed to. They think it’s brown and one time, I made the mistake of getting highlights in China and my hair turned totally orange. I just think they didn’t use the right dye, I don't know… The towel came off, and I was like oh my god! My hair is orange and they are like, no it’s brown. I am like, no my hair was brown. So it’s all you know sort of color spectrum is definitely skewed right?
Victor: Right.
Amber: When everyone has black hair.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Orange can look very brown to you I suppose.
Victor: I think it’s always people trying to get a individual sense of beauty.
Amber: Yeah I mean it’s true. If everyone has black hair, you kind of want something different. So orange might be the better choice.
Victor: Right and talking about colors, color coordination in Chinese way of dressing.
Amber: Yes, very interesting topic, very loud topic.
Victor: Very loud topic.
Amber: I would say.
Victor: If you see – you know, if you go to China or see Chinese tourists here, they will wear really colorful things and different kind of….
Amber: Patterns.
Victor: Patterns.
Amber: Like coordination is not an issue when you get dressed in the morning. I found a lot of friends didn’t even think about that.
Victor: Yeah. They just want as much color as possible.
Amber: Yeah like the more the better.
Victor: Yeah. I think it has a lot to do with recent history. You know when my parents were growing up in the 60s and 70s, that was during the Cultural revolution
Amber: Yes.
Victor: That people didn’t have a lot of choices and there is actually running joke in China right now about those days where the entire country would only wear four colors, black, gray, dark blue, dark green.
Amber: Wow!
Victor: The entire country was like that and if you wear colors, it’s seen as like toxic mindset.
Amber: Wow!
Victor: Because you are supposed to you know be simple – have a simple lifestyle…
Amber: Right.
Victor: You are not supposed to have personal enjoyments and pleasures. I remember my mom telling me when she first started working, she started working when she was 19 and that was back in the I think you know probably late 70s or in the 70s and my grandmother made her a chair cushion made of stitches of different colors and she brought it to work and it is just all these colors and there is one chair cushion and it created quite some controversy at her workplace.
Amber: Oh really?
Victor: Yeah. People were just not used to – you just didn’t like colors.
Amber: Wow!
Victor: Or not didn’t like but it was just not appropriate at that time.
Amber: So now it’s kind of like the backlash…
Victor: Right.
Amber: Against the dark gray.
Victor: Everyone has their options and they have the means to buy things or a starting to….
Amber: Well it kind of makes me happy for people and I think if I would have known that, I wouldn’t have mind all of the like fault of colors and patterns that would hit you in the morning as you walk down the street.
Victor: I think in a way, it speaks a lot about the progress the China has made if you look at the past 30 years or so just within one person’s lifetime they can go from that kind of mindset to today and it’s still changing and growing. So I guess in economic terms, now people are you know, have the money to buy colorful things and things like that. I think those kind of changes actually come faster than the finer details of life which brings us to our next topic. It is the dress for the occasion.
Amber: Because people now have money to kind of buy things of you know, dressy clothes, casual because before it was just all the Mao’s suit or whatever for every occasion.
Victor: Yeah but now I think situations have arisen where people are starting to have an idea of when to dress and what to dress.
Amber: For what occasion.
Victor: For what occasions right like a few years ago, I remember this so distinctively I was on the great wall in China and this woman was wearing high heels. If you have been to the great wall….
Amber: Yes.
Victor: 20 minutes, okay healthy young man, you just be out of breath totally.
Amber: It’s very steep, the rocks are very unstable in some places.
Victor: It was built on mountains.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: And this woman was wearing high heels and then a few years ago also, there is – if you go to you know Disneyland in America and places like that, you see Chinese tourists.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: They will be wearing button up shirts and the khakis and even suits because that’s what they consider kind of to be presentable and that’s pretty much probably all they had you know. It’s either that or they are kind of like you know tank tops when they go home.
Amber: Well that makes sense. You know, because when I was in Beijing and the first time I remember, everyone was riding their bicycles and they were all wearing black suits, the men and you know, you could tell they didn’t have a lot of money but I thought it looked very kind of atmospheric and classy.
Victor: Yeah. Another good example is, during the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, as you remember, Sarah Brightman along with the Chinese singer saying the theme song.
Amber: Oh god, do we dare sing it? 我和你 (wǒ hé nǐ)... It will be in our heads.
Victor: I think it was a really good song. I love this song.
Amber: But it sticks on your head.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Okay so they sang together. That was pretty lovely moment yes.
Victor: Yeah and the male singer is called 刘欢 (Liúhuān) and he is a very famous big singing star in China and if you noticed interestingly he wore a black T-Shirt at this event.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: And after the performance, there were some controversies in China online especially about his choice of clothing.
Amber: They felt it was what, too casual, too boring?
Victor: Way too casual for such a global event and this is his response which I loved. It was a very expensive T-Shirt.
Amber: Perfect.
Victor: He said he bought a whole stack of really expensive black T-Shirt and he chose the best out of that. So as you can see, he is performing at global events and there is just no idea of you know dressing for the occasion.
Amber: He should have said, this is like the Mao suit of you know the Olympics for 2008.
Victor: No and I mean, I think it shows a lot about you know yeah people can have money to buy new clothes and things like that but the idea of just finer things in life, the details are only starting to appear in the Chinese consciousness at this moment because people never had to worry about it before.
Amber: Okay so like a lot of stuff about women, but is there any pressure on men at all, we are talking about standards for women. What about men?
Victor: Yeah definitely. Also I think a lot of standards for men as well which is….
Amber: So what are they?
Victor: Tall, of course you know handsome works everywhere and the idea of what a man should look like is more conservative than in the west.
Amber: Ah well you know, I do have to say Victor, when I went to Beijing, I thought the men were kind of hot actually. They are tall, they have really good bone structure. Yeah, I was kind of like woo!
Victor: You should tell all your Chinese male friends.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: Yeah for men, the obsession with hide is sometimes as serious as the female obsession with skin and eyes.
Amber: Really!
Victor: I remember you know watching on discovery channel few years ago about a Chinese man who was below the average height and he was going through surgery to insert metal extensions in his shins to make him slightly taller.
Amber: Wow!
Victor: So yeah there is a pressure for men to be tall and there is – you know talking about dieting T and dieting pills, there are growing Ts and growing pills in China. Commercials all the time for people to grow you know few inches.
Amber: Victor, did you take those when you were a kid?
Victor: I fortunately did not have to.
Amber: You are very tall. How about what else for men like hair styles, is that an issue?
Victor: Yeah definitely, you know in the west, people just have long hair and it doesn’t really matter, whatever but in China, it’s less appropriate or acceptable. I mean you still have men with long hair but the traditional standard is, man should look like….
Amber: More uniform.
Victor: Right. You have short hair I mean not like shoulder length or anything like that.
Amber: Yeah I really see that and the other weird thing is, I kind of noticed that there is not as many bald Chinese men. It seems like male pattern baldness is not as big of a problem in China.
Victor: You don’t think so.
Amber: I see a lot less bald guys now.
Victor: Maybe I think it’s just because there are more people to compensate.
Amber: Yeah maybe, I don’t know, maybe. I don’t know really. I don’t really notice. Well, Victor you are pretty good looking so…
Victor: Oh thank you very much.
Amber: Everyone go check out his picture on the site.
Victor: You too Amber.
Amber: The standard of male beauty for Chinese men. I don’t think I make the cut. My lips maybe too big and well I do have the double eyelid. So I guess that might redeem me.
Victor: Yeah that’s good, that’s good.
Amber: Well everybody please come and share your comments at the site chineseclass101.com and if you have a subject you are interested in exploring further for chewing the fat.
Victor: Do let us know.
Amber: Please send us an email to the chinesebuffet@gmail.com so that’s it for the Chinese buffet today and if you want to learn more Chinese or about Chinese culture, make sure to come visit us at chineseclass101.com and lots of lessons there that can give you lot of insights about China and also teaches about Chinese. 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Victor: 再见 (zàijiàn).