The History of Chinese Female Beauty Standards

By Michelle Geng
Published on May 8th, 2021

Double eyelids. Glass skin. Doe eyes. These are all common objectives East Asians often aim for when achieving their desired look. Common cases of plastic surgery or face lifts to reach these unrealistic beauty standards. But this wasn’t always the case. From the Chinese Han dynasty, to our modern celebrities, Asian beauty standards weren’t always slender bodies and straight-lined eyebrows.

Starting from the beginning, the Han dynasty had great influence on all parts of Asia. During the Han period, it was the root of the ‘white skin’ phenomenon. People perceived lighter skin was rich and well taken care of; darker skin meant that they worked on the fields, therefore poor. The pale skin is also linked with purity and cleanliness, an idyllic image of women. Before plastic surgery, Chinese people often used white face powder, or in extreme measures, they would drink pearl powder mixed with water. In the Han dynasty, there was the ‘small feet’ tradition. This is when women would bind their feet to prevent it from growing and preserving a ‘delicate’ look. However, this led to many women suffering from misshapen feet, and had difficulty walking. A truly gruesome practice of breaking each bone of the foot. But beauty is pain right?

Then, the Tang Dynasty came along. Often regarded as ‘the golden age’ of China, this was also where beauty standards completely reformed. The Tang dynasty was very fond of plumpness. To them, it meant that they were well-fed, and wealthy. A famous consort Yang Guifei, one of the 4 most beautiful women in ancient China, was known for her round, voluptuous body type. Along with their body shape, they also kept their eyebrows thick. In Chinese art from the Tang dynasty, the women were painted with slender eyes, round faces, and cherry-like mouths. Popular hairstyles included high top-knots and buns to accentuate the wideness of their face. They adorn their tall hair with delicate golden accessories, and are swathed in rich colors.

In modern Chinese culture, people value facial symmetry and big eyes. Western culture has strongly influenced Chinese beauty perceptions. Double eyelids were uncommon in China, but now they are seen as beautiful, and highly valued. Makeup to elevate our eyes is extremely sought-after, examples like double eyelid tapes, or colored lenses to accentuate the roundness of eyes. A tall nose, and thin face is desired, and these are also the most common plastic surgery procedures. Furthermore, the culture of slim waists is prevalent in our daily streams of trendy media. In Chinese social media networks, there is an increasing number of popular challenges to prove their ‘thinness’. An extremely viral challenge called the A4 sheet trend, where people compare their waist size to a piece of A4 paper.

From all these beauty standards, and the increase of social media usage, there is also a toxic culture of comparing yourself to others. This leads to more young impressionable teenagers' becoming obsessed with beauty trends, and a resulting lower self esteem. To everyone out there, you are beautiful!

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