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This New Female-Focused TV Show Just Kicked Off a Social Media Storm Over Beauty Standards

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A heated discussion over female appearance, beauty standards and body anxiety has been making waves on Chinese social media following the first episode of a new program that’s being billed by streaming site Tencent as “China’s first female monologue-centered TV show.”

Hear Her (听见她说), headed up by famous actress Vicki Zhao, has helped spark viral debates online, sending #Bodyimageanxiety to the top of social media site Weibo’s trending topics with 540 million views in just over 24 hours.

The show’s first episode, “Magic Mirror,” begins with a young woman talking directly into the camera as if to a mirror, and in a play on Snow White asking, “Who is the ugliest person in the world, magic mirror?” She goes on to talk about how she grew up disliking her look and body. In order to meet current beauty standards of a high-bridged nose, pointed chin, and light skin tone, she says she spends more than two hours every day on her makeup.

The young woman is played by actress Qi Xi and the footage is dramatized — but the issues are very much real, as social media reaction to Hear Her has demonstrated.

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“Looks are valued because today’s society is less and less tolerant of women,” reads one particularly popular Weibo comment.

“God, I have such a strong body dissatisfaction,” writes another user on the site.

Comments on the video are full of viewers sharing how they burst into tears at various points throughout the 30-minute monologue. They’re not alone. In a behind-the-scenes video accompanying the episode, Zhao describes how she also broke down while watching certain scenes.

Qi tells the behind-the-scenes video that this is the heaviest makeup she has ever had in her acting career, saying “it feels like I’m wearing a mask.”

Discussing the moment in the episode where Qi takes her “mask” off, Zhao says, “It speaks to what every woman feels.”

“Magic Mirror” is the first of eight planned episodes for the show, which will feature famous actresses such as Bai Baihe and Yang Mi (the new face of Victoria’s Secret in the country) tackling various issues faced by women in China today, including the pressure to marry and have kids by a certain age and the challenges encountered in the workplace. Comparisons to The Vagina Monologues feel inevitable, though Eve Ensler’s play has had a difficult past in China.

Hear Her has certainly struck a chord with viewers and comes as Taiwanese supermarket chain RT-Mart is making headlines (and sparking fury online) over its alleged body-shaming of customers. The store reportedly used “slim,” “beautiful,” “rotten,” “extra rotten,” and “rotten to the core” as chart measurements for women’s clothing in one of its stores in China. They’ve since apologized, but the incident highlights a wider issue of pressure to adhere to certain beauty standards.

The Tencent show also debuted just weeks after rival network Bilibili’s hip hop talent show Rap for Youth was embroiled in controversy when lyrics calling out sexual harassment at work were seemingly cut from its finale.

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At one point during her monologue, Qi’s character sighs, “I’m tired,” capturing a sentiment felt by many right now. As she removes her heavy makeup, she talks of a visit to a plastic surgery clinic. “You are pretty, you don’t need surgery,” the doctor responds in her tale. “You’re just not confident. Trust me, confident girls are the prettiest.”

This is also the message Zhao tries to convey through this show. “What’s beauty? Who defines beauty?” she posted on Weibo in promotion of the first episode. Despite being a well-known actress in China since her 20s because of popular TV drama My Fair Princess, Zhao says she has also harbored dissatisfaction over her appearance.

“Now I appreciate my look at the time, and I know it’s not replicable,” Zhao says of her younger self’s emergence into the spotlight. “I hope everyone can build up their inner strength. Acknowledge your flaws — they are also attractive.”

Lu Zhao
Lu Zhao is a bilingual and multimedia journalist with a focus on human interest and social issues. Her work has appeared in USA Today, UPI, SupChina, Pandaily, Chicago Reporter, and other publications.