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Daily Drip

All-Female Panel Show Sparks Viral Beauty Standards Debate

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The Chinese mainstream’s narrow definition of beauty is back in the spotlight after a segment on TV show Listen to Me triggered widespread discussion online. In the latest episode of the all-female panel show, author Fu Shouer argued that promoting “white, thin and young” as the ideal image for all women was a form of emotional abuse.

”White, thin and young” has long been held up as the beauty standard for women in China, but has seen some pushback in recent years. In the show, Fu described it as a “laughable” standard while other panelists — including famous actors and performers — shared stories around some of the pressure they’d felt to conform to a certain image.

A hashtag on social media platform Weibo asking “Is white, thin and young a form of PUA?” was viewed 480 million times in 48 hours and attracted tens of thousands of comments since the episode aired on Sunday night. PUA, or “pick-up artist,” has become a common acronym in China denoting an array of misogynistic and abusive behaviors.

A poll launched by one of Weibo’s entertainment-focused handles posing this same question saw 84,000 of 110,000 respondents agree with Fu’s assertion.

“Of course it is [PUA],” reads one of the most upvoted comments under the hashtag. “Aging is a natural law. Those of us who love putting on make-up, that’s our right, but if you make this a requirement for every woman then if this isn’t PUA, what is?”

Another highly upvoted comment on Weibo agreed. “There’s nothing wrong with being ‘white, thin and young’ but if that’s the only acceptable type of beauty in society then it will push people toward an extreme version of it.”

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Despite this recent relevancy, Hunan TV’s attempt to ride the current tide of popularity and attention for female-centric programming with Listen to Me has largely failed to strike a chord however. Although China saw a wave of purportedly feminist programming last year, with beauty standards, ageism and pervasive misogyny all addressed to some degree, Listen to Me has left many viewers underwhelmed to put it mildly. The show’s score on user-driven reviews site Douban is a lowly 4 out of 10.

And while Listen to Me may have finally gotten people talking, the online discussion comes against a backdrop of intense harassment of feminist accounts that were pushing for meaningful change. Feminist posters on Weibo have been trolled and doxxed in recent weeks and rather than receiving support from the platform, many have seen their accounts suspended instead.

Cover photo: Fu Shouer on Listen to Me (Hunan TV)

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.