A Chinese Beauty Story: How College Women in China Negotiate Beauty, Body Image, and Mass Media

by Meng Zhang


This study examines how young Chinese women negotiate beauty and body image in context with mass media, paying particular attention to the relationship between ongoing sociocultural change in contemporary Chinese society and the attitudes and behaviors among young women towards beauty. Qualitative in nature, this study explores the “beauty stories” of 13 college women in mainland China through in-depth interviews. Several distinctive themes were found: (1) These women believed the ideal beautiful Chinese woman should have a tall and thin body, big eyes, a watermelon seed-shaped face, fair skin, and qi zhi (inner beauty); (2) Body image issues were centralized in these women’s everyday experiences, and they were under significant cultural, societal, familial, and peer pressure to pursue physical beauty; (3) Cultural and media influences on their perceptions of beauty were complex and multi-layered; and (4) The women were hopeful of both potential positive social change and the liberation of Chinese women, and they were concerned about the superficiality and extreme beauty standards advocated in the media.

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