MARTA COLOMBO explores the dark side of China’s digital beauty industry
BODY- POSITIVITY CAMPAIGNS are becoming increasingly popular on social media worldwide, thanks to the support of numerous brands and influencers. In China, however, idealised beauty still dominates the narrative and continues to set unrealistic standards for women and girls around the country. To a great extent, the trend is driven by the ultra-popular wanghong (digital influencers), whose success is related to the fact that they are considered “conventionally beautiful”.
For anyone fairly familiar with Chinese social media, it’s not difficult to picture the beauty canons impersonated by many wanghong: spotless pale skin, soft pink lips, big “rabbit eyes” and perfectly symmetrical facial traits. Many of them, however, have undergone plastic surgery to get their perfect “wanghong face” and exclusively take pictures with just the right filters. There is, in fact, a specific formula for taking a good selfie in China. Among other things, it includes using an app that filters your skin to improve it and make it “digital-ready”. With a few clicks, these selfie-editing apps have functions to touch up almost any “flaw” you can think of.
In China, the wanghong are particularly successful and influential because they ride the tide of what’s happening in society at large. While the young and affluent have many more financial possibilities than previous generations, their desire to look attractive has increased exponentially. Contemporary Chinese women in particular, fuelled by the aesthetic promoted by brands and consumerism, are even more obsessed with centuries-old beauty standards than their predecessors. In ancient China, for example, a woman’s white skin was a symbol of wealth and status.
With millions of followers, HoneyCC is one of the most popular wanghong in China. Like all the other influencers, she gets gifts and requests for product-placement posts and videos. But unlike most of her counterparts, her page doesn’t focus on fashion, travel or wellness. She mostly shares short self-taken videos of her dancing, lip-syncing, eating and doing mundane activities. Last year, HoneyCC, born Lin Chuchu, told The
New Yorker that she never takes or posts