Archive for April 18th, 2008

As a tourist with no fixed agenda, I spend a fair amount of time observing the passersby, either by cycle, on foot or on the subway. One of the things which struck me as completely unexpected (in a good way) is how affectionate people are with each other. Women and girls stroll along arm in arm. Men as well, walk with an arm casually draped around each others shoulder. And couples of all ages hold hands, cuddle on the subway, hug each other just because. You don’t see much kissing on the street as you might along the Seine in romantic Paris. You know, those couples to whom you wish to shout “get a room people!” No, it’s not sexual that I can see: it looks just like genuine affection. And it’s really quite lovely.
On the other hand, there is something else I have observed which I find quite disturbing. And that is the tendency of many young women in China to dress and behave in the manner of prepubescent girls. Now, I have nothing against femininity in dress: high heels, make up and skirts are part of my attire when not travelling the byways. (Khakis’s, t-shirts and running shoes are more practical when you don’t know where or when your next date with a laundry machine will be!) I have seen a number of very attractive, fashionable women who would be perfectly “on trend” in Paris, New York or London.
But there is a definite tendency to this “girly girl” fashion: ribbons, bows, frills, tight clingy fabrics, short skirts and shorter shorts. Picture impossibly tiny bodies with only a hint of barely budding breast , barely tottering about on impossibly high heels, giggling behind their cell phones. It’s just a bit disconcerting. If we dress for how we wish the world to perceive us, or the reaction that we wish to invoke, then by my eye, these women are dressing to project themselves as sexually available children.
Much of the advertising targeted to women reinforces this ideal: few of the models for “beauty” creams look over 14. Now I know that Western models are often very young, and very thin – but they are deliberately made to look like impossibly beautiful women who are over 21. And if Western pop culture idolizes the womanly body proportions of a Jessica Alba for example, what part of Chinese culture sets these child-women up as the ideal?
I know that my reaction is grounded in my background as a Western woman – perhaps I could be accused of confusing a fashion statement with culture. But one does tend to reflect and reinforce the other – and I find it disconcerting.

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