Girly Men, Toned Abs and Pure White Skin: Beauty Standards in the East & West

Girly Men, Toned Abs and Pure White Skin: Beauty Standards in the East & West

By Ruby Gee and Olivia Shao

Some of the best conversations occur at the most ungodly hours of the day. Indeed, our inspiration for our first feature piece in this four part series on cultural differences between Shanghainese and their Expat counterparts came from the above conversation. We decided to put our opinions to the test by sending out a simple poll question that would help us gauge whether Western and Eastern definitions of beauty really are that different. As some of our readers might recognize, below are the four pictures used in our survey.

Pictures used to represent features that are considered beautiful in Asian culture: pale skin, thin lips, large eyes, thin nose & body figure

Pictures used to represent features that are considered beautiful in Western culture: tan skin, full lips, buff/toned body figure, high cheek bones

These pictures, which caused quite a bit of controversy in our corresponding forum section, were chosen more for the cultural features they represented rather than any subjective measure of hotness or attractiveness. Indeed, it would be impossible to pick just one picture to accurately represent the most attractive man of the east, and vice versa. Ryan Gosling, who is pretty popular on the American side right now, for instance, was not chosen as a sample picture since he does not necessarily fit the stereotype of a handsome American celebrity. Ditto for stars that are currently all the rage in China, like model-turned-actor & part-time-rocker Bolin Chen (陳柏霖).

In any case, with the four pictures we set up a poll in our forum section, asking Expats which picture they thought was more attractive. Correspondingly, Olivia and I did a field survey of sorts where we solicited votes for each picture from Chinese participants ranging from the age of 18-45.

We were surprised to find that while Expats clearly have a preference for the two pictures associated with Western beauty standards, our Chinese respondents responded less predictably. The picture of American male star Channing Tatum was three times more popular than his Korean counterpart Kim Hyun Joong, even though respondents seemed to recognize the latter. The picture of American actress Megan Fox only beat the picture of the Japanese model by one vote.

While the results of this simple test should not be overstated in their significance, the results do bring up interesting questions. For example, on the Chinese side, the Korean male celebrity picture received a handful votes at least, while only 3 expat respondents chose him as more attractive than American actor Channing Tatum, calling the Korean male celebrity things like, “gay” and “a girl” etc. Such response on the expat side suggest that masculinity is a bit more rigid on the Western side, as guys who are feminine looking Asia are not immediately dismissed as homosexual. But I digress, that is entirely another rant, one that you can read all about in my blog.

Hop over to the next page to see Olivia's remarks on the survey results, which lend an interesting native perspective on the issue of beauty.