Shaved head and no makeup: these young Chinese women reject the “duty of beauty”

More and more young Chinese women are daring to challenge beauty standards, which they consider oppressive and unfair. An openly feminist gesture in a country which represses all forms of social protest.

In the spring of 2022, in the midst of Shanghai’s strict lockdown, while many of the 25 million residents were experiencing uncertainty and hunger, Erin, a young student at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, was in the midst of the stress of writing her undergraduate dissertation, was interested in the fate and rights of women during this isolation.

A few months later, she joined feminist groups on the Chinese social network Douban and radically changed her appearance. In the midst of a sweltering heatwave, she stopped wearing a bra and opted to get a haircut.

I told myself I would do it because I really hated that feeling of doing nothing of my own decision. I think it was time to do something that would make me feel comfortable. With my short hair I feel really goodsays Erin in a video interview.

But my parents don’t really have the idea that women can be themselves. My family members may make jokes saying: you look like a boy.

A quote from Erin, Chinese feminist activist

Her decision reflects a growing trend among young Chinese women, in a society where long hair and short clothing are often associated with femininity and beauty.

That’s what we call the duty of beauty.

The power of social networks

For three years, a discussion group on the social network Douban has attracted attention and now has more than 4,500 members. His name is : Women’s shaved hair is super cool.

While some challenge these social norms in order to advocate for gender equality, others also do it for practicality. Having short hair and not wearing makeup requires less time each day.

I felt less pressure after defying the “beauty duty”. After shaving my head, I increasingly felt that things like hairstyle could not define whether someone was a man or a woman. She’s still a woman, even with a shaved head. It’s just a hairstyleexplains in a video interview the one who calls herself Thing on the social network Xiaohongshu, the Chinese equivalent of Instagram.


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Thing, before and after joining the movement.

Photo: Xiahongshu/Thing

On social media I share these thoughts and encourage more girls to try this. We can now tell them that they can try things like having very short hair, not wearing makeup, wearing baggy clothes or not wearing skirts.

And, according to her, her efforts paid off.

Many girls have told me they stopped wearing makeup because of my encouragement. They realized that not wearing makeup was okay because we don’t get jobs or make friends based on how we look. Rather, it is based on our personal abilities.


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Thing, before and after joining the movement.

Photo: Xiahongshu/Thing

The 23-year-old turned to feminist websites and books last year after experiencing sexual harassment. She claims to have been followed by a stalker.

That was the turning point for me. I wanted to reduce certain aspects of my feminine charm.

A quote from Thing, Chinese feminist activist

Women constrained by official ideology

From her participation in the student uprising in China in 1989 that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre to her exile in the United States in 2015, Lu Pin has never stopped campaigning for women’s rights in the Middle Kingdom. .

She founded the first online feminist platform in China in 2009. The network then made it possible to organize and coordinate the holding of events in the country.

Lu Pin salutes the courage of these many Chinese women who dare to challenge the duty of beautyand therefore Chinese society and the Chinese state, while any form of protest is repressed.

This is significant and important, because it is increasingly difficult for feminists or women to defend their rights. The current situation in China is very uniqueshe believes.

Many people identify as feminists, but they are constrained by official ideology, which does not allow them to express it.

A quote from Lu Pin, Chinese feminist activist

Advocating to defy the “duty of beauty” is not about holding the state to account and does not demand that the government change. Instead, he calls on people to start by changing themselvesshe adds.

Lu Pin further believes that significant changes in society and mentality are necessary in China in order to transform the country and the regime.

I believe that the direct goal of the feminist movement is to resist the patriarchal system. However, you will find that the patriarchal system in China is protected by the state itself. Can the feminist movement in China change our country’s system or alter the party-state structure? I think it’s unlikely. However, what is very important about this movement is that it brings together those who do not recognize the current system. This is extremely important.

A model who wanted to display her feminism

Legend Zhu was the very face of Chinese beauty standards. Tall and slim with long hair. Just two years ago, she was a model while studying at university in Beijing.

>>Photo montage with a photo of a woman with long hair posing on the left and a selfie of a woman with a shaved head smiling on the right.>>

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“Practicing feminism definitely posed a lot of challenges for me,” says Legend Zhu.

Photo: Xiahongshu/Legend Zhu

She also shaved her hair and wanted to display her feminist beliefs after she was deemed too fat to continue being a model.

Practicing feminism has definitely posed many challenges for meexplains Legend Zhu. : “You really look like a boy now. Why did you get a man’s haircut?””,”text”:”For example, after I shaved my head, people started to call me asking if something had happened to me or if I was going through something difficult. They said, “You really look like a boy now. Why did you get a man’s haircut?”For example, after I shaved my head, people started asking me if something had happened to me or if I was going through something difficult. They said, “You really look like a boy now. Why did you get a man’s haircut?”

Today, in British Columbia, where she studies, among other things, the impact of climate change on women, she wants to push her fight for social justice for women further.

I hope that in the future, Chinese women can at least achieve equal pay. For example, it’s not fair to not hire someone just because she’s a woman who might get married or have children.

A quote from Legend Zhu, Chinese feminist activist

I hope to continue to advance the cause of feminism in China. Of course, I also hope that my own career can have a global impact and be influential around the worldsupports Legend Zhu in a video interview.

>>Photo montage with on the left a photo of a woman with long hair parading and on the right a selfie of a woman with a shaved head.>>

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Legend Zhu was the very face of Chinese beauty standards before displaying his feminist beliefs.

Photo: Xiahongshu/Legend Zhu

The one who presents herself as Thing on social networks also hopes that the Chinese feminist movement will succeed in gaining momentum.

I think feminism is becoming a trend in China, but it is still a minority movement. The current situation is that those who defy the “duty of beauty” still remain a minoritysays Thing.

Erin believes it is imperative that other young women present themselves as defying Chinese social norms on social media in a country where the power of influencers is enormous, especially among young people.

We need more voices especially for teenage girls, before they go to college and find out that beauty isn’t that important. Because at the young stage of adolescence, they still think that beauty brings good social relationships.

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