Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chinese Women: Survey on Beauty and Fat

Many of us foreign teachers have noticed that our female students tend to tease each other about being fat.  In America it is super rude and impolite to call your friends fat, so I've been wondering what do Chinese women think about the word fat since they use it with their friends?  In China does the fat teasing hurt women's self-esteem and body image and if so in what ways?


Ultimately I am trying to answer the questions:  Is there a cultural difference surrounding the word fat between the west and China such that we are reacting to it and using it differently?  Or are we all regardless of culture subconsciously reacting to the word fat the same way?


I interviewed 33 female freshmen and sophomore English majors, ages ranging from 19-21.


Question 1:  Is it impolite or polite to jokingly call your close, good friends fat?  Why?


50 % said, "It is impolite."

50 % said, "It is polite."

·         Not many girls like being called fat.

·         People will feel embarrassed.

·         People should use the word strong, not fat.

·         It is a natural body and such bodies shouldn't be criticized.

·         It is unfriendly.

·         It will make people feel angry.

·         It causes people to have no confidence to live anymore.

·         When it is with your close friend, they know each other and have a good understanding.

·         Playing jokes with friends is okay and it is important to tell the truth to friends.

·         It creates a happy atmosphere.

·         It creates a friendly kind atmosphere that is honest with true things.

·         Friendly joking is okay.

·         With your friends, they won't be angry.


Question 2:  How do women feel when they are jokingly called fat by their friends?


Positive Feelings

Negative Feelings

They feel healthy and strong.  Suitable fat is good.  They feel that they have enough power to do what they want.  They feel healthy.  They don't care because it is between close friends. They feel that their friends care about them because they are urging them to change and lose weight.  They don't mind because everyone has their own styles.

They feel shy, disappointed, embarrassed, angry, very terrible, sad, and feel like they must lose weight to avoid jokes.


Question 3:  Do you want to go on a diet?




58 %

42 %


Question 4:  When you are alone in a room looking into a mirror, what is your personal opinion about yourself, do you think you are beautiful?  Why? (Ignore China's culture of being modest. Don't think nali nali.  Don't think about your friends' and family's opinions.)


52 % Felt they were beautiful

48 % Did not feel that they were beautiful

I am beautiful because I'm an outgoing girl who has many friends.  I have long hair and am confident.  I have a quiet personality and am shy.  I am unique and am comfortable with myself.

I am not beautiful because my brother says that I am ugly.  My parents say that I am fat.  I am too fat and short.  My eyes are too small.  My skin is too black.  I have bad behaviors.  I have no confidence.  I am too thin.  I don't have any special clothes, looks, or characteristics.  I am a common girl.


Question 5:  Other than being teased about being fat, what other things do friends joke about?

Friends joke about everything from clothes, hairstyles, body, teeth, height, eyes to whether or not I have a boyfriend, how many children I'll have, and what my future career will be.


Discussion and Conclusion:  After talking with 33 Chinese women about beauty and fat, I feel like women in the west and women in China are both struggling with their body images.  Very few of my female students said that they weren't beautiful because they were fat, yet a majority of them wanted to go on a diet.  In America, the diet culture is huge.  The word fat in both cultures have a negative connotation and is considered to be rude except amongst my students where half believe it is rude and the other half believe it is friendly if the word fat is jokingly used amongst their close friends.  In terms of beauty, my female students are concerned about their small eyes, short heights, and black skin.  American women are also concerned about their bodies but just with different parts.


In conclusion, the word fat is used differently in American and Chinese culture where in America we rarely use the word fat to joke with our friends; whereas, in China amongst best friends it is okay.  In both cultures, as women struggle with their own body images the word fat is most likely subconsciously affecting both American and Chinese women in similar ways.

1 comment:

M said...

YES. you are such a mad scientist :D
and bloody damn efficient in your surveys as well as organized in your conclusions. well done, Dr. Jen!
However... do you think if a Chinese person was asking all those questions, like a Chinese student, not a foreign teacher, would the answers be different? Not sure myself...