I initially chose to do field research on foreign adoption in China. Unfortunately, due to time restraints and inconveniences I opted to change my research topic to something else I find incredibly interesting here in Beijing. Upon my arrival in China, I noticed that local Chinese people often compliment my friends with fair complexions on their blonde hair and pale skin. I initially thought they thought such physical characteristics were beautiful because it is different from what they’re accustomed to. After traveling around Beijing a bit, I came to realize that the perception of beauty in Beijing cannot be so easily defined. There is a story behind what Chinese people define as beauty.
Every country has an idiosyncratic opinion of beauty and what factors contribute to making a person physically beautiful. From fashion magazines to popular hairstyles on the street, beauty is displayed through various forms and outlets. Contributing factors include cultural history, influence of media, and access to other countries’s opinion of beauty. I must disclaim that of course beauty is subjective and, as the saying goes, lies in the eye of the beholder. I chose to do field research on the perception of beauty in Beijing because I find it interesting that what constitutes as ‘beautiful’ differs from country to country. Beijing is a hub of history, culture, international interactions, and influence. I am interested to see the differences and similarities between Beijing’s perception of beauty and my own culture.
In Beijing, what constitutes as beautiful can be seen in advertisements all over the city. From what I have gathered by looking at giant billboard signs and perusing fashion magazines such as Vogue China, the following physical characteristics are considered to be beautiful: pale skin, wavy to curly hair, and highlighted hair (usually light brown, dark blonde or red). The two most recognizable indicators of beauty seem to be hair and skin. For my research, I decided on a field site that was in a slightly well to do area with people from various backgrounds to give a holistic approach to my research. The best beauty salons (LSW Magazine: Salons in Beijing) in Beijing are located in Sun litun area which is known for being luxurious and expensive. I chose to do research in a more day-to-day field site. I chose a hair/beauty salon in Wudaokou called Hair Rodeo. Wudaokou is a lively area located a couple bus stops away from China’s two most prestigious universities Peking University and Tsinghua University.
Hair Rodeo mainly offers hair services such as styling, cutting, dyeing, and perming. They also offer waxing and facial services. I visited Hair Rodeo at 3:00 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. The first thing I noticed was the large number of men working there. I had assumed the hairdressers would mostly female based on my prior experience with beauty salons in other countries. I was surprised to see around 10 male hairdressers and only 4 female hairdressers.
One aspect of Hair Rodeo that I took special interest in was the concept of ‘gentleness’. Every interaction between the hairdressers and the customers traces back to gentleness. The moment I walked in the salon
I was greeted by smiling hairdressers who offered to carry my backpack to a locked compartment and ‘gently’ handed me the key. Another person ‘gently’ put a silky purple bathrobe over my clothes and asked me what I wanted to get done today. All of these interactions happened between me and male hairdressers who spoke very softly and carefully so I wouldn’t miss a word of what they were saying. I briefly wondered that a store that obviously advertises for women based on the multiple posters of female models purposely hired male hairdressers. If there weren’t so many male hairdressers, I would not have assumed a correlation between the advertising and the gender of the hairdressers.
I believe that the reason behind the gentle nature of the hairdressers has to do with customer satisfaction. From the moment I walked in to the moment I left, I did not once feel rushed. My hairdresser would ask me every so often if I was comfortable with what he had done so far with my hair. I will admit I felt very pampered and I liked the way I was treated. My hairdresser washed and styled my hair very gently and it put me in a relaxed mood. The concept of being ‘gentle’ is very important in a hair salon because it creates a warm rapport between the customer and the hairdresser.
The next time I visit Hair Rodeo, I will be not be a customer because I plan to focus on the style choices of other customers. I want to figure out where customers get their ideas for their look and relate it back to perception of beauty.