Influential Factors of Perceptions of Beauty in Beijing

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An example of a fashion and hair advertisement in Beijing.

Beauty is topic of concern and a priority for Chinese men and women.  Advertisements of countless beauty products, treatments, and creams adorn buildings and stores promising customers the most desired looks.  This is highly prevalent in China’s capital, Beijing, since it has seen rapid growth and development as a result of China’s increasing popularity on the world’s radar.  As a result of this globalization, Beijing is not only a hub of economic growth, political affairs, and cross-cultural exchanges, but also a place where people go and look for ways to improve their physical traits and their fashion sense.  The hub of latest beauty products and techniques are found in Beijing’s endless supply of stores, spas, and shopping malls.  Chinese men and women are attracted to the various beauty products offered to them for a litany of reasons ranging from effects of globalization, foreign influences, and evolutionary perceptions of beauty.

Globalization has affected China in terms of economic growth and political affairs because it has opened up markets for Chinese people.  Open markets have brought in an influx of foreign products and foreign advertisements advocating different treatments and looks.  The Chinese clientele has responded positively to this influx of foreign good thus foreign beauty products have flourished.

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Dove Whitening Cream, one of many foreign beauty products in China advocating whiter skin.

Foreign products and foreign advertisements have influenced how Chinese men and women perceive to be attractive.  Differences in physical attributes and desired looks between foreigners and Asians have caused differences in the advertising.  The influx of foreign products and foreign advertisements has influenced what Chinese people perceive to be attractive because it has broadened their horizons.  They are exposed to different looks and fashions that they try to emulate.

Evolutionary perceptions of beauty are the origins behind how humans perceive beauty and attractiveness.  Evolutionary perceptions of beauty are still prevalent in men and women’s decision-making in choosing a mate.  No amount of evolution or globalization will change man’s innate instinct to choose a mate. Women today innately choose men who are physically stronger, economically stable, and social influential because it is a female’s instinct to choose a mate who is able to provide for a family.  Men choose women who they view to have high reproductive value such as a low waist-to-hip ratio because it is a man’s instinct to choose a mate with whom he can reproduce.  Men also tend to value indicators of good health in women such as long, healthy hair and height.

Click here for an interesting commercial from Dove about natural beauty.

Thesis/Reasoning

The central question of my research is where do the factors that influence Beijing men and women’s perceptions of beauty originate.  The origins of these factors can further describe what Beijing men and women consider important and hold in high regard.  Beauty is subjective and cannot be easily defined because there are ranging opinions and definitions on the matter.  Discovering the origins of perception of beauty in Beijing will offer further information on what factors matter most to Chinese men and women.

Beijing is home to a multitude of people with different backgrounds, opinions, and perceptions of the world that offer different opinions.  It has also received an exponential increase in worldwide attention.  Beauty is just one of many developing concepts in Beijing.  I choose to focus my research on Beijing because it represents China’s eclectic population and rapid globalization.  China’s capital holds the majority of information from within and outside the country.  It is a suitable location to do field research because it is a hub of culture, economically stability, and cross-cultural interactions.

I predicted that an influential factor of the perception of beauty in Beijing is foreign advertisements and products.  I hypothesized that Chinese men and women will prefer Caucasian features to Asian and thus purchase products that promote Caucasian traits.  I made this hypothesis after surveying several beauty stores, advertisements, and fashion magazines in Beijing.  I noticed a classic case of ‘wanting what you don’t have’.  There are countless products, vitamins, and treatments offered to change a person’s natural appearance to a desired look.  The most common product I saw was whitening skin products.  Creams, lotions, facemasks, spa treatments, and the like all promise whiter skin to potential customers.  The ubiquitous nature of these products tells me that whitening skin is a priority and a concern in Beijing. A part of my research hoped to discover other beauty priorities for Beijing men and women.

 

Procedure

Prior to choosing a field site and beginning my research, I had to decide what kind of area I would conduct my research in.  Beijing is an extremely large and complicated city; I had to selectively choose an area that incorporated a diverse population, relative economic stability and growth, and a high level of social interaction to ensure the data I collected appropriately represented Beijing.  After some researching the best beauty salons in Beijing, I choose to conduct my research in Wudaokou (五道口).  It is a popular area for college students attending Beijing University and Tsinghua University due to its close proximity to both schools.  It attracts a good amount of foreigners because there are restaurants catered specially to foreign tastes; for example there are college bars-type restaurants, Starbucks, and an array of foreign restaurants.  The prices in Wudaokou restaurants range from 50-100 RMB which I consider to be relatively more upscale for food prices.  Wudaokou is an appropriate area to conduct my research because young people tend to be more in touch with the latest styles and concern themselves with being up to date.  The business in Wudaokou proves that it is an area relatively more developed and sophisticated.  Both factors are pertinent to discovering the underlying factors that influence perception of beauty.

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Prior to my research I compared Vogue U.S. to Vogue China.

In my own culture, I usually look to successful fashion magazines for the latest insights on beauty.  Reputable fashion magazines represent popular culture and the most recent literature on beauty, fashion, and style.  Magazines such as Vogue are highly respected for upholding their standards and informing their subscribers with the most recent information. Upon my arrival to China, I perused the Vogue China website in search of articles that relayed information concerning the desired look in China.  Unlike Vogue magazine in the United States, Vogue China mostly just features pictures with captions.  There were headlines above pictures of a model or a celebrity in a highly fashionable outfit and a ‘see more’ link.  However, the link merely reveals a sentence or two describing the location the photo was taken in and the designer of the outfit.  After perusing Vogue China, I felt even more confident in choosing Wudaokou as a field site.  Magazines in China are more of a form of inspiration than actual information when it comes to style.  They offer pictures of potential looks a person can aim for but they don’t include products or helpful tips to achieve the looks.

I chose a field site that incorporates inspiration and actual information; I chose a hair salon.  After looking at fashion magazines in China, I discovered that after skin, the most important beauty concept is hair.  Men and woman are equally concerned about their hairstyles and color.  Since hair is so important, I chose a hair salon called Hair Rodeo as my field site.

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Hair Rodeo, my field site located in Wudaokou.

I figured the best way to introduce myself to this field site was to give them business.  I went in and asked for a wash and styling.  I quickly learned that 直发 (zhifa) means straight hair and 卷发(juanfa) means curly hair.  Since I naturally have wavy hair, I asked for a straight hair-do.  My first observation of the hair salon was the majority of the hairdressers were male.  In my field journal I wrote, “Several male hairdressers, all with various colors and styles in their hair; for example the guy who washed my hair had a 2-inch Mohawk in the middle of his head with red frosted tips.  His colleagues have similar stylish hairstyles”. This was my very first observation because I was surprised at how few women worked there.  I have been to a substantial amount of hair salons in various countries throughout my life and have always encountered a majority of female hairdressers.  My second observation was, “Customers are mostly male (surprising). Young: 20s, late 20s at most.  All Chinese as in no variation of Asian (like me who’s half Thai) just all Chinese”.  My second ovservation told me that this hair salon attracted mostly young, local males.  The young portion of this clientele did not surprise due to this salon’s proximity to two of the China’s most prestigious universities.

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Me and Endy, the 29-year-old hairdresser from North East China, after our interview.

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My first visit to Hair Rodeo consisted of me giving them business by straightening my hair and talking to this hairdresser who told me what services Hair Rodeo offers.

I conducted two interviews at Hair Rodeo.  The first one was during my first visit to the salon.  It was very informal; I did not plan on interviewing this hair dress however he ended up giving me helpful information.  Our interview consisted of mostly me asking about what hairstyles the salon offers.  He showed me a menu of services the salon does ranging from haircuts, hair dye, perms, and the like.  The prices were moderate; the most expensive service on the menu was a perm for 500 RMB.  My second interview was much more formal and thought out.  I returned to Hair Rodeo with 20 prepared questions and a translator. I interviewed a 29-year-old man named Endy.  Through my questioning, Endy informed me that most of Hair Rodeo’s customers are women around his age.  He said which hairstyles customers get done depend on the year and the season.  For example, this summer most customers ask for cuts.  Endy’s opinion of hair fashion in Beijing is it is very eclectic. He said, “It varies from district to district.  For example, in Wudaokou most of our customers are students so they don’t ask for fancy styles.  There are fancier parts of Beijing”.  I had not expected this response since Wudaokou is a slightly more upscale area.  It is true that most of the customers are students, however I was surprised that Endy said they don’t ask for fancy hairstyles.  I have seen people around Wudaokou with more very stylish hair to match their stylish fashion sense.  The most important information Endy gave me was his opinion of the stereotypical Western look.  His response was, “Western styles are attractive; fashion here is similar to Western styles.  I think girls with short hair are trying to emulate a Western look”.  The term ‘Western’ in China usually refers to Europe and North America.  Typically ‘westerners’ are Caucasians who undoubtedly stand out in China.

Visiting Hair Rodeo and interviewing two of the hairdressers broadened my perception of hairstyles in Beijing.  I had to take into account that Hair Rodeo was just one salon in one part of one of the most populated cities in the world.  I had broadened my scope as far as I could given my time and language constraints.  I would describe my fieldwork as surprising and informative.  I was surprised by a male majority of hairdressers in the hair salon.  I found this to be unique and indicative of certain aspects of gender roles.  Although in my experience hairdressers are typically women, in China it is socially acceptable for a man to be a hairdresser.  Endy’s statement on Western styles confirmed my hypothesis that Caucasian features are considered attractive in China. I discovered that understanding Western styles are significant if I am to understand beauty culture in Beijing.

 

Analysis

Perception of beauty in Beijing is a broad topic with varying definitions and opinions on the matter; therefore, I chose one portion of beauty culture to learn from. A hair salon is a model of the overall beauty culture.  It incorporates inspiration and information for all customers seeking a new look they consider desirable.  Although only one aspect of beauty, hair styling, is done in a hair salon, the hairdressers and the magazine present in the shop offer customers information and inspiration on desirable looks.  A hair salon functions as a model for Beijing’s portion of society interested in beauty.  Based on my observations throughout Beijing, I would argue it is a large portion of society that concerns themselves with beauty based on several products and advertisements on display. A hair salon also represents a comfortable environment people go to achieve what they considered to be a desirable look. Hair Rodeo made sure their customers were comfortable and satisfied with their services through the rituals they would do.  They start by holding all your bags for you, placing a silk purple bathrobe over you, then washing and styling your hair all the while asking for your approval before the next step.  The customer’s experience is very important to Hair Rodeo which I believe reveals a deeper understanding of beauty culture in Beijing.  Overall, you must be comfortable and satisfied with the look you choose. At the very least you should be happy with how you look.  Beauty is subject and can only go so deep to making a person happy.

The thought process behind customers choosing a look depends on what they consider attractive.  There is an obvious influence from foreign products and advertisements based on what Beijing men and women consider attractive.  Caucasian features are considered attractive because of globalization, foreign influences, and evolutionary perceptions of attractiveness.  Through my research, I discovered these three factors affect how Beijing men and women perceive beauty and thus affects what style they choose to emulate.

Bibliography

Louie, Kam. Modern Chinese Culture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 2010.

Jankowiak, William. Gray, Peter. Hattman, Kelly. Globalizing Evolution: Female Choice, Nationality, and Perception of Sexual Beauty in China. Sage Publications: Society for Cross-Cultural Research. April 24, 2008.

Ip, Hung-Yok. Fashioning Appearances: Feminine Beauty in Chinese Communist Revolutionary Culture. Sage Publications, Inc. July 3, 2003.

Fowler, Geoffrey A. Unilever Gives ‘Ugly Betty’ A Product-Plug Makeover in China. Wall Street Journal. December 29, 2008.

Czinkota, Michael. Communicating the Message Internationally – the Example of Dove. http://michaelczinkota.com/2011/07/dove-products-in-china/. July 14, 2011.