The Naked Truth: Chinese Attitudes to Hair and Body

The Naked Truth: Chinese Attitudes to Hair and Body
Jan 17, 2012 By Andrea Scarlatelli ,

If you want to spark a heated debate, simply ask a group of international people their thoughts on body hair. Chances are you'll get a range of opinions that run the gauntlet – from "Removal is a must" to "It's natural." This will most likely devolve into philosophising about that ever elusive "international standard of beauty" that no one ever seems to be able to define.

In America

Body hair (and its subsequent removal from many women's bodies) has long proven a contentious issue. In America, shaving one's body hair used to be seen as "conforming" to men's idea of beauty, and was thus discarded during the hippie movement of the 1960's by women who no longer wished to be slaves to an unrealistic beauty standard. This practice of letting one's armpit and hair leg grow was quickly tossed, however, and by the early 1980's women were once again shaving or waxing wherever and whenever possible. To this day, there are still some random outliers who claim that removing body hair is the equivalent to bowing down to the male gender, but a vast majority of women have come to realise that they're doing it just as much for themselves as for any potential romantic partner. In fact, the growing popularity of "manscaping," or men waxing and grooming various hairy body parts, can be seen as a pendulum swing in the opposite direction – hair removal has officially gone gender neutral.

In Europe

European countries have long had a reputation for ladies going au naturel, but the younger generations have slowly but surely cracked down on this practice. While it's certainly still more common to see women with tufts in Germany or Italy than in America, this may not be true for very much longer. Many women have discovered that they're simply more comfortable going hairless, as it makes a surprisingly big difference in keeping cool in the summer. It also can't be denied that Hollywood and the fashion industry as a whole also promote the ideal beauty being smooth, soft and utterly devoid of any excess body hair.

Which brings us to…

And so we come to China, where many expats are surprised to discover that Chinese women, even those of the younger generation, simply don't shave or wax any of their body hair. While this is obviously a personal choice that varies from woman to woman, there are some common threads that keep popping up. Some Chinese women have been told by their doctors not to shave or wax, as it's "unhealthy." Considering doctors in this country also tend to recommend spoonfuls of snake bile to cure a cough and placentas to get rid of impotence, this reason should be taken with a boulder sized grain of salt. Many believe that the Chinese have yet to accept the Western standards of beauty that are immortalised in movies, television and catwalks. Since the country was so recently opened to the rest of the world, and on a severely limited and tightly controlled basis at that, there perhaps hasn't been enough time for these images to seep into the national conscience. Shaving and waxing are slowly becoming more popular here, as evidenced by the growing number of waxing salons in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing. Only time will tell if it will make much of a difference.

The significance of the human body

Another reason Chinese may be reluctant to remove hair is because they consider it bad luck. In fact, this idea of luck (or the lack thereof) may play a large part in their refusal to alter any portion of their body. As you've no doubt figured out by now, Chinese culture is hugely superstitious. Superstition can sometimes play a part in everyday life and this extends to the ordinary physical body. Chances are you've seen many people in China walking around with large moles on their faces, a significant portion of which have long hairs growing out of them. While people in the West would most likely get the mole removed by a doctor (or at least pluck out the hair growing from it), some Chinese actually consider the moles – and, subsequently, the hair on it – good luck. Essentially, a portion of the population believes the more moles (especially on the face) and the more hair growing mean more good luck.

This may also account for the older generations' reluctance towards tattoos. Tattoos have become almost blasé in America and Europe, a fad that hit its peak in the 1990's but still persists quite commonly to this day. In China, tattoos still tend to represent a rebellious fringe movement (and a major hindrance to "serious" employment), but China's younger generations have begun embracing tattoos as a sign of individuality. Previously, however, the belief that the natural body should stay as is (combined with the government's severe crackdown on tattoo parlours) during the 1970's resulted in a noticeable dearth of tattoos.

Just as you will experience different food, sights and weather in different countries, so too will you encounter a wide range of grooming regimes as you traipse across the globe. It is yet one more way individuals can express themselves, one that is constantly shifting and changing every day.

Related links
No Gain without Pain: Plastic Surgery in China
Attitudes Toward Beauty, East and West: A Chinese Blogger's Perspective
Hide or Show? Fashion Gaps in China

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Keywords: body hair China Chinese attitudes to hair hair and body China hair removal China


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God help your students.

Jan 22, 2012 05:15 Report Abuse


To the author of this article:I would like to give a piece of advice.write something very educational that your reader could learn.are you hygienic?or shall we say you ran out of articles to publish...educational articles will not be a destruction to any readers.

Jan 19, 2012 07:11 Report Abuse


This is lifestyle for west,that is they feel outside neatness will project a man or women to be a cultured one.This is surely not a life style followed by eastern world,now in the name of modernization,we have started imitating western people.It is medically proved that having hairs in your body will be useful in maintaining body temperature and can accumulate bio energy .

Jan 18, 2012 19:24 Report Abuse


I think different people have different sense of beauty. I am Chinese .and I have few foreign friends.they all think i am pretty.but on the majority of Chinese standard of beauty,i am just on the it's a little bit confusing for me sometimes.but i prefer to stay natrual.and i like this kind of discusions.

Jan 18, 2012 03:40 Report Abuse


Haha, that's hilarious, I have to throw in my 5 cents. I don't mean to insult anybody, but some of the girls that the white guys are dating are some plain ugly, some are hot, but the majority are not good looking. I guess both sides are visually blind as far as aesthetic goes.

Jan 21, 2012 18:04 Report Abuse


Why do you have to use the word laowai? Are you Chinese? Expat or foreign person, is more correct to use if you are not native in a particular country that you are writing about. If I write something I try to let the reader know who I am.

Jan 18, 2012 01:43 Report Abuse


Why am I a bit strange?
If you write about a Chinese person in China, then you say "Chinese" yes? If you are a Chinese writer you say Foreigner or Expat yes, if you are a foreign writer (in China) why do you have to refer to expats as "Laowai"?
A foreigner using it, is just trying to be some sort of smart alex!!
I suppose an American in America, would write something like "A Sepo ran in front of a car after drinking some JD, and yelling wildly". What do you think?

Jan 19, 2012 07:41 Report Abuse