Instagram user eunkachu poses for a picture in one of Chongqing distinctive graffiti alleyways in November (COURTESY PHOTO)
In November, a friend and I made our first-ever visit to Chongqing, a city that arguably has the best cuisine in China and unique scenery once praised by Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Li Bai.
In modern times, the city receives accolades from many famous bloggers on Xiaohongshu, an app similar to Instagram, but it was the social media stylings of Chongqing's fashionistas that most caught our attention while we were there. Seeing these young women posing for photos on the street was a turning point for me, as an Asian feminist woman, to dig and explore the changing trend of shifting beauty standards.
Throughout history, Eurocentric beauty standards have exerted immense influence, particularly during epochs of European colonial hegemony. These standards have consistently exalted attributes including fair skin, narrow noses with high bridges, light-colored eyes and prominent cheekbones.
The development of "problem-solution" marketing strategies that exploit women's insecurities in promoting products such as cosmetics has intensified this cultural and ideological impact on women, especially on Asian women. Abuse of skin-whitening products and those to create a double-eyelid effect is nothing compared to facial surgeries many Asian women choose to undergo because of this propaganda.
Due to the growing movement to challenge Eurocentric standards and promote diversity and the celebration of a wide range of features, we now see more representation of Asian beauty standards in the media and fashion industries, as well as the rise of new trends in Asian styles, such as "Douyin makeup." This term, invented in the West, describes a diverse range of makeup styles originating from China, especially on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. The styles are known for their dramatic yet natural looks typically including manga lashes, shimmery eyeshadows and a blurred lip.
These new styles explore women's sexuality and embrace confidence by incorporating bold looks, both in makeup and fashion. While waiting for the subway on our first night in the city, we had the chance to stop to observe the local people. As we did so, we saw a literal goddess in fur Birkenstocks, with rosy pink blush on her cheeks, individual brown lashes on her upper lids, a subtle nose contour and dewy rose lip gloss. It was our first time seeing Douyin makeup looking so natural and so good in real life.
Current Western makeup trends, which enhance European facial features with heavy contouring of cheekbones and jawlines, are not designed for Asian faces. But this ethereal fairy, and others we saw like her in Chongqing, looked just as eye-catching as women who follow these Western trends, but with ultramodern looks that celebrate Asian faces.
In addition to walking Chongqing's hilly center and enjoying its delicious cuisine, we spent the rest of our days in the city observing pretty and bold Chongqing beauties, who were walking and serving up unique fashion killer looks as though on a New York Fashion Week runway.
Finally, after eating the barbecue of our lives while surrounded by all this makeup inspiration, we made the decision to try replicating Douyin makeup ourselves. At a nearby mall, we bought all the cosmetics we needed to achieve the looks we were seeing around us. Imagine a bunch of pretty girls convincing you to spend money on something you don't really need without even saying a word.
I, an Asian woman from a post-Soviet country, and my Austrian friend who grew up with a European upbringing, have both lived in China for years without ever exploring Chinese style or purchasing Chinese cosmetics. Yet one trip to Chongqing was enough to captivate and inspire our own deep-dive into Douyin makeup.
Given that the existence of these styles increases women's empowerment and helps women escape the damage of racial capitalism and unhealthy marketing strategies, I can't help but wonder what it could have been like if we, as kids, had seen these more diverse examples of women expressing themselves.
The author is a Kazakhstani student at East China Normal University in Shanghai
Copyedited by G.P. Wilson
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