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China: Fashion Industry Plays Major Role in Social Perception of Body and Beauty


Getting support for your eating disorder is essential to recovery. But when there are no resources available to you, it can make the process much more difficult.

The Culture of Thin

Although anorexia and bulimia are conditions that affect people across the globe, these disorders have not been pressing problems for Asian countries like China – until now. According to Zhang Darong, a psychologist from Peking University No 6 Hospital, it was not until the 1980s that the incidence rate of anorexia in China began to escalate.

For many years, the Chinese have not been particularly concerned with being slim. In fact, during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it was considered desirable to be slightly overweight. The standards of beauty have changed over time, in both Western and Eastern civilizations, and many times these changes can be attributed to a change in the spirit of the times.

As Feng Yuan, a sociologist on gender equality points out, “the definition of beauty is decided by politics, economy and those who are in power.” Yuan also points out that often times “people are not aware that they are being manipulated by these factors.”

Trying to Find Help

Fortunately, much has begun to change in China and many have begun to speak against China's fashion industry and to provide a safe place for sufferers of anorexia and bulimia to share their experiences. Web-surfer “Lachesis” set up an online group on, a well-known social site in China, after discovering that there were no anorexia support websites in her country. “Lachesis” launched her site in March of last year, dubbing it “Anorexia Nervosa is Lifestyle Choice,” and has begun to acquire a loyal following.

This site permits members to share their experiences on how to lose weight in a healthy manner, and people share tips on how to cope with family members who are not supportive of their condition. Another online group that has recently begun to rapidly grow is Trapped. This site is geared towards sufferers of both bulimia and anorexia and has amassed close to 2,400 members since last year.

China's Fashion Industry Speaks

However, there has also been a growing awareness among those working in the fashion industry, and many have begun to speak out about the distorted images of beauty that the industry has helped to manufacture. One modeling agent, who has preferred to only be known as Xu, admits that all of the models he meets are underweight and are often anorexic. Xu confesses that many of them weigh anywhere from 95 to 100 pounds, but are also often well above average height.

Zhao Xiaoxue, an editor with a prominent fashion magazine in China, admits that lifestyle magazines are a major influence in people's perception of beauty. Zhao's magazine, which usually presents its readers with images of very thin models, has begun to experiment with new images of beauty. On a recent cover the magazine featured a female model who was more “filled out” and also focused on showing readers how to look slimmer by making the right choices when it came to choosing clothes and accessories. This issue, Zhao states, received a lot of good feedback from readers.

Who's to Blame?

However, while Zhao claims that anorexia is bad and the fashion industry has had its part in pushing the thin trend, it would be unfair to place all of the blame on their shoulders.

“We don't have the power to decide how a woman should look,” Zhao said.

Although it seems that this trend will not be disappearing from the runways of either the West or the East, there is a growing awareness. And as more and more people begin to openly talk about this problem, more support options become available to those who are struggling with eating disorders.