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04-08-2012
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Beach Essentials in China : Flip-Flops, a Towel and a Ski Mask
Beach Essentials in China: Flip-Flops, a Towel and a Ski Mask

By DAN LEVIN

QINGDAO, China — It was enough to make a trio of heavily tattooed young men stop their playful splashing and to prompt a small boy to run to his mother in alarm: a woman rising out of the choppy waves of the sea, her head wrapped in a neon-orange ski mask.
As she made her way toward the shore, more people stared. A man floating in a yellow inner tube nudged his female companion, who muttered the question many others must have been asking themselves: “Why is she wearing that?”
“I’m afraid of getting dark,” said the mask-wearer, Yao Wenhua, 58, upon emerging from the seaweed-choked waters of this seaside city in China’s eastern Shandong Province. Eager to show why she sacrificed fashion for function, Ms. Yao, a retired bus driver, peeled the nylon over her forehead to reveal a pale, unwrinkled face.
“A woman should always have fair skin,” she said proudly. “Otherwise people will think you’re a peasant.”
For legions of middle-class Chinese women — and for those who aspire to their ranks — solar protection is practically a fetish, complete with its own gear. This booming industry caters to a culture that prizes a pallid complexion as a traditional sign of feminine beauty unscathed by the indignities of manual labor. There is even an idiom, which women young and old know by heart: “Fair skin conceals a thousand flaws.”
With the pursuit of that age-old aesthetic ideal at odds with the fast-growing interest in beachgoing and other outdoor activities, Chinese women have come up with a variety of ways to reconcile the two. Face masks like Ms. Yao’s have taken this popular beach town by storm. In cities, the summertime parasol is a more familiar accouterment, many adorned with rhinestones, lace or sequins (and sometimes all three). Those who need both hands free are fond of the tinted face shield, the perfect accessory for riding a bike — or welding. The fashion-conscious favor a chiffon scarf draped over the face.
What about arms exposed to the sun’s tanning rays? A search on China’s equivalent of Amazon yielded 20,000 results for “sun protection gloves.” These varied from form-fitting leopard-print sleeves that end at the wrist to arm-length gloves made of black lace.
Meanwhile, drugstore shelves across China bulge with rows of creams and cosmetic masks with names like White Swan and Snow White, promising a natural-looking aristocratic hue.
On a recent afternoon at Qingdao No. 1 Beach, the sand and surf were thronged. Beside the rows of orange beach umbrellas, people had erected dozens of camping tents, ignoring the amplified announcements that prohibited their use. Others made shelters out of multiple umbrellas or just piled on layers of fabric.
South Beach this was not. Some middle-age men chain-smoked in the shallows, their ample bellies bulging over diminutive Speedos. Under the watchful eyes of their parents, naked children built sand castles and relieved themselves in the moats. Older people were enjoying the sand, too, some using it to playfully bury their friends.
Few adults were entirely comfortable swimming in the ocean, judging by the ubiquity of inflatable armbands, inner tubes and rafts. Floating among them, looking like a flock of colorful waterfowl, were a number of women in masks. Some had even donned wet suits for total sun protection.
The masks, a relatively new product made of stretchy fabric commonly used in bathing suits, elicited a range of reactions from beachgoers.
“That is way over the top,” said Sun Li, 43, a gynecologist from Henan Province, when asked about the face masks. But Ms. Sun herself sat under an umbrella wearing a sun hat, sunglasses, a polka-dot surgical mask, a long-sleeve shirt and lace gloves. A shirt was draped over her legs for good measure.
Nearby, Li Benye lay on newspaper, shaded by twin parasols. Despite her commitment to paleness, she found the masks mystifying.
“They’re foreigners, right?” she asked. “Russians, most likely.”
While fair skin is prized across Asia, the women were, in fact, Chinese. The masks not only made them impervious to ultraviolet rays but also self-consciousness.
“Does it look like I care what people think?” bellowed Su Ailing, 57, clad in a red mask, blue goggles and a wetsuit. “The tourists dress skimpy, but we locals know how to protect our skin.”
The masks are a specialty of Qingdao, a German colony before World War I that is home to the Tsingtao Brewery. A few weeks ago, photographs of local women wearing such attire spread widely on the Internet, setting off mockery online but also a run on nearby shops.
“I just had to have one,” said Liu Jia, 32, the whites of her eyes gleaming through the holes of a pink mask, which matched the polka-dot sarong tied around her shoulders. Finding the item, she said, had proved arduous, with many store owners refusing to admit they had masks in stock. “I had to beg and plead,” she said.
The sudden scarcity, it turns out, may not have been a simple case of demand outrunning supply. After the photographs caught the attention of the nation, the local government ordered businesses to stop selling them, according to several shop owners, who said they were told the ban was due to concerns over “quality control.”
One seller, who declined to be identified for fear of angering the authorities, kept her supply of masks hidden under the counter. Only after repeated requests and vows of secrecy did she agree to part with one for 20 renminbi, about $3. “I don’t understand why the government is doing this,” she said, glancing nervously at the front door. “People just don’t want to get tan.”
Reached by phone, the Qingdao Administration for Industry and Commerce denied playing the role of fashion police. “Anybody who wants one is free to buy it in Qingdao,” said a man who gave his name as Director He.
So what explains the skittishness of so many proprietors? “The only reason why people think they shouldn’t be selling masks,” he replied, “is probably because they’re afraid thugs might use them for robbing banks.”(nytimes.com)






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04-08-2012
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ha i saw this in the Times this morning. it's like women going to the store with curlers...

what special public are you waiting to look GOOD for if this is what you show the rest of the world?

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04-08-2012
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what's the fun of going to the beach if you can't return with a healthy tan to show for it?

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04-08-2012
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As a pale redhead I totally understand wanting to keep your skin fair but I think in the case of these women they aren't just worried about burning and turning all blotchy but are rather influenced by cultural norms. And historically many Chinese women (and some other ethnicities too) have been raised with a mindset that if they tan they will look poor or look like a "peasant." Which, by the way I have to note, that the word peasant really irks me, it just seems like such an offensive/outdated term. But really it's cultural more then anything else. Of course it's important to keep your skin healthy but personally I feel like these women are taking it the extreme. People go to such extreme lengths to protect or alter their skin, like using products to lighten it, it's probably one of the more disturbing trends in the world of beauty. Plus also, when I saw these pictures I honestly thought that they looked like burn victims, it's a bit frightening really.

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07-08-2012
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They're scary! So in China you have to look good in town but it doesn't matter if you look like a weird creature at the beach.

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07-08-2012
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That's kind of scary.

The people featured here, judging by the bodies, seem of a certain age (aka. old) so I wouldn't entirely believe this is predominant there, old people are more skin-color inclined in my experience. It seems to me however, and just going by the few comments I've read by Europe-based members here, that there is also a bit of propaganda in the west in believing white skin is more sought after in Asia than it probably really is. I don't know, it just seems convenient.. by constantly promoting such belief in the media there will be less outrage on seeing their own brands promoting racism abroad. I definitely don't question the consequences of brutal imperialism and how they subjected other countries and established parameters of how people should look, which live on to this day even if imperialism left or just became aggressive capitalism, but I guess I remain skeptical on who's to blame and whether someone has the right to judge a culture on something that a) they indirectly endorse and b) they seem to enjoy just as much.

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07-08-2012
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The ski masks are so creepy, I would be scared if I saw them in person (on a beach no less) but other than that to each his own.

Aren't they sweaty underneath though? Wouldn't the masks cause breakouts? I imagine wearing them in the summer would be different than wearing them in cold temperatures.

And here if you don't sport a tan everyone feels sorry for you because they assume you didn't go on a holiday
Sometimes cultures are just ****ed up

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07-08-2012
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i find the issue much more complicated than "simply trying to be white". i actually think to protect their skin from sun damage which causes wrinkles is a more prominent reason, but i might be wrong.

i think this is just at the other spectrum of extremes. i find over-tanning (especially the salon tanning) in the west equally disturbing. the whole western fetish for sun-bathing and tanning, sometimes it can go just as far. i saw so many women who are obsessed with sun bathing and tanning with very leathery skin, they are certainly doing damage to their own skin without any sense of moderation.

on the other hand, yes, chinese can go so far when it comes to covering their skin. it's a norm to walk with a sun-protection umbrella outdoors in the summer, and there are hardly anyone sunbathing. everyone likes to stay in the shade. i do find it very narrow-minded that there's severe lack of appreciation for diversity when it comes to "beauty". just look at south korea, all of their actresses look the same thanks to elaborate face reconstruction surgeries.

i think deep down this has a lot to do with the collective-minded-ness. individual style is hardly appreciated especially in china. for lots of people, those women on the pics included, they just simply don't have a clue how they really want to look, and what looks good. because seriously, those masks simply look repulsive and i don't believe anyone with any sense of style of real sense of aesthetics will ever walk out like that.

i think a lack of appreciation for "beauty" in a both broader and personal sense has a lot to do with such cultural phenomena.

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Last edited by greengrassia; 07-08-2012 at 04:51 PM.
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07-08-2012
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those pictures will give me nightmares

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07-08-2012
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And here if you don't sport a tan everyone feels sorry for you because they assume you didn't go on a holiday
Sometimes cultures are just ****ed up[/QUOTE]

this, exactly, i think this is going a bit too far. i never get a tan (don't know why, i only wear sunglasses when out) but i do always go on holiday in the summer

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07-08-2012
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you know people from some big cities in China, they are still proud to be wearing pajamas with sandals on the street in the daytime to show how casual they are.

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Originally Posted by MulletProof View Post
I've read by Europe-based members here, that there is also a bit of propaganda in the west in believing white skin is more sought after in Asia than it probably really is.
darling that is true, we are still praising the whole whitening your skin is the most important thing in the life of beauty. you can find these skincare products always sell better than the others.

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08-08-2012
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i wonder what these beachgoers will do when they discover that indoor fluorescent lights can lead to pigmentation and freckles etc. those lightbulbs emit UV light.

maybe they'll commit to wearing them 24/7.

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08-08-2012
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these photos crack me up

only in China, guys, only in China

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18-08-2012
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i am surprised that the chinese government hasnt yet cracked down on it. it is illegal in NYC to walk around with two or more people with any mask on and has been since before the civil war.

















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18-08-2012
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^But I don't think the Chinese government is so concerned about it because things like terrorism aren't as feared as is in the US. But those do look really scary. I think the fair skin thing is an older mindset (like long hair, which is only very common in a few places like Shanghai these days). It's become more of a personal preference than a strict cultural code. It's like how some people in the west will spray tan themselves completely orange. An aspect of culture does call for it in a way, but it's not an obsession everyone has.

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