1 BEAUT Y PAGEANT S IN NEOLIBERAL CHINA: A FEMINIST MEDIA STUDY OF FEMININE BEAUTY AND CHINESE CULTURE By MENG ZHANG A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE R EQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2013
2 2013 Meng Zhang
3 To my P arents
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to give my deepest gratitude to my advisor and committee cha ir Dr. Cory Armstrong who has shown me the dedication, spirit, and substance of a true intellect ual and mentor. Without her persistent guidance, encouragement, and help in the past th ree and half years, this dissertation would not have been possible. I place on record my sincere gratitude to my wonderful committee members, Dr. Lisa Duke, Dr. Robyn Goodman, and Dr. Florence Babb; I am extremely grateful and indebted to every one of them for their expert ise and valuable advice In addition, special thanks are given to Dr. C.K. Shih who gave me tremendous assistance and guidance during the dissertation process. I want to thank Dr. Michelle Wolf of San Francisco State University, who introduced me to academic research and inspired my pursuit toward a doctor al degree as well as my research interest in women and beauty. I would like to thank the staffers at the graduate division, especially Jody, Kim, and Sarah, for their wonderful service and great support. I want to thank my dear friends and fellow PhD st udents at UF who have made my life here in Gainesville so much more meaningful and memorable. I must express my endless appreciation to my parents Dahong Zhang and Shuhua Li Their unconditional love, patience, and support ha ve never failed to reach the bo ttom of my heart and I owe every achievement I have made to them Also, to my beloved boyfriend Scott Gilton I could not have done this without his encouragement and love. Lastly, I want to thank all the young women who participated in this study, whose e xperiences and insights provided flesh and meaning to this project.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 LIST OF TABLES ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 8 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 9 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 11 Background of Beauty Pageants in Neoliberal China ................................ ............. 11 Feminine Beauty and Mass Media ................................ ................................ .......... 15 Globalization and Transnational Feminism ................................ ............................. 17 The Present Study ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 19 2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ................................ ................................ ............ 22 Beauty Pageantry as a Feminist Project ................................ ................................ 22 The Miss America Beauty Pageant ................................ ................................ .. 23 Beauty Queens on the Global Stage ................................ ................................ 25 Beauty Pageants and China ................................ ................................ ............. 27 merging Consumer Culture ................................ ................................ ..... 31 The Consumption of Beauty ................................ ................................ ............. 32 ................................ ................................ ........ 34 The Pursuit of Beauty ................................ ................................ ............................. 36 Cultural Beauty Standards ................................ ................................ ................ 39 Cosmetic Surgery ................................ ................................ ............................. 41 Mass Media and Globalization ................................ ................................ ................ 44 Media Representations and Stereotypes ................................ .......................... 45 Nationalism and Be auty ................................ ................................ .................... 47 Globalization ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 49 Theoretical Framework ................................ ................................ ........................... 51 Feminist Film Criticism ................................ ................................ ..................... 51 Social Comparison Theory ................................ ................................ ............... 55 Transnational Feminism ................................ ................................ ................... 58 Contributions of Present Study ................................ ................................ ............... 61 Research Questions ................................ ................................ ............................... 63 3 METHODOLOGY ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 64 Qualitative Research ................................ ................................ ............................... 64 Qualification s and Bias of the Researcher ................................ .............................. 66 Textual Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 67 Research Method ology ................................ ................................ ..................... 67
6 Selection of Media Text ................................ ................................ .................... 68 Data Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 70 Focus Groups ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 72 Research Method ology ................................ ................................ ..................... 72 Selection of Participants ................................ ................................ ................... 74 Recruitment of Participants ................................ ................................ .............. 75 Snowball Sampling ................................ ................................ ........................... 77 Group Size and Number ................................ ................................ ................... 79 Focus Groups Guide ................................ ................................ ........................ 80 Conducting the Focus Groups ................................ ................................ .......... 81 Data Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 82 Interviews ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 83 Research Method ology ................................ ................................ ..................... 83 Research Site ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 85 Recruitment of the Interviewees ................................ ................................ ....... 85 About the Participants ................................ ................................ ...................... 87 Interview G uide ................................ ................................ ................................ 87 Conducting the Interviews ................................ ................................ ................ 88 Data Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 89 Relationsh ips b etween the Three Methodologies ................................ ................... 90 4 FINDINGS ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 92 Textual Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 92 Representations of Gender Stereotypes ................................ .......................... 93 A feminine competition ................................ ................................ ............... 94 Pageant hosts and gender roles ................................ ................................ 97 Objects for the male gaze ................................ ................................ .......... 99 Beauty as an achievement ................................ ................................ ....... 103 Cultural Ideals of Femin ine Beauty ................................ ................................ 106 Physical beauty of the pageant contestants ................................ ............. 106 Beauty on the Inside ................................ ................................ ................ 114 Nationalism, Consumerism, and Globalization ................................ ............... 116 Beauty with Chinese characteristics ........................... 116 Special thanks to the pageant sponsors ................................ .................. 118 The global element ................................ ................................ .................. 121 Focus Groups ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 123 Beauty Pageants in the Eyes of Urban Young Chinese Women .................... 124 Attitude toward the beauty pageant shows ................................ .............. 125 P erception of the beauty pageant contestants ................................ ......... 129 The influence of beauty pageants on young women in China .................. 135 Definitions of Femi nine Beauty in Neoliberal China ................................ ........ 138 The physical beauty standards ................................ ................................ 138 A pro Western ideology of physical beauty ................................ .............. 140 Qizhi and personal definition of beauty ................................ .................... 143 Beauty Pageants and Contemporary Chinese Society ................................ ... 145 Pageant conspiracy ................................ ................................ ................. 145
7 Socioeconomic disparity and marry for money ................................ ........ 148 ................................ ........................ 152 Mass Media and Beauty Perceptions ................................ ............................. 157 Media influences on perceptions of feminine beauty ............................... 160 Media influences on perceptions of beauty pageants .............................. 163 In depth Interviews ................................ ................................ ............................... 165 Becoming a Beauty Pageant Contestant ................................ ........................ 167 Supportive parents ................................ ................................ ................... 167 Fine arts background ................................ ................................ ............... 170 Past experiences and motivations ................................ ........................... 172 Participating in Miss World China ................................ ................................ ... 176 Attitude towards the competition ................................ .............................. 176 Model vs. non model contestants ................................ ............................ 179 Performing femininity in evening gowns and swimsuits ........................... 183 Evaluation process and sponsors ................................ ............................ 187 Perceptions of Self and Feminine Beauty after Pageants .............................. 192 Increased se lf confidence ................................ ................................ ........ 192 Approaching the ideal femininity ................................ .............................. 194 5 DISCUSSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 199 Implications of Findings ................................ ................................ ........................ 200 Gender Discourses in Chinese Beauty Pageants ................................ ........... 200 The Chinese Beauty Ideal s ................................ ................................ ............ 204 Beauty Pageants and the Neoliberal Chinese Society ................................ ... 210 Current Status of Feminism in China ................................ .............................. 215 Limitations of the Study ................................ ................................ ......................... 219 Areas for Future Research ................................ ................................ .................... 220 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 223 APPE NDICES A TEXTUAL ANALYSIS CODEBOOK ................................ ................................ ..... 226 B FOCUS GROUP GUIDE ................................ ................................ ....................... 227 C MEDIA USAGE SURVEY ................................ ................................ ..................... 229 D INTERVIEW GUIDE ................................ ................................ .............................. 232 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................. 234 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 250
8 LIST OF TABLES Table page 3 1 Demographics of f ocus g roups ................................ ................................ ........... 75 4 1 Information about in terview participants (pseudonyms) ................................ .... 166
9 Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosoph y BEAUT Y PAGEANT S IN NEOLIBERAL CHINA: A FEMINIST MEDIA STUDY OF FEMININE BEAUTY AND CHINESE CULTURE By Meng Zhang August 2013 Chair: Cory L. Armstrong Major: Mass Communication The purpose of the study is to examine contemporary Chinese ideologies and ideals of feminine beauty through the beauty pageant phenomenon, and investigate the relationships between feminine beauty and gender discourses, class dynamics, national identity, global consumerism It is guided by mass communication theories and gro unded in feminist perspectives. This dissertation combined three qualitative research methods. T extual analysis of M i ss Chinese Cosmos 2011 and Miss World China 2011 examined media presentations of beauty pageant s for dominant messages and meanings about g ender, beauty, consumerism, and globalization F ocus groups with thirty eight Chinese college women provided insights into how urban young Chinese women negotiate the beauty pageant phenomenon in China I n depth interviews with eight c ontestants in a regio nal M i ss World China pageant allow ed for a close look at the lived experiences of those who played a central part in the phenomenon The findings of the investigation revealed that certain stereotypical gender beliefs were perpetuated in the Chinese beauty pageants. Pageant contestants were portrayed as submissive and unambitious and their bodies were sexualized and objectified for the
10 male gaze. Physical appearance was deemed the only redemption and final achievement for women. Tallness and thinness were the idealized in the Chinese beauty pageants although a delicate and soft thin body ideal was preferred in China compared to the fit and toned thin body ideal in the West. A pro Western beauty ideology was prevalent among young Chinese women, in which they believed certain attractive female facial features (e.g., big eyes, high nose bridge, and small chin) were essentially Western T h e commercial nature of beauty pageant s was bluntly represented in the pageant shows and highly internalized among the yo ung Chinese women, suggesting a largely justified beauty economy in neoliberal China. Pageant conspiracy was popular in China due to the broadening socioeconomic gap and emerging consumerism, and the dream to become a celebrity and cons equentially marry up was believed to have motivated young women in participating in pageants.
11 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Background of Beauty Pageants in Neoliberal China 1 In December 2003, then 19 year old Rosanna Davison won the Miss World title for the first time for Ireland. She was not crowned in London where the pageant is headquartered and regularly held, but in Sanya, the southernmost city in China and often referred to as Chinese Hawaii. Over the next decade the Miss World pageant was hosted in China an additional five times, making the country a new hot spot for international beauty pageants. In 2007, Chinese model Zhang Zilin was crown ed Miss World and became the first Chinese woman in the history of the country to win at a major international pageant (Eimer, 2007) I n 201 2, another Chinese model Yu Wenxia earned the title of Miss World (AFP, 2012). In the past two decades, China has witnessed a burst of enthusiasm for beauty pageants At the turn of 1980s and 1990s, fashion model contests started to surface in Chi na. In 2003, the Communist party officially lifted the ban on beauty pageant s by hosting one of the biggest international beauty contests the Miss World pageant (Godfrey, 2004). Following the trend set by the central government, cities and local governmen ts also zealously participated in hosting and sponsoring regional beauty pageants, hoping to attract national and international tourists and investors (Hon, 2003). The average Chinese resident especially those who grew up believing beauty contest s to be a symbol o f bourgeois is now accustomed to the sight of young women walking on stage in bikinis. 1 In this study neoliberal China refers to the post Mao Chinese society which has been undergoing a major economic reform and liberalization. The Communist party calls the current Chinese political and socio
12 efforts in advertising the nation and its cities to a w orld audience. When the Miss World pageant came to Sanya for the first time in 2003, the city and local business es not only covered the cost of the entire event, but additionally invested more than $ 30 million in building new exhibition halls and improving roads to handle the influx of business associated with the pageant (Watts, 2003). In 2007, the Miss World contes tants were asked to help promote the 2008 Beijing Olympic s by singing the official an them of the Olympic torch relay (Eimer, 2007). However, s is in the spread of global capitalism and a consumer revolution within the country (Chao & Myers, 1998). In the past three decades, China has transformed from an unprosperous third world c ountry recovering from the aftermath of a catastrophic planned socialist economy was replaced by a market driven economy and the political climate was greatly relaxed. 225). The increasing acceptance of commercialism and consumer culture in the Chinese society was also linked to and the introduction of foreign media and advertising (Hopkins, 2007), as well as the that supported this agenda ( Lee, He, Lee, Lin & Yao, 2009). beauty pageant s (Xu & Feiner, 2007). Women in China, particularly the urban residents,
13 gained significant social power throughout the Mao era 2 as gender equality was enforced in communism for the purpose of production (Latham, 2007). During the post Mao economic reform, some Chinese women achieved further financial independence and consum er power. According to Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, cosmetics retail value in China reached 71 billion yuan (estimated 10 billion US dollars) in 2009 with China b ecoming one of the largest and fastest growing cosmetics markets in the world (Li & Fung Research Center, 2011). A new Chinese gender regime where women oriented lifestyle was formed (Hopkins, 2007, p. 302). In the 1980s, the number of broadcast stations and print publications in China increased remarkably and many started experiment ing with a commercial business model by subsidizing production with advertising revenue (Latham, 2007). Since then, mass media in China have undergone major changes in content and format. In order to attract audiences and stand out from the competition, media outlets in China all endeavored to provide more entertainment and non political content, replacing the less popular Party news and communist propaganda (Latham, 2007). In addition, as China further open s its door to the world, foreign media and popular cu lture ha ve found ways Chinese media, where female models and beauty women appear regularly in print ads and commercials. In spite of the economic and political gai n beauty contests have brought to China, there have been social concerns about the burgeoning cultural emphasis on physical 2 The Mao era is referred to the history of China from 1949, the year People of Republic of China was founded, to 1976, the year Mao died.
14 beauty. In the Internet era young generations of Chinese are increasingly exposed to cultural messages and images from the West, whi le the desire to achieve something similar to the American Dream is escalating in the Chinese society. To the angst of some Chinese academics and policy makers, more and more Chinese college women and school girls now value good looks more than academic ac which could then serve as the springboard to a career in the entertainment or fashion The young Chinese b balin hou (post 80 s ) jiulin hou s ), grew up in an entirely different social and cultural environment than their parents. Today, the majority of urban teenagers and young adults in China were born under the one child family policy, and they most likely never experienced war, famine, poverty, or the Cultural Revolution. Whil st are rebuked by the older generations and the Chinese society at large for being spoiled and self cent ered, they are under unprecedented familial and social pressure to do well and succeed in life (Fong, 2004). Although market reform has brought the nation as a whole economic prosperity, the distribution of wealth in China is far from equal; in fact, the disparity between the haves and the have nots is widening (Li, 2011). A recently cultivated materialism in the Chinese society has also permeated the realm of dating and marriage News about female celebrities marrying wealthy business men is increasing co mmon, further promoting the idea that for women being physically attractive and glamorous is the ultimate shortcut to a comfortable life (He, 2010). The desire for wealth and attempts to
15 achieve it through marriage are not new phenomen a in China h owever, the level of acceptance and endorsement of such mentality and behaviors in the contemporary Chin ese society is alarmingly high and merit serious attention. Feminine Beauty and Mass Media Abundant scientific evidence shows that physical attractiveness pla ys an important role in an including romantic relationships (see Patzer, 1985). Furthermore, in societies where a patriarchal system still dominates, women are more likely than men to be held accountable for and judg ed by their physical appearance and conformity to the cultural ideal of beauty (Wolf, 1991). A woman with high physical attractiveness is therefore valued differently, usually favorably, by society and by men. As the Chinese society becomes increasingly ma terialistic, many Chinese women now believe that physical beauty is a shortcut to finding a wealthy husband and having an upper middle class lifestyle. appearance among Chinese women continues to reach new high s and some of the most common surgical procedures include double eyelid operation s nose lengthening s jaw reshaping s and breast enlargement s (Watts, 2004). South Korea has gained the status of the Mecca of cosmetic surgery in recent years (Huer, 2009), and many affluent Chinese women these days prefer flying to Seoul to get their face cosmetically enhanced by highly trained Korean cosmetic surgeons (Laurence, 2011). A beauty en Miss Artificial Beauty was even 22 year old student, who gladly attributed her victory to the excellence of her plastic surgeon (Agrell, 2004).
16 Even though most young Chinese women are still hesitant about undergoing cosmetic surgery due to health risk s and the potential for social stigmatization, they remain highly sensitive and vulnerable to the pressure of being physical attractive, with incidents of dieting an d eating disorders being common among Chinese female college students (Zhang, 2012). A propensity for body image dissatisfaction was also found in young girls in China with adolescents across the country reporting weight concerns, dieting behaviors, body weight dissatisfaction, and eating disorders (Huon, Walton, Lim & Zheng, 1999; Lee, Leung, Lee, Hong, & Leung, 1996; Lee & Lee, 2000 ; Jackson & Chen 2010 ; Tam, Ng, Man, & Young, 2007) The development of mass media, particularly electronic visual media, has fundamentally changed how beauty is depicted and perceived In modern media, boundaries between fantasy and reality are blurred, and idealized images of beauty are presented as realistic and achievable (Freedman, 1986). Because of the high accessibilit y, popularity, and pervasiveness, mass media are one of the most powerful communicators of beauty ideals and likely to have a stronger influence on the viewer s body image than any visual art form of the past (Mazur, 1986). Social comparison theory has be en frequently used in body image research to explain the mechanism through which mass media encourage women s beauty related concerns and behaviors (Festinger, 1954; Suls Martin, & Wheeler, 2 002) According to social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954), p eople have a tendency to compare themselves to others to fulfill certain psychological needs. In the realm of body image, media often provide the standard of beauty for social comparisons B ecause most media images are idealized, such mediated comparisons may lead to discrepancies
17 between per ceived and desired body image, h ence body image dissatisfaction Beauty and body image are central ideas in beauty pageants and young women who are exposed to beauty pageants, both through the media and through persona l experience, may develop body image concerns by engaging in social comparisons with the pageant contestants Specifically employing this theoretical construct to study the i mpact of beauty pageants on individual young Chinese women c ould increase our kno wledge of how perceptions of beauty are manifested. As a socializing agent, mass media have also been criticized for the stereotypical representations of gender, particularly the portrayals of women as sex objects. Since the second wave feminist movement i n the 1970s, British and American feminist film critics have developed their own theoretical approaches to study media text (Erens, 1990). According to Mulvey (1975/1989), cinema creates the visual pleasure that is essentially male, and women are represent ed as the signifier for the masculine other and the object for the male gaze. When Chinese beauty pageant shows are studied as media text, Mulvey s cinepsychoanalysis provides a useful framework to analyze the extent to which Chinese pageant contestants are sexually objectified as a form of patriarchal oppression Furthermore cultural feminist film theorists argue that media representation of women has been an important site for gender discourses, and the Chinese beauty pageants will be examined for the negotiated meanings of gender and femininity within the struggles of power (Gledhill, 1978). Globalization and Transnational Feminism S econd wave feminists in the U.S. protested against beauty pageants like Miss America, arguing that beauty contests rein force a dominant patriarchal system and hegemonic femininity by objectifying, controlling ies
18 (Banet Weiser, 1999). Globally, as international pageants like Miss Universe and Miss World extended beauty contests beyond the Euro pean American context, issues o f globalization, capitalism, and cultural imperialism further complicated the feminist discourse on beauty pageant s ( Parameswaran, 2004). The 1996 Miss World pageant in India led to intense public debates over moral decay an d preservation of national traditions as well as massive local protests against globalization and Western cultural imperialism (Oza, 2001; Parameswaran, 2004). Nigeria was the intended host of Miss World 2002, yet major religious and political riots occurr ed opposing the pageant, leading to the death s and injuries of hundreds of Nigerians and the evacuation of the contestants back to London (Henry, 2003). Many of the feminist critiques of international beauty pageants were center ed on the exploitation of t he Third World countries by promoting consumerist values, selling cultural products, and reinforcing westernized ideals of physical beauty and femininity (Cohen et al., 1995). For example, Miss Angola was crowned t he 2011 Miss Universe in Brazi l and she wa s only the second black woman from the African continent and the fourth in the world to win this title (Ethnolust .com 2011). The fact that the majority of previous title holders of major international beauty pageants were white indicate d that the Anglo Sa xon beauty standard still dominates the pageant world. China has recently become a popular destination for Miss World and severa l other global beauty pageants Unlike other developing countries China has experienced minimum public opposition to beauty pa geantry Such a low level of resistance could be the result of government control over media and the intransigent silencing of public dissent by the Communist Party (Watts, 2003). Another probable
19 explanation is that Chinese people have had little exposure or knowledge of the feminist movements that have happened around the world in the past century and are therefore less likely to organize and develop a feminist agenda against beauty contests. As China becomes a key player in the global economy internat ional events like Miss World are considered important platforms for China to increase its global presence and influence while further engag ing Chinese people in a global consumer culture. From a transnational feminist perspective, the importation of beauty pageants in neoliberal China could lead to the similar problems that happened in other Third World countries, i.e., the global capitalist machine working in tandem with t he patriarchal social system in exploiting feminine beauty while creating insecurity among women ( Mohanty, 2003). At the same time, transnational feminism also offers a theoretical lens to look at the possibi lity of resistance and evidence of agency among young Chinese women as they encounter the beauty pageant phenomenon in the context of globalization and consumerism. The Present Study Once d eemed as trivial and uncultured by the academi a, the subject of beauty pageant ry has received limited attention in scholarly work and feminist writings. Moreover, there are fewer in depth investiga tions on the cultural practice and implication s of beauty pageant s in contemporary China. This dissertation recognizes beauty pageant ry as a feminist project and endeavors to break the bias against studying beauty pageants. Beauty pageants provide a rare o pportunity and serve as a platform for media and feminist scholars to examine social and cultural construct ions of gender and femininity, as well as representations of race, class, nation and power. With its inherent focus on concepts of beauty and the fem ale body, beauty pageant ry is also a
20 sensible subject in beauty scholarship to examine the performance of idealized femininity and practice of agency and feminine subjectivity Th is dissertation examines the phenomenon of beauty pageant s in neoliberal Chin a. It pays particular attention to the role of mass media, capitalist consumerism and globalization in constructing the gender identity and beauty ideology for young Chinese women Given the limitation of existing research and the intuitive nature of the topic, an exploratory and inductive approach seems appropriate for this dissertation. Using qualitative research methods, this study does not set to test any hypothesis I nstead, its goal is to explore new ways of understanding and conceptualizing beauty p ageantry in the Chinese context. Operationally, this study sets out to examine the beauty pageant phenomenon in neoliberal China and answer the research questions from three distinctive angles. First, the study examines the media text of Chinese beauty pa geants for dominant cultural message s about gender, beauty, consumerism, and globalization In particular, two recent broadcasts of Chinese beauty pageants shows are selected for semiotic textual analysis. Second, the study investigates the cultural signif icance of Chinese beauty pageant s through the perspectives and experiences of urban young women in China. Th e generation of Chinese women who grew up in the post Mao economic reform ha s received little attention from global feminist scholarship especially in the realm of beauty. T h us, focus groups with Chinese female college students are conducted to examine how they negotiate the beauty pageant phenomenon in China and the factors that influence their viewpoints.
21 Third, t he experiences of the women who par ticipate in beauty pageants are of particular value to this study. Through individual interviews with the pageant contestants of a Chinese beauty contest, this study explores the breadth and depth of the first hand experiences of these women with beauty pa geants in China. Their insights are then used to comple ment and contrast the views of the college women who tend to form their perspectives based on information they consume from the media. The findings of the study contribute to theory building in the fi elds of mass communication and feminist studies, as well as feminist discourses about gender, beauty, consumerism, and globalization. This study also makes a valuable addition to the existing beauty pageant literature by including neoliberal China and the liv ed experiences of urban young Chinese women as a new context Finally, by m aking mainland China the main site of investigation, this study further s understanding of Chinese culture and society and explore s the current status and future possibilities of feminis m in Chi na
22 CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE In this chapter, the researcher will draw on the relevant work of others to provide context for the subject of this dissertation: beauty pageantry in neoliberal China. The relevant literature taps into several areas of study including feminist scholarship on beauty pageants, sociological work on contemporary Chinese culture and society, research on female pursuit of beauty and body image, as well as discussions on nationalism, globalization and mass medi a. What emerged from the literature review provided a starting point for this study and framed the nature of the methodological approach as well as interpretation of the findings. Beauty Pageantry as a Feminist Project As mentioned in the introduction, th e concept of the traditional beauty pageant has not yet received serious scholarly attention, likely because of the stereotypical belief that beauty contests are trivial and philistine. When the subject is addressed in feminist writings, the arguments tend to be one commoditization, power and control as simply reinforcing narrow cultural expectations 5). Modern beauty pageantry origina ted largely as a Western concept, and studies of beauty contests in the developed world have focused on the social construction of gender and femininity, along with its interlocking relationship with race and class (Banet Weiser, 1999). With the rise of tr ansnational feminism, beauty pageants in countries from the global South have become valuable sites for feminist investigation of sexism, racism, neocolonialism and globalization in the non western context (Cohen et al., 1995).
23 The Miss America Beauty Pag eant In the early 20th century, as women gained increasing acceptance and independence in American society, middle class women emerged as primary consumers of fashion, cosmetics and other goods in the novel commercial culture (Banner, 1983). The Miss Ameri ca pageant first appeared as a promotion for Atlantic p. 260 261). In the earlier ye ars of the pageant, serious efforts were made by the producers to distinguish Miss America from other commercial pageants, such as offering scholarship only awards to winners and runner its contestants, and maintaining the non profit status of the organization (Banet Weiser, 1999, p. 41). Regardless, the Miss America pageant has been a source of constant controversy and resistance since its inception. A crucial component of the Miss Amer ica pageant is the swimsuit competition, during which the contestants walk on stage in swimsuits and high heels and their nearly bare physical appearance is judged and scored. Religious groups attacked the swimsuit competition as vulgar and degrading, whil e feminist critics condemned it for creating anxiety about female bodies and constructing femininity for display (Banet Weiser, 1999). One of the most famous protests against Miss America was the 1968 anti pageant demonstration staged by radical second wav e feminists on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. While the protest unfortunately left a false image of feminists as bra burners, it nevertheless made
24 Race is another center of debate in the Miss America pageant. Miss America had a long history of excluding non white women from participating in the contest, and it was not until 1970 that the first African American woman made it to Atlantic City as a contestant (Deford, 1971). In the fall of 1983, f or the first time in the Miss America pageant history, two black women, Vanessa Williams and Suzette Charles, won the title of Miss America and first runner up (Watson & Martin, 2000). Over the next seventeen years, an additional seven women of color were crowned Miss America and media attention gradually turned away from the issue of race and skin color of pageant winners (Watson, 2009). The Miss America pageant was first televised in 1954 and was watched by millions of people in their homes (Defor d, 19 7 1 ). The competition enjoyed its heyday in the 1960s, and was moved from broadcasting networks to cable channels in 2006 (Itzkoff, 2010). The relationship between the Miss America pageant and feminist activism has been documented by dominant American media, and the popular press continues to shape the public discourse about feminism through its coverage of beauty pageants. According to Dow (2003), the media initially tended to trivialize the conflicts between Miss America and feminism and framed them into cat fights between one group of women (the pageant contestants) and another (radical feminists). By the end of 1990s, mainstream media had started to promote pageant participants as warrior one that emphasized individualism, self (Dow, 2003, p. 145).
25 Beauty Queens on the Global Stage In 1951, when Miss America winner Yolande Betbeze refused to wear a bathing suit in public, the co mpany Catalina Swimwear withdrew its sponsorship of Miss America and founded the rival pageants Miss USA and Miss Universe. Earlier in the same year, British businessman Eric Morley created the Miss World pageant, which later became one of the largest and longest running international pageants. Beauty pageants and competitions sprouted all over the world in the second half of the 20th century and spurred interest from all conceivable social segments, both local and global (Cohen et al., 1995). Most contempo rary beauty competitions are influenced by the European American tradition of pageantry, and demonstrate remarkable similarity as conventionally, idealized version of femininity on stage in a Despite the universal elements of beauty contests, each pageant contest is grounded in its own unique historical context, cultural significance and local specialties. For example, during the Soviet Russia er a, physical beauty and femininity was excluded from the communist ideology of gender, and public opinions on beauty contests were prevailingly negative (Moskalenko, 1995). The first Miss Moscow pageant was held at a time when the country was undergoing rad ical social change and capitalism was infiltrating from outside and within. The contest was a mixture of relational politics, capitalist business practice, and social frustration of the contestants. Even though afterwards Russian girls were sent to interna tional beauty contests and brought home multiple crowns, the idea of beauty pageantry never really took off in Russia because it to show (Moskalenko, 1995, p.73).
26 Fol lowing the spread of capitalism and globalization, beauty pageants have increasingly traveled to the global South. In particular, some developing nations in Asia have become new popular destinations for major international beauty contests like Miss Univers e or Miss World 1 However, the symbolic association of beauty contests with western culture and global consumerism had created regional conflicts. In India, supporters of global beauty pageants, including the state and media, considered the event as a gold en opportunity to showcase the liberalization of the nation and the 2005, p. 426). Feminist groups, progressive elements, and Hindu right wing politicians, on the other hand opposed the beauty contests and argued that such commoditized and cultural border of India (Oza, 2001). In Thailand, appreciation and evaluation of beauty is deeply entr enched in the part of the Thai culture. Nonetheless, feminist activists in Thailand have objected to international beauty contests on two grounds: first, beauty pageants e bodies and femininity for tourism and capital gain; second, beauty pageants patronize a Western (white) standard of beauty and create homogeneous criteria in judging physical appearance for women (Van Esterik, 1995). In a recent study of the spectacle of beauty pageants in Nepal, the researchers discovered conflicting and complex thoughts on the subject from the Nepali women: they believed beauty pageants could empower Nepali women and present Nepal in a positive light to the world, but at th e same time they 1 Ph ilippines (Miss Universe, 197 4, 1994), Thailand (Miss Universe, 1994 2005), India (Miss World 1996), Vietnam (Miss Universe, 2008), China (Miss World, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 2010 2012 )
27 were concerned about the objectification and commoditization of female contestants and the indirect promotion of body image dissatisfaction (Crawford, Gregory, Gurung, Kihati, Jha, &Regmi, 2008). Beauty Pageants and China China has had a u nique history in the 20th century and did not participate in the global beauty pageant scene until the last decade. As a result, the conception and practice of beauty pageantry in contemporary China is essentially distinctive when compared to pageants in o ther historical, geographic, and cultural locations. Under 2 feminine beauty was stringently rejected and attacked as a form of capitalist and bourgeois decadence in political and public d iscourse (Honig & Hershatter, 1988; Johansson, 1998). It was was beauty revived as a popular subject in public life in addition to the reformed economy (Brownell, 1998; Xu & Feiner, 2007). Early forms of be auty pageants appeared during the Song Dynasty in China between the 10th and 12th centuries, when then held for women who were predominantly prostitutes (Pan, 2003). The female contestants were judged by famous schol ars and poets of the time based on not only their physical look but also their abilities in playing instruments, chess, writing, and painting. Similar beauty competitions continued throughout the following feudal dynasties until the early 20th century (Pan 2003). 2 Republic of China, when the country was cont rolled by the extreme left force and anti intellectual conservatism headed by Mao Zedong and his wife Jiang Qing.
28 Modern beauty contests, which resemble the beauty pageants of the West, were held during the Republic of China regime (1912 1948). A epicenter of the contests was The most well documented pageant during that period of time was the Miss Shanghai pageant in 1946, which was staged to raise money for a national drought and famine wer e approached by organizers to enter the Miss Shanghai competition; however, many of them refused or backed out at the last minute due to social pressure as beauty contests were still viewed as vulgar events that only prostitutes and courtesans would take p art in. Regardless of this negative view, the Miss Shanghai pageant generated considerable media attention and public discussion. In addition to the gossip about the contestants, the biggest shock came from the swimsuit competition which the Chinese had ne ver seen before (Hu, 2007). Gender differences between men and women were erased in the interest of productivity, class struggle, and nation building (Zhang, 2000). In the 1950s and 1 960s, Chinese women wore the same dark blue and grey clothes as men (Johansson, 1998), and an androgynous gender image was idealized (Honig, & Hershatter, 1988). During practi revolutionary (Johansson, 1998, p. 54). Not surprisingly, beauty pageants were condemned as
29 China began its economic re form at the turn of 1970s and 1980s, and in the following three decades the country has undergone tremendous economic and social Mao era, which corresponds with the emergence and developme nt of a modern communism gender awareness and self conception of femininity, sexuality and social mobility (Zhang, 2000, p. 98). Beauty, once a politically charged subject and socially subdued desire, has grown into a national craze and flourishing industry (Xu & Feiner, 2007; Yang, J., 2011). Fashion model or supermodel contests were generally considered the predecessor of contemporary beauty pageants in China. The first fashion show in the post Mao era was held in 1979 by the French fashion designer brand Pierre Cardin, and fashion models began to be organized in big cities in China and sent o verseas in the 1980s (Brownell, 1998). The early supermodel contests in China were emphasized in common with modern beauty pageants: women were judged based on their physical appearance in different attires (e. g., swimsuit and evening gown), their wa lk and movement on the runway, and their personality and English skills. The main purpose of many supermodel contests was to select beautiful women as representatives to
30 countries in many international beauty pageants. Moreover, the traditional emphasis on youth and height in supermodel contests was carried on to the later beauty pageants, and a high proportion of beauty p ageant contestants in China either are professiona l models or have also competed in model contests. Local Chinese beauty pageants started to appear in the 1990s, the majority of which were in the name of selecting ambassadors for cities and provinces. It was not until 2001 that China sen t its first offic ial representative to the Miss World pageant (Godfrey, 2004). Within two years, China hosted the Miss World pageant for the first pageants. The Miss World pageant claim ed to have a global audience of more than two billion, thus hosting Miss World gives China a golden opportunity in increasing global publicity as well as tourist revenue (Eimer, 2007; Godfrey, 2004). First in 2007 and again in 2012, the beauty queen of the of China took home the title of Miss World, which was viewed in China as the nation achieving another global ambition (Eimer, 2007, AFP, 2012). In the course of two decades between the 1980s and 2000s, the state policy and attitude of t he Chinese government towards beauty pageants took a 180 degree turn, from condemning it as bourgeois decadence to praising it as golden opportunity for publicity. This palpable shift had occurred under two conditions: First, the more China opened its door to the world and embraced the free market model of economy, the more the state realized the value of hosting events like international beauty pageants in advertising China as a competent participant in globalization (Watts, 2003). Second, the economic ref orm led China into a consumer revolution and cultivated a new culture of
31 spending and consuming in Chinese society (Chao & Myers, 1998). Benefiting from the bourgeoning middle class and commoditization of gender, a beauty economy has been booming in China The dramatic social, economic, and cultural changes in China in the past 30 years have expedited the sproutin economy. The situation led to the overhaul of the state controlled economic system and the introduction of free market forc es. Underneath the proclaimed ideological difference, Zhao (1997) argued economic growth and bid for modernity were in fact shared goals in pragmatic strategy for national salvation. However, one of the side effects of fast economic growth and modernization was the rise of mass consumerism, which also inevitably happened in neoliberal China (Zhao, 1997). The longing for material goods and higher living standards among Chin ese people was rooted in exhaustion and frustration with the ceaseless demands for self sacrifice in puritan communism. When the economic reform finally occurred and people regained their opportunities to choose, capitalism rampantly swept the nation. To f urther the reform effect, the Communist party also openly advocated for new consumerist ethics while abandoning the old tradition of thriftiness (Johansson, 1998). The quality of life for urban Chinese increased significantly in the last two decades of the 20th century, and the ways this group of individuals earned and spent their incomes were revolutionized (Chao & Myers, 1998). Commodities became abundantly available due to
32 the expansion of imports and domestic production, and consumptions were no longer confined by necessities but expressions of taste and individuality (Chao & Myers, 1998). The Consumption of Beauty production, and the way we look becomes an image through which we s ee and project in capitalist consumerism, where women are simultaneously consumers and embodiments of the idealized femininity that is consumed. With the development of a revolutionary criminal act into part of a liberating and modern lifestyle. Femininity, o nce reconstructed in light of the new gender politics of neoliberal China. By the mid (everybody has the desire for beauty) was commonly used to accentuate and normalize the importance of beauty in human lives and to legitimize the consumption of beauty products in the Chinese soc iety (Johansson, 1998). As a result, a mein jingji (beauty economy) has emerged in China which encompasses everything from beauty pageants, cosmetics, and cosmetic surgery to tourism, advertising and mass media (Xu & Feiner, 2007). In 2004, the beauty eco nomy was the 5th largest consumer goods industry in China (Yang, J., 2011), and cosmetics retail value alone accounted for 79 billion yuan (approx. 11.8 billion US dollars) in 2009 (Li & Fung Research Center, 2011).
33 Since the return of advertising to the Chinese media in 1979, beautiful women have reappeared on magazines covers and in television commercials (Johansson, 1998). Attractive femininity is associated with both commodities and the new identity as magazines zealously offer their female readers strategies and tips on fashion, skincare, and make up, creating the illusion that beauty is elaborately constructed with personal devotion and thorough consumption of product s and services. At the same time, physical attractiveness has become an increasing advantage if not a prerequisite in employment and marriage for contemporary Chinese women. During the economic reform, many urban Chinese left the state sectors in pursuit of higher paying jobs in the business world. The word qingchunfan ( rice bowl of youth ) was used to refer to the lucrative positions exclusively open to young women, where youth and beauty are the top requirements for employment and professional success (Zhang, 2000). Beauty contest winners, actresses, fash ion models, flight attendants, and women who work in the entertainment and service businesses are often considered takers of the rice bowl of youth. Growing up in the reform era and consumer culture, th e younger generations of Chinese women are not burdened by the ordeals of the Cultural fulfillment. They are also more likely to identify with movie stars and supermode ls and to exchange youth and beauty for tangible commodities and financial gain (Zhang, 2000). T he Dri ve for glamorous lifestyle and social mobility and the sense of urgency on taking asingly appealing to young Chinese women
34 back into the increasingly comfortable domes expanding gap between the poor and the rich mediated by the readily available images of First World prosperity, materialism has pervaded Chinese society. In China, taking young women as mistresses has resurged as a symbol of social status for wealthy and powerful men (Levin, 2011). It was reported that some college students in Shanghai even a few thousand to 75 thousand more young women are convinced that capitalizing on one s youth and femininity is a legitimate way to achieve personal success and remain c ompetitive in the commercial world. Another key reform in the post and socio economic landscape today is the one child family policy (Latham, 2007). % or 250 million between 1953 and 1970, and the government was concerned about its rapid population growth would compromise this dramatic fertility transition was designed t modernization and join the First World (Fong, 2004). In the late1970s, China started implementing state mandated birth quotas, restricting the number of children each
35 couple could have to only one in urban areas and two in rura l areas. 3 The one child policy has directly resulted in the fact that the vast majority of urban Chinese youth born after 1979 are as in many developed societies such Ja pan, Italy, North Europe China Chinese family invest heavily in their singletons (Fong, 2004, p. 2 3). Growing up as the only child in a family definitely has given the younger generation of Chinese different life experiences than that of their parents or grandparents. Because they have so much attention and resources dedicated to them ttle they see in the media, and they are comfortable with being consumers before they are producers. According to Fong (2004), the Chinese singletons are in fact no mo re spoiled than younger generations in developed nations. The difference is that they have been socialized to believe they deserve the First World socioeconomic affluence that been spared from having to compete with large numbers of siblings for family resources, only to find themselves in an even fiercer and more risky competition for elite status in a In rura l China, baby girls are being aborted or abandon ed because of the single child policy and young girls are being discriminated against regarding educational 3 T h e one child policy had more difficulties to enforce in the rural areas because rural families need sons to provide manual labor and old age supports. So the policy was relaxed for rural residents and each couple could have two children, particularly when the first one was a girl.
36 opportunities and living conditions (Wheeler, 2011) In urban areas, on the other hand, the one chil d policy has helped girls born in the cities enjoy the increasing gender equality in education and other social resources. The urban young women who grew up as singletons indeed have had better chances to succeed as individuals compared to their mothers an d grandmothers, but at the same time they are also under unprecedented pressure to achiev e elite status and financial security to support their parents at older age. With the spread of materialism and fierce competition in the job market, more and more ur ban female singletons in China have come to accept the idea of marrying for money. Many decide that their desires for material comfort and financial security, both for themselves and for their parents, are stronger than their longing for love (Moore, 2011) Meanwhile i n the entertainment business, attractive female celebrities are frequently reported to marry rich and powerful men (He, 2010). T h erefore, drawing the connection between feminine beauty and masculine wealth, an increasing number of young women in China are motivated to pursue perfection in physical beauty and sometimes even participate in beauty pageants as a way to meet these men The Pursuit of Beauty From the perspectives of both evolution and socialization it is suggested that physical a ttractiveness plays a significant role in interpersonal interaction s and personality development ( Langlois, Kalakanis, Rubenstein, Larson, Hallam, & Smooth, 2000; Patzer, 1985). Abundant research has demonstrated that physical attractiveness has profound a nd over reaching implications on people s lives, in which attractive children and adults are judged and treated more positively and exhibit more positive
37 behaviors and traits than unattractive children and adults (Etcoff, 1999; Gangestad & Scheyd, 2005; La nglois et al., 2000). T he power of physical attractiveness has to a great extent led into the phenomenon (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972). Physically attractive people are perceived as more intelligent, more sociable and more successful than their unattractive counterparts (Patzer, 1985), and they are portrayed more favorably in the media (Smith, McIntosh & Bazzini, 1999). In most societies, women are more likely than men to be held accountable for their physical appearance and valued by their conformity to the cultural ideal of beauty ( Mazur, 1986; Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff Dunn, 1999). As Naomi Wolf pointed out in her book The Beauty Myth beauty is still the archal belief system dominates (Wolf, 1991, p.12). Feminist scholars have written extensively about the emphasis people place on female beauty and criticized the oppressive nature of modern beauty practices, which not only results in women s body image dis satisfaction and lowered self esteem but also perpetuate s gender inequality by treating women as sex objects and overshadowing their talents and competencies (Bordo, 2003; Forbes, Collinsworth, Jobe, Braun, & Wise, 2007; Jeffreys, 2005; Wolf, 1991). Under the current consumer culture and beauty frenzy in China, a lot of attention has been directed to physical appearance and the body. Urban young women spend a considerable amount of time, energy and money to improve their appearance, such as dressing up in fashionable clothes, going to hair and nail salons, and purchasing and applying skincare products and cosmetics They are also the first generation of Chinese
38 youth who have had access to a diverse source of information through mass media (Johansson, 1998; Latham, 2007). As a result, it is very likely that these young Chinese women are actively participating in a beauty culture where they hold themselves against the beauty standards set by global and local popular culture s W omen around the world are found to be suffering from body image dissatisfaction and related eating problems (e.g., Anderson Fye, 2004; Becker 2004; Jung, Forbes & Lee 2009). There has been an unprecedented upsurge of scholarly interest in the body in the past a few decades. Body image d issatisfaction has become a hot topic in various scientific disciplines such as clinic al psychology, cultural anthropology and feminist media studies (see Thompson et al., 1999). Abundant books 4 have been published on the subject and there are even scholar ly journals like Body Image and International Journal of Eating Disorders dedicated specifically to this field of research. There is a common stereotype that Asians are naturally slim thus less likely to be subjected to body image issues compared to other races (Lee, 1996) On the contrary, research has showed that Asian American females demonstrated higher endorsement of mainstream beauty standards and experienced greater body image dissatisfaction when compared to White and Black American women (Evans & McConnell, 2003). In Asia, according to a series of cross cultural studies conducted by Jung et al. (2009), Korean and Chinese college women and adolescents were shown to have higher levels of body image dissatisfaction than their American counterparts. 4 A search of Body Image in G o ogle Books on December 6, 2011 yielded more than 3 million results, indicating the popularity of this subject.
39 D ue to the immense improvements in standards of living in urban China, the prevalence of overweightness and obesity has increased in the Chinese population across all age groups (Wang, Mi, Shan, Wang, & Ge, 2007). For many young Chinese women, the ir hunger for high calorie foods and snacks is in constant battle with the ir desire to look like the ultra thin female celebrities in the media. Body image related dieting behaviors and eating disorders are common among college women in China (Zhang, 2012), and part icularly salient among female urban adults who are young, educated and living in coastal areas (Luo, Parish, & Laumann, 2005). Cultural Beauty Standards In the past few decades, scientists have tried to understand human standards of physical attractivenes s through the lens of evolutionary biology. The basic adaptationist approach and evolutionary signaling models have been applied in this line of research to understand human physical attractiveness and the variability in beauty standards across cultures (G angestad & Scheyd, 2005). The findings of the research show that people in different cultures generally agree on who is attractive (e.g., Cunningham, Roberts, Wu, Barbee, & Bruen, 1995; Jones & Hill, 1993; Langlois et al., 2000), and some of the most promi nent facial features associated with attractiveness include sexual dimorphism, averageness, and symmetry (Gangestad & Scheyd, 2005; Rhodes, 2006). Evolutionary perspectives tend to focus on the role of sexual selection in the origins of some standards of f emale beauty and link female physical attractiveness to health and fertility (see Singh & Singh, 2011). E ven though both men and women are shown to prefer certain physical traits of the opposite gender, men throughout the world are more concerned about the physical attractiveness of women than vice versa
40 (Gangestad & Scheyd, 2005). Evidence indicates men tend to like women with facial features that are deemed both innocently childlike and maturely feminine, such as large eyes, small nose, small chin and low er jaw, high cheekbones and full lips (Cunningham, 1986; Johnston & Franklin, 1993; Hnn & Gz 2007). Height is another physical attribute that has a well documented impact on human social interactions Taller men and women tend to obtain greater success in the workplace and report higher self esteem (Judge & Cable, 2004), and they are perceived as stronger, more dominant and smarter (Montepare, 1995). In regard to heterosexual attraction, both men and women prefer romantic relationships in which the man is taller than the woman (e.g., Courtiol, Raymond, Godelle, & Ferdy, 2010). Yet under the influence of the fashion industry and mass media, women often want to have a taller and thinner bodily figure as promoted by the media as the sociocultural model for feminine beauty (Guaradi, Orlandi, Boselli, & O Donnell, 1999). In addition, recent studies show that longer leg length or higher leg to body ratio, which is a common characteristic of fashion models, is considered more attractive in women (Prantl & Grndl 2011; Sorokowski & Pawlowski, 2008; Swami, Einon, & Furnham, 2006). At the same time, f eminist scholars have long argued that beauty and femininity are historically and culturally constructed (Banner, 1983; Darling Wolf, 2004; Frith, Shaw & Cheng, 2005 ). In contemporary China, feminine beauty is negotiated in the is perceived to be more gentle, soft and submissive, while Western beauty is more dazzling, sexy, and hedonist ic. Confucian teaching extends deep in Chinese culture, in which virtue and modesty are highly valued qualities in femininity (Hofstede, 1997). The
41 role as a caring m other and loving wife, constitutes the traditional concept of Chinese feminine beauty (Johansson, 1998). Beauty standards and ideals within a culture are also subjected to change as the local culture evolves and confronts other cultures. In the past centu ry, the West has had profound impact on Asian cultures through colonization, wars, mass media and globalization, and an Anglo Saxon beauty standard has been merged into the local beauty standards in many Asian countries (e.g., Ashikari, 2005; Li, Min, Belk Kimura, & Bahl, 2008). Even though contemporary Asian women often claim that their conceptions the standards and ideals they adhere to are found to be similar to the western ones: thin, tall, fair skin, and large breasts (Ashikari, 2005; Johansson, 1998; Zhang, 201 2 ). Both evolutionary and feminist perspectives have provided useful explanations to why certain physical features are considered beautiful on human bodies and why there are also cultural differences and historical changes in human beauty ideals. However, it is important to bear in mind that even when certain cultural beauty standards are established as norms in the scientific field (e.g., large eyes, tallne ss, slenderness), the people who live in a particular culture may have very different interpretations of these standards and the impact of certain beauty standards on their persona l lives may be more complex than the theoretical explanations. Cosmetic Surg ery driven consumerist culture and beauty based femininity impels women to pursue a perfect look Under the general term of plastic surgery, cosmetic surgery operations and procedures are defined as or change
42 the appearance, color, texture, structure, or position of bodily features, which may be considered (Atiyeh, Rubeiz, & Hayek, 2008, p. 829). Despite of the social controversies, it is believed that cosmetic surg eries can help individuals improve the first impressions they have o f others (Dayan, Clark, & Ho, 2004). W ith the help of the mass media, cosmetic surgery has been successfully domesticated and normalized in the modern world through advertisements, tabloi ds, beauty magazines, and makeover reality TV shows (Gallagher & Pecot Hbert, 2007; Sarwer, Magee & Crerand, 2004; Tait 2007). On a global level, f emale celebrities are regularly reported to undergo cosmetic surgeries to boost their popularity and caree r. It is also common for celebrity wannabes, including many beauty pageant contestants to resort to surgery to get a jump start in the entertainment business. In Venezuela, one of ies heavily on the mastery of cosmetic and dental surgeons ( Beauty? Forget Bangalore 1996). Cosmetic surgery has gained massive popularity in China particularly after the market reform (Brownell, 2005) C ollege women in China have showed high acceptance and internalization of cosmetic surgery as a legitimate means of beauty pursuit (Zhang, 2012). Each year more than two million cosmetic operations are performed in China, and t he top three most sought procedures among the Chinese are double eyelid surgery nose bridge raising, and jawline reduction (LaFraniere, 2011). A beauty contest dedicated to even held in Beijing, celebrating cosmetic intervention as a legitimate method in pursuit of beauty (Agrell, 2004).
43 The Western culture has placed various levels of impact on the conception of beauty in Asia. Since World War II, cosmetic surgery has become increasingly popular in Asia and many believe that Asian women resorted to surgeries because they were customized to a westernized beauty ideal (Haiken, 1997). Meanwhile, Asian Americans in order to avoid racial stereotyping and better fit in the mainstream American society (Gilman, 1 999; Kaw, 1993). Even though fewer arguments are made today for cosmetic beauty standard, which evidently favors Anglo Saxon concepts of beauty, is still relevant in th e discourse on cosmetic surgery in contemporary Asia. Second wave feminists such as Susan Bordo argue that the beauty system controls the bodies and the checkbooks of women by placing high social importance on physical appearance, setting up impossible be auty ideals, and then providing products and services to fix the imperfections at a handsome price (Bordo, 1993). Therefore, cosmetic surgery can be seen as another oppressive act in the name of beautification of women for patriarchal interests (Jeffreys, 2005; Wolf, 1991). Davis (1995, 2003) advocated for an alternative view of cosmetic surgery recipients as women making system. Cosmetic surgery is an important concept particularly relevant to the discussion on beauty ideals. In most cases of cosmetic surgery, the patient/consumer is hoping to change his/her physical appearance in the direction of achieving the ideal look. When a social and cultural event namely beauty pageant claims to celebrate the most
44 beautiful, it becomes a natural platform where cultural ideals of beauty are collectively negotiated and embodied. T h e images of the idealized beautiful body promoted in beauty pageants could lead to new desires and provide new guidelines for women who want to improve their appearance through cosmetic surgeries. And at the same time, the cosmetic surgery industry could also contribute to the construction of cultural ideals of beauty since some of the pageant contestan ts might be the products of surgical perfection as in the case of Venezuela Mass Media and Globalization Mass media have played an indispensable part in cultural globalization. With the power of the Internet and other communication technologies, people a re now enjoying the convenience of having the world at their fingertips and having a means of exposure on the scale comparable to mass media (e.g., social media) At the same time, in many European and Asian countries, global deregulation has led to the co llapse of local creative industries and their replacement by products launched in the U S (e.g., Hollywood) (Conversi, 2010). Furthermore, the production and distribution of media products like film, television, popular music and book publishing is domina ted by a handful of media conglomerates based in a few Western countries (Jan, 2009). Although media in China are still subject to direct government control and censorship, the Chinese media industry has been increasingly commercialized and open to foreig n source and content since the 1990s (Latham, 2007). The younger generation s in China are growing up playing Japanese video games, watching Hong Kong TV shows, and seeing Hollywood movies. Many of them prefer foreign media content over locally produced med ia content for higher production quality (Zhang, 2012).
45 With their consumption of information and cultural goods through mass media, young Chinese women today are active participants of the emerging global consumer culture. International fashion magazines such as Cosmopolitan ELLE and Vogue have all increased the volume of their publications in the Chinese market to meet the growing demand for luxury among Chinese female consumers (Haughney & Landreth 2012). From these global media outlets, young women in China are not only seeking the information about the latest fashion and luxury, they are also learning about the globalized concepts and ideals of beauty and femininity Media Representations and Stereotypes An extensive body of research built in the past 30 years has shown that gender stereotypes are pervasive in the media (particularly in advertising) and women are portrayed in stereotypical ways to suit the desires of the male audience and the interest of the advertising industry (see Frith et al., 2005) E arly research explored the ways in which gender roles depicted in advertisements reflected the gender roles in society, such as showing women as mothers and wives confined to at home settings (e.g., Courtney & Lockeretz 1971 ; Dominick & Rauch 197 2) Some female gender stereotype s that are still prevalent in today s media include the wife and mother, the sex object, and the person trying to be beautiful for men (Brandt & Carstens, 2005). Feminist researchers have paid special attention to the role of women s magazines in perpetuating gender roles, promoting unrealistic and unattainable beauty ideals, and sexualizing women s bodies ( Ferguson 1983). Specifically the intersection of gender and race has been explored through depictions of women in adv ertisements in women s magazines. Frith, Cheng and Shaw (2004) found that Western models were more frequently portrayed in seductive dresses and as a seductive beauty type than
46 Asian models, and Western models were used in advertisements in Asia to fulfill the marketing strategy of sex sells. Along the same line, Nelson and Paek (2005) found that advertisements in the Chinese Cosmopolitan showed much lower degree of sexuality than the same transnational magazine in six other countries (including U.S., Bra zil, France, India, South Korea, and Thailand), and there was a high contrast between domestic and international models regarding sexual explicitness in the Chinese context. Stereotypical portrayals of women and minority social groups have also been cons istently found in television commercials (see Signorielli, 1985 ). For example, a content analysis of 4,294 American television commercials found that attractiveness was associated with women more than men, and the majority of the attractiveness stereotypes were promoted by actual female performers and authoritative male voice overs (Downs & Harrison, 1985). A recent study of over 3,000 New Zealand television advertisements reported that gender stereotyping had decreased to a certain extent, yet ethnic minor ities (e.g., Maori and Pacific Islanders and Asians) were still largely stereotypically portrayed (Rubie Davies, Liu, & Lee, 2013). As an important agent of socialization mass media to a great extent are responsible for creat ing and reinforc ing the cultu ral and increasingly global ideals of femininity Research demonstrates that the current standard of bodily attractiveness portrayed in A m erican media is slimmer for women than for men, and is less curvaceous than it has been since the 1930s (Silverstein, P e rdue, Peterson, & Kelly, 1986). According to Mazur (1986), the Western ideals for female body shape fluctuated between full and slender figures in the 20 th centur y, with the most recent trend toward
47 slenderization. He also pointed to the rise of mass med ia in promoting highly homogeneous beauty standards in the society (Mazur, 1986). Sypeck, Gray and Ahrens (2004) found a striking increase in full body portrayals of thin female models in American fashion magazines between 1959 and 1999, indicating a beau ty ideal shift from a pretty face to a nice body in the U.S. This W estern emphasis on magazine ads in America were for clothing and fashion. However, the trend was reversed in the Eas tern context, as the majority of the advertisements in Singaporean and Taiwanese magazines were for cosmetics and skincare, implying a stronger Nationalism and Beauty In beauty pageants, individual pursuit and expression of beauty is elevated to represent a larger entity, often a city/region, nation/state, or ethnicity/culture. Large media events like the O lympics can be considered public relations instrument s to help the hosting country gain influence in the international context (Chen, Colapinto, & Luo, 2012). Similarly, international beauty pageants provide China the venue to showcase its rapid economic growth and national pride The production of nation and nationalist discourse often demonstrates a close relationship with the performance of gender norms and the ideological construction of gender difference (Sinha, 2004). For example, motherhood and femininity are frequently used symbolically to represent nation and nationalism, whereas men and masculinity are used to emphasize citizenship and individual responsibility in fighting for the nation. Chinese culture, by modern western standards, is largely collectivist rather than individualist (Hofstede, 1997). Most empires in human histor y ended up breaking up into
48 many separate nations, yet China remained intact as a single nation for thousands of years. Many Chinese people today still take pride in their ethnic and cultural heritage as strong national identity (Murphey, 1991). Even though China has experienced countless wars and various regimes in the past two centuries, the ethnic makeup of China has remained highly hinese population was of Han nationality, a 5.7% increase since 1990 (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2011) This is also one of the main reasons that race or ethnicity has not been a central matter in Chinese beauty pageants as it has been in other nations or cultures. Chinese nationalism, particularly in recent history, has been characterized by the continuous struggles, conflicts, and negotiations between China and other nations, cultures, and powers. Confucian thoughts and values play a fundame ntal role in the Chinese conception of nation and identity in the past as well as present (Whyte, 1991). Social hierarchies were able to be enforced in imperial China partly due to the wide roles and positions in society and contributing to the harmony and civilization of the nation (Brownell, 1996). The idea of sacrificing oneself for the family or for the nation is well internalized among the Chinese, especially among women. When examining the revival of Chinese nationalism through the bodies of Chinese sportswomen, Brownell (1996, 1998) found that the Chinese nationalist discourse reinforced a fixed gender role where obedient females suffer on behalf of the masculine pride and for the succe ss of the nation state.
49 In the reform era, there has been a remarkable tone change in Chinese appear in big cities in China, and some of these tall young girls, often time former athletes, soon found themselves representing the Chinese nation in the global fashion industry (Brownell, 1998). Since then, model contests and beauty pageants became impo rtant sites where an ideal Chinese femininity was negotiated and constructed in context with global beauty standards. For international success, Chinese fashion models and beauty queens need to prove that they can be professional, modern, and expressive li ke western women without losing their traditional oriental beauty and Chineseness. The organizers and audiences of those contests consider their national pride redeemed when they see Chi nese beauty and femininity rise to the top of the world. Globalizatio n The term globalization originated in the field of economics, referring to the increasing integration of economics around the world, particularly through trade and financial flows (International Monetary Fund, 2000). There are also four aspects of globa lization that were often considered: trade and transactions of manufactured goods, capital movements and foreign investment, migration and movement of people, and spread of knowledge and technology (International Monetary Fund, 2000). Economic globalizatio n eventually leads to the emergence of a global market or a single world market. Globalization is at the root of economic growth of many developing nations, including China. By decollectivizing its agricultural industry, opening up the country to
50 foreign investment, and introducing capitalist market principles to industries and businesses, China experienced unprecedented economic growth between 1978 and 2010. In 2010, China overtook Japan and became the second largest economy in the world (Barboza, 2010). While economic growth has virtually eliminated poverty in urban China and reduced it greatly in rural regions, inequality has also unambiguously risen in Chinese society (Benjamin, Brandt, Giles, & Wang, 2005). Particularly among the urban population, the increasing wage inequality related to labor market and enterprise reform, the effect of reconstructing state owned enterprises through layoffs, as well as government corruption have all played a part in widening the income distribution (Benjamin et al., 20 05). Like most developing countries, China has experienced both the positive and economic growth which lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty, incre asing their life expectancy and general standard of living. On the other hand, there is an alarming increase in inequality and materialistic attitudes which has emerged in China as a result of the development of a capitalist ideology. Furthermore, environm ental concerns might also be a direct result of globalization. It has been two Chinese cities (Linfeng and Tianying) are rated the most polluted places on the planet (Pickrell, 2012). Since its inception, the term globalization has transcended the realm of economics to include the complex and dynamic flow of people, culture, and ideology.
51 Conversi (2010) argues that cultural globalization, in particular, should be co nceptualized in tandem with the idea of Americanization: Most local cultures have not been left untouched by globalisation [sic] Some have survived, while others have been damaged beyond repair, as has the physical, social and natural environment around them. In the cultural field, globalization [sic] is far from being an egalitarian, multilateral and multidirectional development, since moves in any such cosmopolitan direction have been largely prevented by the Americanisation [sic] of mass culture (p. 44 ). As part of the cultural globalization/Americanization, the practice of modern beauty pageantry was introduced to the global South. Most major international pageant organizations have increasingly set their eyes on the developing world and moved their a nnual pageants to nations like India, Brazil, and China. This strategic act not only helps offset the dropping popularity of beauty pageant in the West (Itzkoff, 2010), but also offers the opportunities for the global beauty industry to explore new markets and increase its customer base. In Thailand, feminists protested against international beauty pageants on the ground that female bodies and feminine beauty were exploited by Miss 1994). Theoretical Framework In addition to the existing literature relevant to the subject of the study, three specific theoretical approaches are selected as the t heoretical framework of this dissertation, providing guid ance for th e data analyses. Feminist Film Criticism The rise of feminist film criticism was influenced by the second wave feminist movement and the development of women s studies inside the academ ic world in the
5 2 1970s (Erens, 1990). Initial attempts in the United States at establishing the feminist film criticism were generated mainly based on sociological theories, emphasizing how portrayals of women in the film related to the historical context, the gender stereotypes depicted, the screen time the female characters were allotted and whether they serve d as positive or negative models for the female audience (Erens, 1990, p. xvi). In the meantime, film critics in England began to integrate other th eoretical tools of critical analysis, such as psychoanalysis semiotics, and Marxism, and their major concerns centered around the production of meaning in a film text, the way a text constructs a viewing subject, and the ways in which the very mechanisms of cinematic production affect the representation of women and re e nforce sexism (p. xvii). Rich (1978/1990) provided critiques on both of the early approaches in feminist film criticism She characterized the American/sociological approach as fundamenta l ly phenomenological with the weakness being its overly subjective and testimonial analysis and lack of coherence in methodolog y; she characterized the British theoretical approach as fundamentally analytical with the weakness being its suppression of the feminist voice and overemphasis on the analytical tools (Rich,1978/1990, p. 277). She then argued that the nature of women s experiences with film and the culture under patriarchy was instead dialectical, and women had the power to transform the images and messages they receive from cinema and reprocess them to produce their own meanings (p. 278). Claire Johnston was among the first feminist critics to analyze the sign woman as a structure and code and treat the fetishized female image as substitute for phallic sexuality (Gaines, 1990). Laura Mulvey s seminal 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and
53 Narrative Cinema is marked as one of the most important breakthrough s in feminist film criticism to use Freudian theory and Lancanian psychoanalysis to develop a coh erent feminist theory of narrative film as signifying system (Gaines, 1990, p. 76). Classical Hollywood cinema, according to Mulvey (1975/1989), represent s woman as the signifier for the male other, an object rather than subject, materializing man s uncon sciousness In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, ple asure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy [sic] on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional ex hibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to be looked at ness (Mulvey, 1975/1989, p. 19). In a Freudian tradition Mulvey(1973/19 89) identified two aspects of (male) visual pleasures in cinema which are negotiated through sexual difference: voyeuris tic scopophilic gaze (using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight) and narcissist ego (identification with the image seen). As Mulvey reiterated recently in an interview a crucial point of the male gaze is that it is also the female gaze women look at themselves through the male gaze (Sassatelli, 2011). The notion of the male gaze, which was also explored in the work of John Berger (1972) and Erving Goffman (1979), has since become an key concept in understanding how patriarchal media text s are tailor made for male desire and how effects of representations are particularly burdensome to women (Sassatelli, 2011 ). Feminist critics both in the U.S. and in England had raised questions about the direction towards cinepsychoanalysis in feminist film theory. The masculinization of the spectator position in Mulvey s essay was contested for omitting the question of fem ale spectatorship and inspired the line of scholarship in female subjectivity and female desire (Smelik, 1999). Influenced by the British cultural studies and Stuart Hall s
54 encoding/decoding model, Christine Gledhill felt the need to close the gap between the readings of films made by feminist film theorists and the ways in which these films were understood and used by women at large (Gledhill, 1978). In her 1988 essay Negotiation, Glendhill (1988/1989) argued that image of woman has bee n a site of gendered discourse, drawn from the specific sociocultural experiences of women and shared by women, which negotiates a space within, and sometimes resists, (p. 177). Stacey (1991/1999) also critiqued the psychoanalytica l feminist film criticism for its rejection of the process of identification in visual media as a form of reproduction of dominant patriarchal culture. Having studied the readings of Hollywood stars in the 1940s and 1950s by female cinema audience s Stacey (1991/1999) argued i dentification does not simply involve the passive reproduction of existing femininities, In the context of idealized beauty images in media, female spect atorship could lead to the identification with the mediated object of spectacle and the desire of physical transform ation to become the ideal. As a result, such practices of identification with media ideals could produce dissatisfaction of one s own self i mage. The analytical tools and perspectives provided by feminist film critics and theorists are valuable for studying the media text of beauty pageants in China. Even though televised beauty pageant shows have significant differences from traditional cinem a in the way the text is created and presented, the explicit focus on gender and sexuality in beauty pageant shows makes the arguments made in feminist film criticism extremely relevant. Mulvey s cinepsychoanalysis and the notion of the male gaze are
55 use ful in studying the representation of feminine beauty in the Chinese beauty pageants and how the pageant contestants are sexually objectified for visual pleasure of the male spectator. From a feminist cultural studies perspective, Glendhill s critique on t he negotiat ion of meaning is going to provide the analytic framework to study the social, political, and ideological struggles in Chinese beauty p ageants, and how meanings are negotiated as products of textual interaction Social Comparison Theory Social comparison theory was proposed by social psychologist Leo Festinger in 1954. In his original theory, Festinger (1954) suggests that humans have a drive to evaluate their opinions and abilities, and when objective and non social means for evaluation are not available, individuals engage in social comparisons to fulfill this drive. Festinger (1954) also hypothesizes that whenever possible social comparisons are made with similar others, and there is a unidirectional drive upward that leads individuals to stri ve towards a point slightly better than that of comparison others. Social comparison theory has been revised several times since its original proposal, and one of the most significant revisions to the theory is that social comparisons may occur on dimens ions other than abilities and opinions, such as personal traits and attributes (Wood, 1989). For example, Richins (1991) found that young girls tended to compare themselves with models in advertisements by focusing on the personal attribute of physical att ractiveness, and the comparison process was likely to influence their self perceptions of physical attractiveness and self esteem. Although Festinger primarily focused on comparisons on the interpersonal level, other researchers have used social comparison theory to explain comparisons with images in the media (e.g. Botta 1999; Thompson et al., 1999, Martin & Gentry, 1997). In
56 the past few decades, social comparison theory has played a crucial role in the emergence of body image research, examining the effe cts of idealized body media images on appearance related self evaluation. The theory suggests that exposure to idealized body image in the media tend to force audiences to compare their own bodies with the ones they see in the media. This comparison proces s can negatively affect self attractiveness (Richins, 1991). Abundant empirical evidence has been established between exposure to idealized body images in the media and body imag e dissatisfaction among women and young girls ( see television programming and commercials had an emphasis on appearance enhancement predominantly targeting girls, which might lead to hig her incidents of dieting and eating disorders among females (Ogletree, Williams, Raffeld, Mason, & Fricke, 1990). Borzekowski, Robinson, and Killen (2000) found that the time spent about appearance and body weight. Even for adults, watching a 30 minute body image oriented advertising and programming focusing on the concept and representations of thei r own bodies (Myers & Biocca, 1992). Another important development made in social comparison theory is that people do not necessarily compare with others who are similar to themselves (Martin & comp ared with those who compared with those who are
57 inferior or worse off than oneself (Buunk, Cohen Schotanus & Henk van Nek, 2007; Wills, 1981). Research has suggested that social comparisons of physic al appearance tend to be upward, and such comparisons usually make women feel worse about themselves and more vulnerable to body image disturbance (Botta, 1999, 2003; Martin & Kennedy, 1993; Richins, 1991). vary in particular situations. Some scholars have suggested three basic motives in social comparison: self evaluation, self enhancement, and self improvement (Martin & Gentry, 1997; Wood (1989). When women and young girls engage in upward comparisons with their peers or idealized images in the media, they tend to be driven by self evaluation and self improvement motives. In other words, most women have a desire to compare their physical attractiveness to those who are considered superior in appearance eith er to evaluate or improve their own appearance. Sometimes, a downward social comparison of beauty related attributes can also occur and it is likely to be triggered by self enhancement motives. Wills (1981) introduced the concept of downward comparison an d described it as a defense tendency, in which individuals search for others who are considered worse off in order to feel better about themselves or their personal situations. Such downward being (Wills, 198 1). For example, a college woman might compare herself to a roommate who is heavier in body weight, and in doing so, would feel better about herself. When exposed to beauty pageants in the media, Chinese college women may engage in social comparisons with the pageant contestants with a focus on physical
58 attractiveness. The fact that beauty pageant contestants tend to have similar age range and social background with college women could make these comparisons even more probable (Festinger, 1954). Since beaut y pageant contestants are generally believed to possess (at least part of) the cultural ideals of feminine beauty, these comparisons are likely to be upward and motivated by self evaluation and/or self improvement motives (Woods, 1989). The self perception of physical attractiveness and self esteem of the college women might be negatively impacted if they feel inferior compared to the pageant contestants when it comes to feminine beauty. Social comparisons can also occur between women who participate in a b eauty contest. Such comparison between pageant participants can be both upward and downward, and motivated by different motives (self evaluation, self improvement, or self enhancement) (Wood, 1989). For example, one contestant might be driven to compare he rself with another contestant who she considers a strong competitor in the competition (upward comparison) to evaluate or improve her own chance of winning (self evaluation) She might also compare herself to someone who she thinks is less competitive (dow nward comparison) in order to boost her self confidence (self enhancement) The current study is interested in examining the extent to which the various types of social comparisons occur in beauty pageants and the potential impacts, both negative and posit ive, of these comparisons. Transnational Feminism Socialist and radical feminists have written extensively on the collusion of exploited simultaneously by capitalists and by men; and the nurturing and dependent role the capitalist patriarchal society subscribes to women fundamentally confines their
59 social mobility and devalue s their work (Hartmann, 1981). In the global S labor, femininity and sexuality are furt her exploited by the capitalist machine because of globalization. The term [transnational feminism] points simultaneously to the position feminists worldwide have taken against the processes of globalization of the economy, the demise of the nation state and the development of a global research into the ways in which globalization affects women around the globe (Mendoza, 2002, p. 296). As a contemporary feminist approach, transnational feminism attends to the intersections of gender, race, nationhood, and economic exploitation in the context of an emerging global capitalism. In transnational feminism, women of color were constructed as a community of non white women defined not in terms of negation of whiteness or shared marginalization, but as an acclamation of a positive identity and shared strengths (McCann & Kim, 2010). Transnational feminism requires academics and activists alike to engage in self conscious discourse that creates con ditions for the voices of the oppressed to be heard. Transnational feminism is a relatively new concept introduced to mark the shift 1970s and 1980s, which was crit icized for ethnocentrism (Gupta, 2006; Mendoza, 2002). According to Mendoza (2002), a major contribution the transnational feminists beyond the confinement of national border s and generated necessary spaces to Chandra Talpade Mohanty is a prominent transnational feminist scholar and anty pointed out that the
60 Western feminism tended to gross over the differences among the Third World women and treated them as a homogenous powerless group or victims of a particular socio economic system. The material complexity, reality, and agency of T bodies and lives were left out of Western feminist theorizing (Mohanty, 2003). She struggles against specific exploitative structures and systems that deter mine our Mohanty places the feminist transnational solidarity firmly within the framework of anti capitalist struggles. According to Mohanty (2003), capital as it functions now depends on and exacerba tes racist, patriarchal, and heterosexual relations of rule. Thus, theory, critique, and activism around anti capitalism and anti globalization have to be a key focus for feminists. She investigated the history of gender and work, and theorized the experie quality of life led by pe oples in both the North and the South. In recent years, developing nations like Brazil, India and China have grown rapidly in economic power and become key players in the global capitalism. Meanwhile, the One Third World has developed a new strategy of exp orting and glorifying the capitalist ideology and engaged people from the Two Thirds World in the production, and more importantly, consumption of cultural goods. In line with transnational feminist anti globalization critique, international beauty pageant s enable the global capitalist
61 machine to profit not only from the work but also the bodies and consuming power of the women of the Two Thirds World. With major international beauty pageants being hosted in China and Chinese women exhibiting substantial c onsuming power in beauty products and services, a beauty economy is booming in neoliberal China. From a transnational feminist perspective, the global beauty industry thrives on the exploitation of the cheap labor of rural Chinese women as well as the inse curity of feminine beauty of urban Chinese women. Moreover, the current global hegemonic norms emphasize individualism and consumerism as the best ways to achieve personal success and create a better world. Thus, as the media keep disseminating messages t hat link consumption of beauty products with achievement of feminine beauty and upward social mobility, more and more urban young women in China might prioritize their beauty pursuit over academic achievement and/or experience dissatisfaction of their own body image. From examining individual women s neg otia tion of the beauty pageant phenomenon this study calls into question the impact of global capitalism and beauty economy on the lives of urban young Chinese women, which then contributes to the transnati onal feminist critique and anti capitalism and anti globalization movement. Contributions of Present Study China is experiencing unprecedented social and cultural change following its economic reform and the globalization of the 21st century. With the eme rging consumer culture in neoliberal China, individualism, materialism, and hedonism have become the dominant ideologies, replacing the socialist collectivism of the Mao era. The younger generations in China who grew up being the only child of the family a re under high
62 pressure to achieve personal success and elite status. Fueled by the increasing intensity of competitions in education and employment as well as the enlarging social gap between the rich and poor, more and more urban young Chinese women are e nticed to trade their youth and beauty for material comfort and financial security. In the era of mass communication, beauty pageants are important sites where ideal feminine beauty is constructed, performed, and commoditized through the media. T hrough an alyzing the text of beauty pageant shows, the relationships between feminine beauty and consumer culture, nationalism, and globalization are crystalized. Moreover, studying beauty pageantry as a contemporary cultural phenomenon through the perceptions and experiences of urban young women in China sheds light on how concepts such as gender, beauty, Chinese culture, and personal success are defined in neoliberal Chinese society. This dissertation takes up the opportunity in exploring beauty pageant ry as an im portant and timely subject regarding neoliberal China, particularly to understand the construction and negotiation of gender and femininity in context with mass media and globalization. The purpose of the study is to examine the contemporary Chinese ideolo gies and ideals of feminine beauty through the beauty pageant phenomenon, and investigate the relationships between feminine beauty and gender discourses, class dynamics, national identity, and global consumerism. Social science has undeniably benefited from incorporating feminist perspectives, which allegedly defy broad generalization in methodology and conceptualization. In addition to the specific theoretic framework discussed earlier, this dissertation is essentially grounded in f eminist thought and a ctivism. The promise in
63 combating oppression, inequality and injustice in feminism has motivated the researcher to pursue a dissertation project that focuses on gender, femininity, culture, and globalization. Research Questions Based on the review of li terature and the purpose of the study, the following research questions are proposed. RQ 1: What are the gender discourses in beauty pageants in China? RQ 2: What are the cultural beliefs and ideals about feminine beauty in beauty pageants in China? RQ 3: How does the Chinese beauty pageant phenomenon relate to capitalist consumer culture and globalization of mass media? The dissertation adopts an exploratory and inductive approach to examine the beauty pageant phenomenon in neoliberal China. To answer the research questions, three qualitative research methods were used : textual analysis, focus groups, and in depth interviews. The significance and application of each methodology is detailed in Chapter 3.
64 CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY This dissertation uses thr ee different qualitative method s (textual analysis, focus groups, and in depth interviews) for data collection and analysis. All three methods are essentially designed to answer the same set of research questions (RQ1 3) and fulfill the same research goal, which is to dissect the beauty pageant phenomenon in neoliberal C h ina. Essentially, each method offers a unique vantage point from which the Chinese beauty pageant phenomenon is examined, and together they form a comprehensive picture of the subject under study. In this chapter, the significance and applicability of each method is outlined, and the detailed procedures of data collection and data analysis are discussed. Qualitative Research derstanding based on distinct methodological traditions of inquiry that explore a social or human problem [where] the researcher builds a complex, holistic picture, analyzes words, reports detailed views of informants, and conducts the study in a natural s In qualitative research, the researchers do not seek causality, prediction, or generalization, and instead they focus on exploring, understanding, and illustrating the situations (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The benefits of qualitative method s include allowing the researcher to reveal and understand complex social processes and to illustrate the impact of social context (Shah & Corley, 2006). In social science, there has been a debate as to whether the criteria of judgment established in the quantitative tradition, such as reliability and validity, is applicable in evaluating qualitative research methods and results (Flick, 1998; Glaser & Strauss,
65 1967; Kirk & Miller, 1987). Gaskell and Bauer (2000) proposed to develop criteria that were uniqu e to qualitative research but at the same time functionally equivalent to the quantitative tradition. They offered two broad categories for quality assessment: confidence and relevance. Confidence indicated that the research results were empirical and refl ective of reality, and relevance indicated that the research was linked to theory building and/or debunking common sense. Furthermore, the authors provided six quality criteria that could contribute to confidence and relevance of qualitative research: tria ngulation and reflexivity, transparency and procedural clarity, corpus construction, thick description, surprise value of the findings, and communicative validation (Gaskell & Bauer, 2000, pp. 345 349). The researcher of this study 1 fully recognizes the me rit of qualitative behaviors. She endeavors to adhere to good practices in qualitative research and produce quality results that will fulfill the criteria proposed by scholars like Gaskell and Bauer (2000). Specifically, the study examined the beauty pageant phenomenon in China from three distinctive angles: media representations of beauty pageants, the perspectives of the average urban young women in China, and the experiences and views of the pageant contestants. According to Flick (1992), the employment of mixed methods and perspectives in research could lead to triangulation of knowledge, which in turn could strengthen the confidence of the results. 1 Writing in first person is a common practice in qualitative research which conveys the interpretative nature of and the positionality of the researcher within the analyses. In this dissertation, however, the researcher dec ided to write in the third person, following the tradition of the discipline of mass communication and media research. The decision was made after carefully weighing the pros and cons of both writing styles, and one key factor was that the researcher wante d to maintain and project an appropriate distance between her own background as a Chinese woman and the interpretations she made based on the contributions of the young Chinese who participated of the study.
66 Qualification s and Bias o f the Researcher Because the subject of this study was beauty pageant ry in neoliberal China, the researcher decided to perform all data collection in mainland China. As a result, all the original data collected was in (Mandarin) Chinese, and the researche r was responsible for analyzing and then reporting the findings in English. The entire process involved a significant level of switching between the English and Chinese languages. Furthermore, the current study is qualitative in nature and adopts an interp retist epistemological the data and her ability to organize and express those interpretations in two different languages. The researcher of this study is a nativ e Chinese speaker who lived in mainland English languages in China. By the time this study was proposed, the researcher had been engaging in graduate studies in the U. S. for six years, and she had successfully conducted two research projects in mainland China which were both recently published in peer reviewed journals Therefore, the academic background and language skills of the r esearcher qualified her as a bi lingual and intercultural researcher who fulfilled the requirements for conducting this study. In qualitative research the researcher is the instrument of both data collection and data interpretation because a qualitative strategy often requires getting close t o the people and situation under study (Patton, 1990). Hence, a qualitative researcher must constantly confront his or her own opinions and prejudices with the data and endeavor to acknowledge and take into account potential biases as a method of dealing w ith them (Rajendran, 2001).
67 The researcher of this study recognizes her cultural background and its potential influence on the outcome of the study. First of all, when encountering certain social commentaries about contemporary China in the data, the res could be influenced by her own sociopolitical perspectives being a Chinese citizen living in the U.S. Secondly, the researcher of this study was a female in her late 20s, and the subject of feminine beauty might be approached with different emphases or from different angles had the researcher been a male or in a different age group. Lastly, the researcher has strong feminist inclinations and her own feminist stance could have a direct impact on the ways she conducted the focus grou ps and in depth interviews as well as the framework she chose to use in analyzing all the qualitative data. Textual Analysis Research Method ology Beauty pageant research emerged in the late 20th century and has not been established as a specific field of study. Published work on the subject has been scattered across social science fields such as anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and feminist media studies, and common methodological approaches included ethnography, content analysis, historical/arch ival research, and critical review. Textual analysis of audio/video material is often used in critical and cultural studies of film and television, but has yet to be applied to studying beauty pageants. Textual analysis is performed to build knowledge and understanding of our own cultures through the examination of media texts and how they may be interpreted (McKee, 2003). For example, Pitcher (2006) conducted a textual analysis of a series of Girls Gone Wild videos and demonstrated how hegemonic femininit y, postfeminist gender discourses, and capitalist exploitation were manifested in the media text. As a
68 defender of text ual analysis as a stand alone method, Fursich (2009) argued that the unique contribution of text only analysis is its focus on the distin ctive discursive moment presented by media text between the encoding and decoding processes, and its ability Media in China are known for bein g state controlled and heavily censored. In recent years, privately owned media groups have sprouted in China and there has been an upsurge in entertainment content including beauty pageant shows, because of its low political sensitivity (Latham, 2007). T he current study uses textual analysis as a research tool to investigate the media text of Chinese beauty pageant shows for the dominant ideas and values about gender, feminine beauty, consumerism, and globalization that are embedded in the text. Selection of Media Text Two recent broadcast s of Chinese beauty pageant shows were selected as the media text for this study. Hong Kong based Phoenix satellite TV developed the Miss Chinese Cosmos pageant in 2003, which has since grown into one of the most publiciz ed Chinese beauty pageants both in China and overseas. This pageant is designed to include only female participants of Chinese descent, and the show targets a global Chinese audience. A small group of contestants who compete in the final e are selected from the winners and runner ups of regional competitions held all over the world. 2 E very fall, the finale show of Miss Chinese Cosmos pageant is held in Hong 2 In 2011, the Miss Chinese Cosmos pageant had six regional competitions: China, Southeast Asia, Europe, Great Australia, North America and Middle East.
69 Kong and broadcast on the Phoenix Chinese channel. 3 In recent years, audiences of Miss Chinese Cosmos are also given the opportunity to watch the show on the The Miss World pageant was the first major international beauty pageant that came to mainland China and it has been hosted in China various times since 2003. As a result, the Miss World China pageant which is the regional pageant of Miss World in China, is one of the most well known beauty contests among the Chinese audience. Each year t he winner of Miss World China represents the nation i n the Miss World pagean t, and this opportunity attract s thousands of Chinese women to participate in sectional competitions 4 of the Miss World China pageant Unlike Miss Chinese Cosmos, the finale show of Miss World China does not a have a regular hosting location or media spons or. Instead, the right to host and broadcast the Miss World China finale is bid for by willing cities and TV networks at the beginning of each year. Due to language barriers and media access, international beauty pageants like Miss Universe and Miss World tend to have a limited audience base in mainland China. In contrast, pageants like Miss Chinese Cosmos and Miss World China enjoy the privilege of reaching local Chinese audiences through broadcast and cable networks. Furthermore, in spite of certain simi larities between the two pageants, there are considerable differences regarding the organization, competition rule s sponsors, and participant s of these events Through examining these two pageants, the researcher 3 With one exception of the 2009 Miss Chinese Cosmos pageant that was held in Shanghai. 4 The eight sectionals are: Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangd ong, Hunan, Jiangsu, Xi an, and Shenzhen.
70 could look for overarching themes in Chine se beauty pageants as well as explore specificities in individual pageants. Qualitative data are essentially and environment that are reduced to sounds, words, or pictures (Bernard & Ryan, 2010). Video is finale shows of the 2011 Miss Chinese Cosmos pageant and the 2011 Miss World China pageant was c ollected as qualitative data. Digital recordings of the two shows were obtained by the researcher from the video archives of the pageant websites. Data Analysis Qualitative data analysis often uses an inductive approach wherein critical themes emerge from the data (Patton, 1990). The challenge of qualitative data analysis lies in the ability of the researcher to examine the data in a holistic fashion, to put them into logical, meaningful categories, and to communicate his or her interpretation effectively to others. In the analysis process, the researcher makes efforts to find commonalities and patterns as well as differences and contrasts from the data, paying special attention to key statements that speak directly to the phenomenon in question. The proce ss of identifying themes often starts from the act of transcription (Bernard & Ryan, 2010). The sole researcher of the study is an English and Chinese bilingual. She transcribed the video of the two beauty pageant shows into written text in Chinese through repeated reviewing of the footage. The resulting transcript of each show took the form of a word document that contained three columns: the first column reports the beginning and ending time codes for each scene, the second column reports the visual compo nent of the scene, and the third column reports the audio component of
71 the scene. Breaks between scenes were signaled by the speech of the host (e.g., the host announces the beginning a specific competition), change of music (e.g., beginning or ending of a song), and change of location (e.g., in studio shots into street shots). In the transcribing process, the researcher first transcribed the audio components of each the scene, which included verbatim all spoken words and detailed descriptions of all non v erbal sounds (voice overs, music, and sound effects). Then, she restarted from the beginning of the footage and transcribed the visual components of each scene, which included the descriptions of camera shots, stage design, costume design, graphics, and ca ptions. I t was crucial in textual analysis to preserve the origi nal meanings of the media text ; therefore, the Chinese transcripts were not translated into English because translation between languages would inevitably lead to a loss or change in meanings. The researcher performed the data analysis predominantly in Chinese and merged the ideas into English in the final stages of connecting themes to theory and reporting the findings. Supportive quotes were directly translated from the excerpts in the transc ripts, and the translations were shown to two additional bi lingual individuals to ensure accuracy. The textual analysis of beauty pageant shows in China was completed in four all the techniques as suggested in Bernard and Ryan (2010) for analyzing audio and video
72 data, which included looking for repetitions, similarities and differences, missing data, and theory related material. In the next stage, the researcher organized the list of themes into a codebook (Appendix A Textual Analysis Codebook) and applied codes to chunk of text (Bernard & Ryan, 2010). The codebook the researcher developed contained three variables: pageant name (1 for Miss Chinese Cosmos, and 2 for Miss World China), first order category /main theme and second order category/subtheme Then the r esearcher applied the code s (e.g., code 1 1 3 refers to Miss Chinese Cosmos, gender discourse, female sexuality) to the chunks of the text in the transcripts. Third, the researcher created an Excel file with three worksheets representing three research q uestions. In each worksheet, all the chunks of text that were coded with this RQ were imported and indexed by their theme and subtheme codes. By further examining and comparing the data on each worksheet, the researcher began revising themes, combining cat egories, and reducing data. In the last stage, the researcher started to generate substantive theory by drawing connections between the themes that emerged from the data and existing literature and theoretical framework. Theoretical arguments were present ed in the findings, which were organized by major themes Typifying segments of the text were sought from transcripts and included as exemplifying cases in the write up to support the theory. Focus Groups Research Method ology The second qualitative resear ch method employed in this study is the usage of focus groups. The goal of this method is to interrogate the insights of young urban
73 Chinese women on the cultural phenomenon of beauty pageants. Focus groups are widely used in social science research as an effective means of gathering information from a group of individuals of similar social backgrounds or personal traits. Focus groups are also useful when the subject of interest is new or when little knowledge has been generated from previous studies (Morga n, 1997). An extensive literature review shows that research on beauty pageant s has primarily taken the form of historical/archival reviews, ethnographies, and content analyses of news coverage, while little attention has been paid to public perceptions o f beauty pageants. In a recent study, researchers conducted two focus groups and seven interviews with urban Nepali women and examined their views towards the introduction of beauty pageants to Nepal (Crawford, Gregory, Gurung, Kihati, Jha and Regmi, 2008) The current study employs similar methods in studying how young urban Chinese women view beauty pageant s Focus group can also be a valid and valuable method in feminist research, and particularly useful in studying issues of gender and sexuality (Mont ell, 1999). Compared kind of data (Montell, 1999, p. 44). In a group interview, the ability t o help direct the conversations and shape the research outcome can give the participants a sense of authority and empowerment. In addition, focus groups could be a consciousness raising and empowering experience for both the participants and the researcher providing the rare opportunity for feminists to conduct research that not only describes what is, but contributes in shaping what could be (Montell, 1999).
74 Furthermore, compared to the U.S., focus groups are an uncommon method of research in China, and the average Chinese person was not familiar with the concept of a focus group. Although this lack of awareness could potentially pose certain difficulties in conducting focus group research in China, the researcher believed that it in fact provided a uniqu e opportunity to explore the effectiveness of using focus groups to conducting focus groups in China could eventually contribute to the scholarly discussions on qualitative res earch methodologies and their applications in different cultural locations. Selection of Participants The main goal of the current study was to investigate the social phenomenon of beauty pageant ry in contemporary China. As a feminist exploratory study, i t also focused on a particular group of people: young urban Chinese women. The reason the research subject beauty pageant ry has a natural interrelation with th e female gender group and women tend to have more routes of involvement as well as higher personal stakes in beauty pageant s Second, young adult women (18 to 28 years old) are the main force in the beauty economy. They consist of the largest consumer gro up to whom the modern beauty industry tries to sell products, services, and ideologies. At the same time, feminine beauty also has the strongest impact on the lives of young women (e.g., career, relationship, health, etc.). Finally, given the particular so cioeconomic structure in China, women in urban China enjoy higher quality of life and have more opportunit ies to be expo sed to cultural events such as beauty pageants and have more resources to participate in the beauty economy than rural Chinese women
75 Ta ble 3 1 Demographics of f ocus g roups Age range Year in school Major Social Class Group 1 23 26 1 senior 4 graduate students 1 environmental design 2 Chinese 1 bi lingual broadcasting 1 telecommunication 1 upper middle 4 middle 1 lower Group 2 20 22 2 juniors 4 seniors 1 health insurance 1 preventative medicine 4 social policy 5 middle 1 lower middle Group 3 20 26 1 sophomore 3 juniors 1 senior 1 tourist English 1 Japanese 1 hotel management 2 hotel intelligence (IT) 4 middle 1 lower middle Gr oup 4 22 24 1 junior 4 seniors 1 graduate student 1 sociology 4 English 1 journalism 1 upper middle 4 middle 1 lower middle Group 5 19 22 1 sophomore 5 juniors 2 seniors 2 telecommunication 6 photo journalism 3 upper middle 5 middle Group 6 19 23 3 sophomores 4 juniors 1 senior 4 tourist English 3 hotel management 1 western cuisine 1 upper middle 4 middle 3 lower middle In focus groups, research participants should be selected based on their relationship to the research question and common char acteristics (Morgan, 1997). C ollege women between the ages of 18 and 28 were ideal participants for this study because they are likely to fulfill the basic demographic requirements for age, gender, nationality, and residency. 5 In addition, compared to wome n in the same age range who are working or unemployed, college students are more likely to keep up with social 5 The majority of the Chinese universities and colleges are located in urban areas, and college students are required to transfer their official residency to the city of the school during the entire period of their study.
76 trends, actively consume media, and have flexible schedules to attend the focus group meetings Thirty eight college women participated in six foc us groups. Table 3 1 provides the demographic breakdowns of each group. Recruitment of Participants Three college campuses in a major city in China were the main recruiting sites for the focus groups. Two of them were local public universities and the th ird one was a vocational college specializing in hospitality. Calls for volunteers were sent out through online bulletin boards and listervs o f student organizations at the selected campuses. In class announcements were also made by professors on behalf of the researcher. In the recruitment call, the participants were informed of the subject of the study (beauty pageant) and the nature of the meeting (focus group). The incentives included in the recruitment call included refreshments and snacks at the meeti ng and a small individual appreciation gift at the end of the meeting. Respondents answered the call for volunteers by emailing the researcher about their interest in participating in the focus groups. The researcher responded to each email of interest wit h a brief introduction to the researcher and the project, time frame of the focus group meetings, and a short questionnaire regarding demographics and focus group availability. The questionnaire included the following items: age, year in college, major, ca mpus name, family origin, family socio economic class, past beauty pageant viewing experience, and date and time available for a two hour focus group meeting on campus. The researcher used the demographic questionnaire to screen for potential participants Respondents who did not meet the basic requirement for age (18 to 28) or gender (female) were excluded from the pool. Based on the recruitment sites, all
77 potential participants were students studying and living on three college campuses located in a majo r city, which would have automatically qualified them as urban residents. The researcher decided to further rule out female students who had come from rural areas and lived on their university campus for less than a year, as these women might not have had enough time to adapt to an urban lifestyle or mentality. Additionally, only four women (less than 10%) of all the respondents answered researcher made a judgment call an d decided not to set up different groups for viewers and non viewers as she had originally planned; instead, she mixed these four women in with the others during group arrangement. As discussed later in the focus group findings, the pageant viewing experie nce of these college women turned out to be more complicated than the researcher had anticipated, and a simple division between viewers and non viewers would not have made sense in the first place. After the screening, potential participants were contacted with tentative schedules of focus group meeting times and locations. Final meeting schedules were made after the researcher received confirmation emails from the participants. Each group was over scheduled by one to two participants in case of no shows. C lassrooms or conference rooms were sought for conducting focus groups, and other logistics were Snowball Sampling Many researchers favored the usage of strangers in focus gr oups over acquaintances (Krueger, 1988; Morgan, 1997). The main concern with having acquaintances in a focus group was that a participant might feel uncomfortable sharing extremely personal information on the thought of seeing the other group members again
78 outside the group. Additionally, their responses might be influenced by any previous discussion on a similar topic of shared history. At the same time, using acquaintances can be beneficial in terms of group dynamics because the participants are familiar and comfortable with each other, and can remind each other of relevant experiences in their shared past. In the case of this study, the researcher decided to allow snowball sampling and acquaintances in the focus groups due to culturally specific reasons. Unlike most college students in the U.S. who have the freedom to choose their majors, classes, and housing, college students in China live in a much more controlled environment. Once a student is admitted to a school and major, 6 transferring to a differen t school or major is nearly impossible. Most universities in China employ a pseudo militant management model, where students are divided into small units based on major and admission year and required to live in single sex dormitories with assigned roommat es. As a result, college students in China often develop strong bonds with their classmates and/or roommates in college. Given the background of the Chinese university system, it was not surprising that snowball sampling naturally occurred during the focu s group recruitment portion of this study. For instance, in one email the woman spoke on behalf of herself and two of her roommates about their interests in participating in the focus groups. In another instance, one participant contacted the researcher a few days before the focus group meeting 6 An Entrance Exam policy was implemented by the Chinese Communist Party in 1952 that requires all high school graduates in China who want to go to college participate in the yearly national standard examination. Each student is also asked to f ill out an application form in which they indicate their top minimum score for each of the majors based on the overall performance of the applicants, and stude nts are then admitted according to their test scores.
79 asking whether she could bring her friend another female student in her major who also became very interested after she shared the information. Lastly, at some focus group meetings, the researcher quickly became a ware that certain participants in the group were acquaintances with each other. During casual conversations after the focus group meetings, the participants further explained to the researcher why they preferred and enjoyed having their friends or roommat es at the meeting. According to the women, they would always do things together with their roommates or classmates because they always had the exact same that they invited th thought of speaking in front a group of strangers made participants feel intimidated or uncomfortable, so they preferred to have people they knew in the room. Furthermore, growing up in a h ighly collectivist culture in China ha d made the women particularly w ary of attracting unwanted attention from school authorities Thus, participating in an event with other members of the same institution helped ease this apprehension. Group Size and Num ber Focus group on average consists of six to 10 participants, but depending on four and as large as 12 (Morgan, 1997). As the current study explores the perceptions of beauty pageants among college women, the assumed level of involvement among the participants was high. In reality, the participants had lively and engaged discussions on the subject matter, which made smaller groups possible. Of the six focus groups condu cted in this study, two had five participants, two had six participants, and two had eight participants.
80 The number of groups to conduct in studies such as this is dependent on when theoretical saturation is achieved. Theoretical saturation is considered reached when little new information is likely to be yielded by conducting additional focus groups and the full range of experiences have been uncovered (Krueger, 1988). Morgan (1997) suggests that three to five focus groups are sufficient to reach theoreti cal saturation in most cases. This study conducted six focus groups because the first few groups had a small number of participants and the researcher wanted to conduct multiple focus groups from both campuses to be inclusive of all possible viewpoints. Th e researcher was confident that theoretical saturation was achieved at the end of the sixth group. Focus Groups Guide The researcher was the moderator of all six focus groups. Prior to the meetings, a focus group guide (Appendix B Focus Group Guide) was de veloped by the researcher which included a list of questions or topics and their preferred order. The focus group guide started out with an introductory remark that the researcher read before each the focus group began. In this introductory statement, the researcher thanked the participants for coming and gave a brief introduction of herself and the purpose of the focus group meeting collecting data for her dissertation. Because the participants might be unfamiliar with the concept of a focus group, the r esearcher spent some time explaining what was likely to happen during the meeting and what she generally expected from the participants (e.g., contribution to the discussion, speaking one at a time). At the end of the introductory remarks, the researcher o ffered to answer any questions the participants had about the procedure. When all preliminary questions were answered, the researcher then proceeded with the list of questions. The questions were semi structured and open ended and went
81 from general to spec ific. First of all, the researcher asked the women to go around the table an d introduce themselves. This provided the opportunity for the researcher to remember the participants names and served as a warm up for the discussions. Then the researcher asked the places the participants learned about these beauty ideals. Next, the researcher asked the women about their past experiences watching beauty pageant shows and their general impressions of beauty pageant s in China. The researcher then moved on to personal experiences and feelings about beauty pageants. The researcher wound up the discussion by providing a summary of the topics covered so far by the group and asking the participants if there were anything they would like to add. Conducting the Focus Groups The six focus groups were conducted over the course of two and half weeks between May 10th and May 24th, 2012 on the campuses of the three selected schools. The meetings were held in classr ooms and conference rooms that were quiet and private. Before the participants arrived, the researcher set up the two digital audio recorders and placed a consent form and a name card at each seat. When the participants arrived, they were greeted and instr ucted to read and sign the consent form and put their name 7 on the name card. They were served beverages and snacks while they were waiting for other participants to arrive. When the meeting started, the researcher followed the focus group guide and asked the questions on the list. For the most part, the discussions proceeded in the order of the focus group guide, and occasionally the participants skipped ahead or went 7 The researcher explained to the participants that they could put any name they would like to be called during the focus group meeting, and not necessarily their real name or full name.
82 back to previous sections when they were answering the questions. During the meeting, the participants were encouraged to talk about their personal perceptions and researcher made efforts to follow up on interesting and unique remarks and probe for explanations to simple yes or no answers. The six focus group meetings lasted between one and a half and two hours. The entirety of each focus group meeting was audiotaped for transcription. At the end of each meeting, the researcher distributed a media usage survey ( Appendix C Media Usage Survey) to the participants and collected them when they were completed. The purpose of the survey was to collect information on the media consumption habits of the focus group participants to be used in context with the focus group data. Lastly, the researcher thanked the women for their participation and gave them each an appreciation gift 8 before they left the meeting. She also offered her contact information for any further questions. Data Analysis All six focus groups were condu cted in Mandarin and then transcribed by the researcher in Chinese. Similar to the textual analysis, the researcher decided to perform the preliminary coding in Chinese and incorporate English during the theme developing process. In many cases, the researc her used paraphrases to convey the meanings of used, and the quotes were shown to two other bilingual persons to check for accuracy. In the report of the findings, th e participants are given pseudo initials and each woman 8 Based on the recommendations of a school correspondent who was herself a female college student thus familiar with what college women tend to like, the researcher purchased simple cosmetic products (e.g., lip gloss, nail polish, hand cream, etc.) to give out as apprec iative gifts to the focus group participants.
83 is referred to by her pseudo initia l s her age, and her level of pageant viewing experience 9 (e.g., D.H., 21, indifferent viewer ). One of the most commonly used techniques in analyzing focus group da ta is the analytical induction and constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Lindlof, 1995). In this study, t he researcher followed four specific steps of this grounded theory approach. First, the entire transcripts were conceptualized line by l ine. Each statement was coded into as many categories as possible until a best categorical fit was determined. In the process, the researcher paid particularly attention to the meanings of the words the participants used and the context of the statements. Second, the researcher integrated the various categories into a more unified whole (theme) by comparing instances with category attributes. Next, the researcher began a clarifying of the logic by reducing the list of categories and characteristics, and del imited the theory from drawing connections between the existing knowledge on the subject and what was observed in the data. Last, the researcher summarized each theme and found distinctive examples from the data to advance the argument. Interviews Research Method ology Beauty pageant contestants are a self selected group of women whose insights are particularly valuable to this study. Many existing beauty pageant studies have been ethnographies, in which the researchers spent an extended period of time obser ving the pageant from the back stage and soliciting the stories of pageant contestants using both formal and informal forms of communication (e.g., Banet Weiser, 1999; King 9 Based on the preliminary survey and focus group data, the researcher identified three levels of past pageant viewing experience among the participants: non viewer, indifferent viewer, and involved viewer.
84 2006). Based on the scale and rationale of the current study as well as th background in communications research, in depth interviews were determined to be the most appropriate and effective method in this study. Qualitative interviewing is a widely used methodology for data collection by social scientists that pr textured understanding of beliefs, values and motivations in depth interviews are semi structured qualitative interviews with an individual respondent Using in depth interviews, the researchers can explore a range of viewpoints on a particular subject from a particular social milieu a natural group of people who share certain characteristics and/or experiences (Gaskell, 2000). Like other qualitative forms of inquiry, this method is based on a naturalistic epistemology that considers reality as socially constructed and situational (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The individua l Similar to focus groups, in depth interviews often use semi structured, open ended questions. Compared to surveys or questionnaires, in depth interviews are not looking for precision or generalizability; instead they aim to capture the comp lexity of lived experience. In Rubin, 1995). Insights gained from initial interviews are used to shape questions for subsequent interviews. In qualitative interviewing, the researcher serves a s an instrument in the collection and analysis of data and plays the role of a co creator of knowledge (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
85 Research Site Through a personal contact of the researcher in China, she was put in touch with the organization heading one of th e regional competitions in the Miss World China 2012 pageant. The writer and executive producer of this pageant agreed to help the researcher recruit potential interviewees from the contestants at their regional competition and granted her access to the pa geant site as an observer. After the competition was over, the researcher had a two hour informal interview with the executive producer over lunch, and the content of this correspondence was incorporated in the data analysis. The majority of the pageant ac tivities were observed at a four star hotel in a major city on the east coast of China. The researcher visited the hotel four times between June 14th and 23rd, 2012, and on June 24th she attended the finale show of the pageant which was hosted at a large t heater in the city. The researcher was permitted to solicit the pageant contestants for interviews in their spare time and observed the entire process of the pageant from the back stage. She was also allowed to interact with the participants, their family and friends, and the on site staff without interrupting the competition. The field notes of the researcher took during the time she spent at the pageant site were also used to facilitate data analysis. Recruitment of the Interviewees The beauty pageant con testants were wearing number plates on their clothes and were therefore easy to identify at the competition site. The researcher approached the pageant contestants during their break time and solicited them for an interview. She explained to the women the purpose of the interview (for a dissertation project) and expressed willingness to accommodate th eir preferences in meeting time and location
86 The researcher also initiated conversations with friends and family members of the contestants about the intervie w opportunity, and one of the mothers later persuaded her daughter to accept the interview. On the second visit to the competition site, the researcher negotiated with the pageant organization and was given permission to use a hotel room reserved for the p ageant staff during the competition to conduct the interviews. This room was a quiet and private space, which was preferable for in depth interviews compared to other possible locations such as a coffee shop or school library. It also made for a much more convenient environment for the pageant contestants to participate in the interview, which aided in recruitment. However, there were also potential drawbacks of conducting the interviews at the pageant site. For example, the interviewees might get the impr ession that the researcher was affiliated with the pageant organization and restrain themselves from making negative comments about the pageant and their experience as a contestant. Similarly, because the interview was often scheduled right after the rehea rsal, the interviewee might bring a competitive mentality to the interview and treat it as part of the performance. After weighing the pros and cons of all the options, the researcher decided to conduct all the interviews in the hotel room. It is often de emed sufficient to have eight respondents in studies using in depth interviews (McCracken, 1988). In this study, eight separate interviews with beauty pageant site. By the end of the eighth interview, the researcher determined that theoretical saturation had been achieved (the researcher was no longer encountering
87 new information from the interviewees) and the recruitment process was then terminated. About the Participants T he researcher approached twenty beauty pageant contestants (some through their on site family members) for a potential individual interview. About half of the individuals politely rejected the request for various reasons. Some initially agreed but did not find time to participate. In the end, the researcher successfully interviewed eight women who were contestants at this regional contest of the Miss World China 2012 pageant. The eight interviewees ranged in age from 19 to 24. Except for one woman (age 24) who was a working professional, the rest of the interviewees were all college students in their sophomore or junior year. At the time of the interview, six of the students were living in the city where the pageant was being held and two came from out of t own. The families of the eight women were from a variety of cities and provinces in China. During the data analysis, the researcher gave each interviewee a pseudonym to protect their confidentiality. Interview Guide An interview guide (Appendix D Intervi ew Guide) was developed for the in depth interviews with the pageant contestants. As recommended by McCracken (1988), the guide began with biographical questions, followed by grand tour questions and focus questions and prompts. In this study, the biograph ic questions asked the interviewee to talk a little about her personal background (e.g., hometown, occupation, hobbies, etc.). pageants (e.g., when did you first start getti ng involved in beauty pageants?). The focus
88 reactions to their participation in beauty pageants, their personal definition of beauty pageantry, their feedback as a contes tant in the current beauty pageant, their goals and expectations in the competition, and the impact of their pageant experience on their views of themselves and of beauty. The guide ended with a wind up question which asked the interviewee to say something to the other young women in China who might also be interested in participating in beauty pageants. Conducting the Interviews After a pageant contestant agreed to an interview, the researcher scheduled a meeting time with her (often right after that day to the room ten minutes prior to the meeting to prepare the room and set up the audio recorders. When the interviewee arrived, the researcher greeted her and g uided her to sit across from her over a small table. She then presented the interviewee with the consent form and briefly explained the reasons for the paper work and the recorders. Since most of the interviewees had heard abou t the background of the researcher and the purpose of the interview from the pitch during the recruitment, the interview usually started immediately after the interviewee signed the consent form and indicated that she had no other questions. During each i nterview, the researcher asked the interviewee open ended questions (following the general guidelines of the interview guide) and encouraged the woman to share all aspects of her past and current experiences with beauty pageant s The researcher used emergi ng design in most of the interviews, in which she let the conversations flow naturally and allowed the interviewee to expand on areas of
89 particular interest to them. The researcher mainly consulted the interview guide to ensure that all areas of interest t o the researcher had been covered. At the end of the interview, the researcher thanked the interviewee for her time, gave her an appreciation gift, and asked for her email address for future contact. Eight interviews were conducted by the researcher over two weekends in June 2012 (two on June 16th, four on June 17th, and three on June 23rd). The average duration of the interviews was 40 minutes, with the interviewing times ranged from 30 to 55 minutes. The interviews were recorded with two digital audio re corders and the recordings were transferred to a computer. Data Analysis All eight interviews were conducted in Mandarin and the recordings were transcribed in Chinese by the researcher. Once again, the researcher chose not to translate the entirety of the transcripts into English before the analysis because the meanings and contexts in a conversation are best preserved in their original form of presentation. Hence, data analysis was initiated in Chinese in open coding, gradually moved into a hybrid of Engl ish and Chinese in theme development, and finally presented in English in the writing of the findings. When direct quotes were needed, the researcher performed literal translation of the sentences in the transcript s and checked with two other bi lingual ind ividuals for accuracy for the translation. Similar to the focus group data analysis, analytic induction and constant comparative technique were used in analyzing the interview data (Glaser & Strauss, 19 6 7). The method started with open coding, where the r esearcher divided the interview transcripts into discrete and self contained instances and coded each instance into as many categories as possible. Then the researcher compared the instances and tried to
90 find the best categorical fit for each instance. Nex t, the researcher compared the instances with their category characteristics and modified and combined related categories. Themes were developed from the constant comparisons between instances individual interviewees held viewpoints that differed from those of the majority of the participants, and revised the themes accordingly (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). When the preliminary data analysis was completed, the researcher conducte d their accounts were accurate (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). She emailed all eight women with an executive summary of the findings and asked them for feedback and comments. I n the email, the researche r also expressed interest pageant and invited her to provide any update. Of the eight women, three responded to the email and indicated that their viewpoints were accurately captured and represe nted. Some of the additional information they provided in the email is discussed in the findings. Relationships b etween the Three Methodologies Three qualitative research methodologies were used in this study, and the triangulation of methods helped the researcher achieve a breadth and width of the information on beauty pageant s in China and increased the credibility and validity of the results (Flick, 1992). The textual analysis data revealed the dominant messages embedded in media text of Chinese beauty pageant shows and examine d the beauty pageant phenomenon from the perspective of media (re)presentation From the interactive and extensive discussions with the six groups of college women, the researcher gained an understanding of how they defined the i deal feminine
91 beauty, what their impressions and personal opinions on beauty pageants were, how they related other social issues with beauty pageantry, and how their media consumption habits might have influenced their perceptions of beauty ideals and beau ty pageant s Overall, the focus group data allowed the researcher to study the subject from the perspective of average young urban Chinese wom e n whose lives were directly and indirectly influenced by the beauty economy. In depth interview data provided th beauty pageant phenomenon. It helped the researcher see first handed the impact of beauty pageantry on the lives of a selected group of young Chinese women as well as how the experiences of these women contribute d to shaping both media representations and public perceptions of beauty pageant s Es sentially, the interviews compl e mented the textual analysis and focus groups to provide a holistic understanding of the beauty pageant phenomenon in neoliberal China. Fin dings of the three methods are detailed in the next chapter.
92 CHAPTER 4 FINDINGS This chapter presents the findings from the data analys e s conducted for this study. Three research methodologies were used in this study (textual analysis, focus groups and in depth interviews) and each methodology yielded rich qualitative data. The findings are presented in separate sections based on methodology, although all the data were analyzed to answer the same set of research questions (RQ1 3). In Chapter 5, f urther conn ections between the findings of the three sections will be made and overarching theoretical implications of these findings will be discussed Textual Analysis The researcher of this study performed textual analysis on two particular Chinese beauty pageant shows. The finale show of the 2011 Miss Chinese Cosmos pageant was hosted in the evening of October 22, 2011 at the Kowloon Bay International Trade and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. There were 12 contestants 1 who appeared in 2011 Miss Chinese Cosmos ( Co smos ) which was broadcast live by Phoenix TV and aired on four Phoenix channels The general rundown of Cosmos included: introduction of the contestants introduction of the judges, first Q&A section, contestant dance performance s special awards announce ment twelve to six elimination announcement second Q&A section, guest performance, and final award s announcement There w ere five celebrity individuals who served as the main judges in Cosmos : Charlie Yeung, female actress from Hong Kong; Jiahui Ma, mal e writer and media critic from Hong Kong; Nick Cheung, male actor from Hong Kong; Leon Dai, male film director from 1 T he twelve contestants in the finale show came from seven regional contests : mainland China (5), USA (2), UK (1), Canada (1), Australia (1), Malaysia (1), Macao (1).
93 Taiwan; Jiping He, female play wright from mainland C h ina. In addition Cosmos also had three special award judges: two CEOs from two major s ponsors of the pageant (both male), and a dance artist and dean of a Hong Kong dance school (female). The entire show lasted two hours and 36 minutes excluding commercial breaks The finale show of the 2011 Miss World China pageant was hosted on September 10, 2011 at a mountain tourist resort in Wuxi, a mid sized city in Jiangsu province. There were 27 contestants who appeared in 2011 Miss World China ( World) which was produced by the Miss World China Organization and the recording was aired by Guangdong Satellite TV later that evening. The general rundown of World included: contestant opening dance, introduction of the judges swimsuit competition, qipao show, guest performance one, evening gown competition, special awards announcement top 15 elimination guest performance two, top 5 elimination, Q&A section, final awards announcement There were six judges in World : Zilin Zhang, former Miss World winner ; Yinhua Han, female modeling coach from; Geping Mao, male makeup artist; Katy Koutsolioutsos female co founder of Folli Follie; Fang Chen, male CEO of Yuanyi Corp; and Kejun Qiu, male chief manager of Nanfang Daily Media Group T h e la t ter three of the six judges were representatives of three major sponsors of the pageant. The show was one hour and 25 min utes long excluding commercial breaks. Representations of Gender Stereotypes Issues of representation are central to feminist media scholarship and cultural studies, in which gender stereotyping has been a key area of interest. Early studies directed atte ntion to the stereotypical depictions of women in Hollywood films (e.g., Rosen, 1973) and TV commercials ( Dominick & Rauch, 1972 ), and feminist scholars
94 have since extended their critique of gender (and other) stereotypes in various media forms (see Nordqu ist, 2001). Beauty pageant shows are a media text that has yet to be systematically studied for stereotypical representations In this study, the researcher explores the dominant meanings of gender in beauty pageants in China through analyzing the media te xt of two pageant shows, paying particular attention to the stereotypical images and messages of gender promoted in the shows. A feminine competition Modern beauty pageant s ha ve been largely perceived as feminine event s (Banet Weiser, 1999). In many cult ures people use different titles to address women who are married (e.g, Mrs in English, and taitai in Chinese) and those who are unmarried (e.g., Miss in English, and xiaojie in Chinese), but only one for men (e.g., Mr in English, and xiansheng in Chinese ). These titles show that marriage status plays a more important factor in determining a woman s social role The names of in their titles indicating that only unmarried young women or girls are t o the ones who are expected to participate in pageants T he contestants i n both Cosmos and World were frequently referred to as jiali 2 (fine beauty) instead of xuanshou (contestants) Rarely appearing in everyday conversations in China the word jiali is almost exclusively used in the context of beauty pageantry or advertising. Before modern pageants, jiali was known to describe the group of women who were wives, concubines, or mistresses of feudalist emperors in 2 Jiali was first used in the poem Chang Hen Ge by a famous poet of Tang Dynasty Bai J uyi. The original sentence in the poem can be loosely translated into: Although the Emperor had three thousand jiali (beautiful women) in his palace, all his love was dedicated to one specific concubine Yang.
95 Chinese history. Selected at a young age b y the royal family based on physical beauty and family background, the jiali would spend the rest of their lives in the harem competing against each other for the love and attention of their husband as well as a secured and comfortable life for themselves and their families. A parallel could be drawn between the experiences of the jiali on the pageant stage and the jiali in the imperial harems. The two groups of women were both engaged in an arbitrary type of competition in which they present, compare, and trade their feminine beauty and sexuality for the recognition of the patriarchal system. By using the terminology of jiali, the Chinese pageants also created a collective image of the women on stage. In the Western pageants, individual pageant contestants are often recognized for their uniqueness. For example, the contestants in Miss America are addressed by the state that they are representing (e.g., Miss California), and they are distinguished by their professions and specialties (e.g., M i ss Alabama is a third year dental student). In the Chinese pageants, particularly World the contestants were not introduced as individuals but given a group identity as jiali and each woman was contributing a part to the final picture of feminine beauty. This differenc e was telling of the collectivism in Chinese culture (Hofstede, 1997) On one hand, by creating a collective identity for the pageant women, the C h inese pageant shows echoed the main theme of H armonious Society, which had been stressed by the Chinese gov ernment in recent years (Fan, 2006). O n the other hand, it also to a great extent annihilated the individuality of th ose Chinese pageant contestants With reality television gaining popularity in China, personal fame and celebrity has become increasingly n ormalized and desirable among the Chinese youth. T he fact that
96 beauty pageant shows like World largely played down the individual identity of the contestants was interesting and indicative of potential differences in the production goals between beauty pag eants and other entertainment media in China. Beauty pageant s are known as xuanmei bisai ( beauty selection contest ) in Chin a Even though the pageant event as a whole was primarily framed as a competition, the actual content of these pageant shows was fa r from the traditional sense of competition as in sports or even in reality television. T hroughout the entire pageant, t here was no scoreboard showing the current status of the competition or any elaboration after each round of massive elimination. If not for the number tags that the women were wearing, they could very well look like a group of performers rather than individual competitors H o wever, i n order to create a sense of excitement for the audience, the hosts in both Cosmos and World used languages such as jilie (fierce) and canku (ruthless) to describe pageant competition After all, when the final prize was dear and scarce, all the young women on stage had to fight against each other to stand out and only the one who managed to capture the most p ositive attention could win the crown. In m ost of the two shows there was no confrontation and a minimum of interaction among the contestants on stage. The only occasion where the contestants could have gone head to head with each other was in the seco nd round of Q&A in Cosmos According to the rules, after one contestant gave her answer to a question another contestant had the opportunity to challenge the previous answer and/or give an alternative. However, even in this section the women still refrain ed from showing any hint of competitiveness. One of the pageant judges asked Contestant No.3 Yichun a hypothetical question in which she needed to pick one of the twelve women to be the
97 winner of pageant. T o avoid any confrontation, she gave a very diploma tic answer: I really cannot pick one winner from all the women here on stage because only all twelve of us together can represent the essence of the most beautiful Chinese woman. It was clear that Yichun, and most pageant women in Cosmos and World appe ared extremely acquiescent and non confrontational on stage. In a traditional Confucian home, women were expected to obey their fathers, husbands, and sons ( Tamney & Chiang, 2002 ) After various social revolution s in the 20 th century, Chinese women have be come less restrained by s an cong si de (three obedience and four virtues) 3 in Confucius teaching. However, as China witnesses a revival of Confucianism in recent years (Demick, 2011), being submissive and compliant may have regained its place in ideal femi ninity in China. As a result, the women in Chinese beauty pageants could be reluctant in exhibiting assertiveness or aggressive ness fearing that it might be perceived as unfeminine. Pageant hosts and gender roles There were four hosts 4 in the Cosmos thr ee males and one female, and all of them were veteran pageant host s from previous years Being a relatively smaller production, World had only one male host and one female host, 5 both of whom were first time pageant hosts. The main functions served by the hosts in the two Chinese beauty pageants included announc ing the proceedings of the show, introduc ing the 3 San cong (three obedience ): obey her fat her as a daughter, obey her husband as a wife, obey her son in widowhood. Si de (four virtues): morality, proper speech, modest manner, and diligent work. 4 All four hosts were television personalities from Phoenix TV, they were Wentao Dou (talk show hos t), Tiger Hu (news anchor), LInjia Yuchi ( entertainment host), and Xing Shen (entertainment host). 5 They were Xiaoyang Feng and Jie Luo, both entertainment television hosts from Guangdong TV.
98 participants (contestants, judges, sponsors, guest performers, award presenters, etc.), and engag ing the live and television audiences. Various tradi tional gender roles were found in both the male and female hosts in Cosmos and W orld First of all, even though the actual age of the female hosts were similar to their male counterparts, on stage the female hosts of both shows appeared significantly more attractive and youthful than the male hosts. For example, the female host in Cosmos changed her outfits three times throughout the show, and the gowns she was wearing were form fitting and accentua ted her feminine physique In comparison, the outfits the t hree male hosts were wearing, although eye catching, had a lot less sex appeal. T he visua l impressions of the pageant hosts were consistent with the traditional gender expectation of a young beautiful female and an older less attractive male which reinfor ced the patriarchal gender belief that youth and beauty was more valued in women than in men (Wolf, 199 1 ). Female Host ( Cosmos ): In the next segment, our contestants will take some hard questions from our three male hosts, one on one and face to face. I hope the girls will have good performances, because a combination of intelligence and beauty is what makes the judges give out high scores. I hope the three partners of mine will not give too much of a hard time to these beautiful girls. Please welcome our Wentao, Yihu, Yuchi! Male Host 1 ( Cosmos ) : NO.1 contestant Kathy, born and raised in the United States. She used to be able to speak Chinese, but then she forgot it all. But recently she s just learnt to speak again! [audience laughter ] Hello Kathy The f irst question I am going to ask you today, is to not let you understand my question. [audience laughter ] Second ly the female hosts appeared more conservative and formal on stage compared to their male counterparts. The female hosts tended to use more neut ral and proper language and stick to the script ed lines whereas t he male hosts were more liberal and exaggerated with their expressions and incorporated more humor and
99 improvis ing in their language Traditional gender roles often hold f emininity on the opp osite side of humor and it was unladylike for women to perform comedy until the early 20 th century (Wagner, 2011). In China, people still believe that girls are supposed to be wenjing (gentle and quiet) and boys to be huopo (outgo i ng ), and a w oman who is overly expressive or opinionated in public is seen as unfeminine I n this sense the two female hosts in the pageants conformed to the Chinese traditional feminine ideal of passivity and properness Moreover, it was interesting to note that on ly the male host s had direct interactions with the contestants on stage in both pageants. In the first Q&A section in Cosmos the three male hosts took turns chatting with individual contestant s and challeng ing them with difficult questions or tasks. L ater in the second Q&A section, it was also only the three male hosts who acted as liaisons between the contestants and judges. Similarly, the male host in World was the one who presented the question s of the Q&A to the five finalists, not his female partner This arrangement was hardly coincidental because it not only situated the male hosts in a more authoritative position as the interrogator s but also preserved a more sympathetic and unaggressive image of the female hosts, both of which reaffirmed the patria rchal gender stereotypes Objects for the male gaze Mulvey (1975/1989) wrote in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema : ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining mal e gaze projects its phantasy on the female form which is styled (p. 62). In Hollywood cinema (and other forms of visual media), the sign woman is constructed by and for a patriarchal culture, in which
100 women s bodies are eroticized and turned into the objects of the male gaze (Mulvey, 1975/1989). With the help of professional costume design ers, hair and makeup artists, and stage coaches, the young women in Cosmos and World looked nothing short of stunning On average, the contestant s changed outfits between five and seven times over the duration of the show The frequent changes of outfits served to create visual stimulation and keep the show interesting for the audiences. In Cosmos the outfits the contestants were wearing were specifically d esigned for the pageant by a fashion designer and sponsor The styles of the outfits fell into two general categories: dresses ( short and long) and briefs ( tank top and tight shorts ) In World there were four individual contests/shows based on the contest ants outfits: sportswear, bikini, qipao, and evening gown. The styles and designs of the pageant outfits were purposefully selected in order to bring out the femininity of the contestants. The form fitting cuts and long dress length accentuated the slende r, curvaceous and lanky physique of the women, and the sports bras and bikinis made sure they reveal enough of their skin/body so the visual pleasure of the spectators were satisfied. One of the four special contests in World was called A q ipao is the traditional one piece dress for women in China and the style of qipao has changed along with fashion trends throughout the 20 th century from a loose silhouette to a form fitting garment (Yang, 2007). The qipao faded out from Chinese societ y during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, and since then has been used mostly as formal wear in ceremonial and diplomatic occasions or as uniforms of restaurant and hotel staff (Chew, 2007). In recent years, the qipao reemerged as a fashion icon by th e cultural
101 producers in China and around the world, bringing together the reminiscent and new found fantasies of oriental exoticism (Chew, 2007). In the qipao show, each contestant walked down the runway in a sleeveless and knee length qipao holding a lo tus seedpod, lotus flower, or lotus leaf Lotus is symbolic of purity in Chinese culture, so the arrangement not only symbolized the purity of these pageant women s beauty but also nicely c ompliment ed the Chinese theme of the show The qipao the women were wearing were further m od ified to look like a cocktail dress, baring their arms and legs while emphasizing their small waists and feminine figures. During th is section, most contestants would slow down the pace of their walk to match the rhythm of traditio nal Chinese music, and make sure they were holding the prop s in extremely feminine ways clutching them close to their bodies with dainty hand gestures Many of them didn t forget to strike a dramatic and sexually alluring pose before they turned around at the end of the runway. Prerecorded self introduction of contestant No.1 ( Cosmo s): I am No. 1 contestant Shi Kaixi. I was born in the U.S.A but I grew up in a family that loves Chinese culture. I hope to make my contribution to the cultural exchange and c ommunication between China and the West. Prerecorded self introduction of contestant No. 18 ( Cosmo s): I am No. 18 contestant Fu Jielin. I come from Malaysia. Singing and dancing is the passion in my life, and I will take my courage and confidence and conq uer the stages all over the world. In Cosmos each contestant made her debut appearance in a n avant garde dress specially designed for the pageant show. With a pre recorded self introduction playing in the background, the contestant walked on the stage ac companied by two male dancers and proceeded to dance flirtatious ly when the camera s follow ed them closely and focus ed on their bod ies L ater on, the women changed into a more tight fitting Broadway look costume and performed two group dances. Again, the c ameras
102 would zoom in and out on the contestant s bodies, and multiple camera positions would provide a 360 degree view of their performances. According to Mulvey s cinepsychoanalysis, when the images of these Chinese beauty pageant contestants were captur ed by the cameras and presented on the television screen, they too were turned into the fetishistic objects of the male gaze. Although it seemed like the women on the pageant stage were actively performing their femininity by walking, smiling, gesturing an d dancing, the patriarchal nature of the media narrative did not allow them to be the subjects who controlled the gaze. In the end, the faces that were covered by flawless makeup, the arms, legs, and cleavages that were flirtatiously revealed through diffe rent outfits, and the movements that were instructed to look feminine and alluring all contributed to the fact that these young pageant women were sexualized and objectified for the visual pleasures of the spectator s According to Mulvey (1975/1989, 1981 /1999 ) the spectatorship require s a masculine identification for both genders and a female spectatorship was unlikel y. While cinepsychoanalysis largely deemed identification as a cultural process that only reproduced dominant culture and reinforced exist ing patriarchal forms of identity, feminist cultural theorists drew attention to the potential of empowerment and resistance through identification in cultural consumption (Stacey, 1991/1999). Jackie Stacey then further argued that Identification does not simply involve the passive reproduction of existing femininities, but rather an active engagement and pr oduction of changing (1981/1999, p. 208).
103 When consuming cinema (and other visual media), instead of having an erotic desire towards the w omen on the screen, female spectators could have a desire to become more like the women they see (Stacey, 199 1/1999). Following Stacey s theoretical postulation on female spectatorship, female audiences of beauty pageants could identify the differences bet ween themselves and women on the pageant stage with regards to physical attractiveness. This recognition could lead some female audience (e.g., young girls) to form their ideals femininity based on the beauty queens in the pageants, whom they worship as ro le models. Some women may even engage in practices that transform their physical appearance (e.g., dieting, cosmetic surgery) to resemble the ideal image. Beauty as an achievement Beauty is considered an important social currency for women in patriarchal societies (Wolf, 1991). Women are more likely than men to be held accountable for their physical appearance and valued by their conformity to cultural ideal s of beauty (Thompson et al. 1999). F eminist scholars have pointed to the oppressive nature of the beauty system as it dis en franchises women by simultaneously rendering the feminine body inferior and providing the only redemption through the title of beauty (Jeffreys, 2005). One of the key messages the two Chinese beauty pageants were trying to conve y also advocated for th is inherent significance of feminine beauty. By subscribing the status of achievement to feminine beauty, the Chinese beauty pageants to a great extent reinforced the patriarchal beauty system that tied women s self worth to their ab ilities to be acknowledged as beautiful.
104 The pageant hosts repeatedly stressed the fact that beauty was not a personal attribute or natural state of being; instead, it was a recognition and symbol of success that all the pageant contestants on stage were fighting to earn. Female Host ( World ): This year s Miss World China pageant travelled to eight major regions in China, and after over six months of preliminary contests, we have selected 27 jiali to compete on this final stage. Tonight the winner of the competition will have to excel in Swimsuit, Traditional Qipao, and Evening Gown shows plus the final Q&A section, which is not an easy task. Male Host ( World ): Absolutely. Any road that leads to success is going to be very difficult, but at least tonight i t is going to be a beautiful journey. In order to earn recognition for their beauty, a pageant contestant needed not only personal efforts and determination but also professional assistance. In both Cosmos and World the contestants were changed into diffe rent outfits so they could perform different styles of feminine beauty : from youthful ness (bikini) to elegan ce (evening gown), from modern ( avant garde dress) to traditional (qipao). D iligent production efforts were made to enhance the contestants perform ances, such as extravagant costume designs, perfect hairdo and makeup, carefully arranged lighting and camera positions, and well scripted speeches. Jean Kilbourne eloquently pointed out in the Killing us Softly film series that the advertising industry k eeps telling women how important it is to look beautiful and then how exactly to achieve the ideal beauty. In a consumerist society, not only are women s bodies sexualized and commoditized to sell products, feminine beauty as a product and ideology is also being sold to individual women. As demonstrated in the two Chinese beauty pageants, being beaut iful was not a task that a woman could simply accomplish on her own, instead she needed the help from the fashion, cosmetics, and media professionals to bring o ut her beauty in its best light.
105 To highlight the contestants achievements in beauty, b oth pageants established a set of specialty competitions and awards in addition to the final title. Cosmos had three special ty awards: Miss Web Popularity the mos t popular contestant based on fan votes and personal blog visits, Miss Photogenic the contestant who looked the best in front of the camera and Miss Cultural Personality the contestant who demonstrated the most cultural sensibility and knowledge. World had five special contests prior to the finale show, and the winners of these contests got to move up to the final 15 automatically. They were Miss Sport s the contestant who exhibited leadership and physical fitness in group sports, Miss Culinary Ar ts the contestant who demonstrated the most competent and creative cooking skills, Miss Bikini the contestant who looked the most confident and attractive in a bikini, Miss Talent the contestant who had the most impressive talent, and Miss S uper Model the contestant who was the best at modeling different clothes T hese awards were designed to acknowledge the physical appearance as well as the skills and qualities of the pageant contestants indicating that feminine beauty could be multi di mensional and it often took more than a pretty face to be considered beautiful Furthermore, b o th shows had Q&A section s in which the contestants were challenged with difficult questions Particularly, there were two rounds of Q&As in Cosmos T he first ro und of was designed to give each contestant the opportunity to impress the judges and audiences with their skills and personalities, and the second round aimed more at revealing their intelligence and worldview. As indicated in the ex ample questions below, t he se Q&A section s demonstrated that personal qualities
106 such as knowledge, confidence, intelligence, and humbleness were also crucial in the ultimate achievement of feminine beauty. Male H o st 3 ( Cosmos first Q&A): Contestant No. 6 Wu Chenceng. She has a very impressive education background. She knows three foreign languages. Chenceng, could you say something in each language for us? Male H o st 2 ( Cosmos first Q&A): Contestant No. 7 Li Wei, from UK. I heard that you know a lot about healthy eating, and e specially about tea. Why do you like tea? If I were to ask you to describe each of our judges with a type of tea, what would those be? Judge Mr. Jiahui Ma ( Cosmos second Q&A): If today, among the six of you, you were not selected to be the winner, how wou ld you handle the result? How would you explain it to your friends and family why that you lost? Judge Ms Jiping He ( Cosmos second Q&A): When the pageant is over today, if you will write a twitter message, what punctuation will you use at the end of the sentence? Will it be a period, an e xclamation mark a question mark, or something else? Cultural Ideals of Feminine Beauty Physical beauty of the pageant contestants M odern beauty pageants have been criticized for homogeniz ing the criteria in judging phy sical beauty in women and patroniz ing Western standard s of beauty (Cohen et al., 1995; Van Esterik, 1995). In Cosmos and World all of the contestants were ethnically Chinese with the vast majority born and raised in mainland China. I t was interesting to i nspect the ideal forms of female physical beauty constructed in t he two Chinese beauty pageants in the context of both the Chinese and the Western/universal beauty standard s The outstanding height I n spite of a recent effort made by the Miss Universe Mal aysia organization to eliminate the height limit 163cm ( .2 for entering the pageant ( Pak 2012) it has been a common practice for beauty pageants all over the world to se t minimum height requirements for the contestants It is also a noticeable
107 trend in recent global pageants such as Miss Universe and Miss World that the contestants and title holders have become increasingly tall 6 T he most recent title holder of both Miss World China and Miss World Yu Wenxia is 178cm ( .1 ), and most of the conte stants in Cosmos and World were at least 15cm (6 inches) taller than the average wom a n in China 7 By having such exceptional height standards, beauty contests further set apart the ideal from the reality and promote a beauty standard that was difficult if not impossible for most women to attain. When watching beauty pageants like Cosmos and World young women in China might feel disappointed and dis couraged knowing that their height alone already disqualified them from ever participating in a beauty contes t. T h eir self esteem might be negatively impacted by identifying this insoluble discrepancy between their own body image and the ideal image of beauty. Between the two pageants shows, World had placed more importance on the height of the contestants in rel ation to ideal feminine beauty. In the first section of World The B ikini Show, each contestant would walk down the runway when the host introduced her by her contestant number, followed by her name, her height, and a beauty statement that she wrote. Accom pa nying the verbal introduction was a graphic display of the contestant s name, hometown, and height imposed on the television screen. With both the visual and verbal cues, the information of height was made a meaningful distinguisher of all the contestant s in World The audience s were led to 6 The average height of the Miss Universe title holders between 2002 and 2011 is 5 feet and 10.2 inches. 7 According to the information disclosed in the pageant shows, of the 27 contestants in World the shortest was 170cm (5 6.9 ) and the tallest was 183cm (6 ). Four contestants in Cosmos whose height was mentioned, which were 171cm, 173cm, 177cm and 177cm. The average height for women in China is 158cm (5 2 ).
108 believe that height was a key criterion in judging female physical beauty in the beauty contest. Furthermore o ne of the five specialty competition s in World was the Model Contest in which the contestants were judged for their runway skills and abilit y to display clothes. According to the rules, the winner of the Super Model Contest (same with the other four specialty competitions) was guaranteed a spot among the 15 finalists As a result, the tall women in the competition who tended to have modeling backgrounds were then given an obvious advantage over the shorter women. As the result of World showed, t he winner of the Super Model Contest was 178cm (5 10.1 ) and made to the top five finalists, and the title hol der of the pageant was one of the tallest contestants in the show 0.9 The fact that height was made a determining factor in the competition in World indicated that being tall was a crucial part of the cultural ideals for feminine beauty in contemporary China, and that beauty pageants in C h ina shared the same trend that was found in the global pageant community. Cosmos did not have a Super Model competition or specifically identify each contestant by their height But during the first round of Q&A, the male hosts on different occasions commented on the height of certain tall contestants particularly in comparison to their own height or the height of men. Male Host 1 ( Comos ): No. 13 contestant Yang Shanyi. Her height posts deadly pressure o n me. H er height is 177cm, but the reality right now is 187cm [with heels]. I find that I can only talk to her waist. Shanyi: Hello everyone! Hello wentao! Male Host 1 : I think I should stand further away from you. Shanyi: No, it doesn t matter, real ly!
109 Male Host 2 ( Comos ): No. 3 contestant Zhang Yichun. Many people see you walking out and said: wow, she is so tall! I am wondering, do you have a requirement for height when you look for boyfriend? If a guy that is shorter than you (177cm) would yo u consider him ? Yichun: Just like what last year s winner (also 177cm tall) said: is not distance, age is not a problem. Male Host 2: So wentao (male host 1) could also pursue you? He s standing right there. Yichun: Hmm [shy] I think there shou ldn t be a problem. From the evolutionary perspective, the height of a person is often associated with physical and social power, and research has demonstrated that tall individuals indeed have a higher rate of succe ss in the workplace (Judge & Cable, 2004 ). In most cultures, gender stereotypes tend to depict men as being taller than women, which is consisten t with the patriarchal imagery of the dominant male and submissive female. When the height difference between the (taller) contestants and the male hos ts became the focus of conversation in Cosmos, the assumed gender role balance was temporarily broken, leading to identity anxieties in both genders. The male hosts had to joke about their feeling of defeat and inadequacy while the female contestants also seemed uncomfortable about this reversal in gender stereotypic traits. The thin ideal and the soft female body If being tall had given some women a distinctive advantage in the Chinese pageant competitions, being thin was outright a minimum requirement f or every woman who participated. In both Cosmos and World the contestants were wearing outfits that bared their arms, legs and sometimes mid sections. The cameras would zoom in on individual contestants as they walked up the runway providing a close look at the overall physique as well as specific parts of the body Given such detailed visual presentation, o ne needed not to be a beauty or health
110 expert to tell that the vast majority of the se young women had very thin bodily figures and some of them even l ooked extremely underweight. The thin beauty ideal has been studied extensively by scientists and feminist scholars from various disciplines and most of them tend to agree that thinness is one of the most salient and internalized beauty attribute s for wo men in modern societies (Bordo, 1993). In a developing nation like China, involuntary hunger remains a public health problem. However, due to rapid economic growth and influx of foreign media in the past a few decades, concerns of being fat and problematic eating attitudes are on the rise in the Chinese society. Even though most young Chinese women are slim by Western standard s there is still an overwhelming desire to become just a little slimmer (Lee, 1993). As Lee (1996) pointed out, anorexia nervosa w as no longer bound by its Western cultural localities and needed to be reconsidered as being grounded in the transnational culture of modernity. Most b eauty pageants are organized with the goal of selecting the most beautiful woman according to curre nt cultural ideals of beauty. Therefore it was expected of the beauty pageant contestants to conf or m to if not exemplify the global trend of female thinness However, within this universal thin beauty ideal for women there were interesting differences fou nd between the thin bod y in th e Chinese beauty pageant s and thin body in the Western context First of all the contestants in the two Chinese pageants did not have the sun tanned skin tone like the pageant women in the West This was likely because of the cultural preference for fair complexion and low interest in tanning in China (Xie & Zhang, 2012). Another even less obvious but interesting disparity the researcher found between the two pageant cultures was that women in the
111 Western pageants tended t o have highly athletic and fit bodies whereas the bodies of the Chinese pageant contestants were generally soft looking with no visible muscle tone From a feminist perspective, reflects the position of women i n contemporary Chinese society Muscle s and a muscular body are often associated with physical strength and power while a soft female body is considered beautiful, it can also be considered less powerful or weak because of the lack of muscles. To that end, young Chinese women are held to a cultural ideal of feminine beauty that requires them to sacrifice their physical strength and sometimes physical health. By keeping the bodies of women soft and non muscular the patriarchal system in China in effect rein forced the hierarchy of power between the strong men and the weak women. In China, it is common for parents to discourage their daughters from playing sports or exercising because they believe that engaging in too much physical activit y w ould make a g irl look like a tom boy and sabotage her feminine image A recent news report shows that dieting is the most popular method used to achieve and maintain a thin body in China, and there are a lot of exercise free slimming treatments in the market that specif ically target Chinese women (Chu, 2010). T he fact that the Chinese pageant contestants in general had less toned and athletic bodies could be linked to the cultural practice s in China that tended to preclude women from physical exercise Before the communi st revolution, having pale skin tone and a delicate body was a n indicator of high social class or affluent background and women with social means would refrain from all manual labor and physical activities to maintain a highly feminine appearance T he atti tude toward s gender and work changed tremendously during Mao
112 era and the idea that women could do just about an ything that men could was promoted to increase communist productivity However, as capitalist consumerism proceeds to take over the communist ide ology in China, certain traditional and patriarchal gender beliefs are reinstated as the dominant gender discourse, such as the ideal female body need ing to be delicate and soft. Ambiguity and homogeneity in facial beauty. No one will argue that the face of a woman is an irrelevant factor in her beauty. Asian culture in particular seems to place higher importance on facial beauty than bodily beauty for women (Frith et al., 2005). However, facial beauty was not explicitly emphasized in Cosmos and World and it could be for practical reasons. On one hand, it was difficult to communicate effectively th e criteria used in judg ing the facial beauty of the contestants. Unlike bodily attributes such as height or weight that have quantifiabl e measurements, judgment s of facial beaut y seemed harder to convey On the other hand, it contributed to the political correctness of the Chinese beauty pageant shows in the c o mmunist society when they deemphasized the physical appearance (e.g., facial beauty) of the contestants an d instead focus ed on the inner qualities of the women. Both Cosmos and World were Chinese beauty pageants, and the racial and ethnic makeup of the contestant pools was highly homogenous given that over 90% of the Chinese population was Han ( National Burea u of Statistics of China, 2011) As a result, the facial features of the contestants in the two Chinese pageants demonstrated fewer apparent visual variations, especially compared to the contestants in pageants like Miss Universe or Miss America who tend t o come from different racial and cultural backgrounds. Furthermore in major beauty pageant shows such as Cosmos and World
113 the contestants were given a complete makeover before getting on the stage. After being transformed by professional makeup artists with stage makeup, the faces of these women all looked very attractive and similar. Based on the observation of the researcher, the women in Cosmos and World tended to share one particular facial characteristic: a small chin or narrow jawline. Given that it is harder to change the look of one s face shape than other facial features with makeup, it was notable that a large proportion of these Chinese pageant contestants had a xiaolian (small face) with jian xiaba (pointed chin), which is largely considered attractive for women in contemporary China. Being an Asian woman, the researcher was familiar with certain makeup techniques commonly used to modify the look of Asian facial features. In the two Chinese pageants, two specific makeup techniques were preval ent on the contestants: using strong eyeliners and fake eyelashes to make the eyes look bigger, and using shadow of different shades to create a narrower looking and higher profiled nose. According to evolutionary theory, beautiful faces tend to share char acteristics such as symmetry, averageness, and sexual dimorphism (Rhodes, 2006) and some facial features, such as large eyes, small nose, and small chin, are considered particularly feminine and attractive on women ( Cunningham, 1986; Johnston & Franklin, 1993; Hnn & Gz 2007 ). Beyond racial singularity the faces of the Chinese pageant women demonstrated a notable level of homogeneity both with the natural feature of small chin and makeup aftereffects of large eyes and defined nose. T h ese features were i n agreement with some of the universal ideals of female facial beauty, which further provided evidence to the evolutionary perspective of beauty.
114 Beauty on the Inside Fem ale Host ( World ): The swimsuit show just now was very beautiful, every contestant l ooked absolutely stunning. M ale Host ( World ): Yes. But it seemed to me that I not only saw the outside of these beautiful women, but also the beautiful light that shined through from the inside. Fem ale Host ( World ): Absolutely. In Miss Wor l d the physical appearance of the contestants is only one standard, and their inner beauty and compassion is also a key factor that the judges take into consideration. In clear contrast to the reluctance in explicitly discussing physical beauty, the inner beauty of the c ontestants was lavishly advertised in both Cosmos and World The hosts of the pageants repeatedly stressed the importance for the winner of the pageant to demonstrate intelligence, talent, and compassion beyond just a beautiful appearance. However, between the two pageants, different levels of efforts were made to underscore the individuality and personal substance of each contestant. Cosmos was a self contained international beauty pageant and its finale show was promoted as one of the biggest broadcast e vents on Phoenix TV. With only twelve final contestants competing in the two and half hour finale, the show allocated an extensive amount of air time (four to six minutes on average) to each contestant and provided the opportunity for the judges and the au dience to get to know these women as individuals. From both the self introduction and the first Q&A segments one was able to gain some basic knowledge of their personal backgrounds and the way they interact ed with other people. For example: Male Host 2 ( C osmos ): No. 15 contestant Gao Xuan, from Australia. She is a graduate student in accounting She plays er h u, and she is the winner of a TV host competition. She is also a famous baby (cheerleader for basketball team).
115 Cosmos also made a point to highlight the talent s and a chievement s the contestant s had. For example, C ontestant No.6 was a graduate student at a foreign language institute so she was asked to speak in both French and Korean to showcase her language skills. S imilarly, C ontestant N o.13 was requested to draw a quick portrait of the male host on stage without any preparation to showcase her background in design. In order to accommodate 27 contestants and four competitions in its 90 minutes of show time, World had to limit the time sp ent on each contestant individually. Other than the five finalists who answered one pre determined question in the Q&A section, the rest of the contestants did not get to spea k at all throughout the entire show. From a feminist perspective, the individuali ty and self identity of these women were diminished by losing the ability to express the ir thoughts. This silencing act in World could have a rather negative impact on the audiences who were lead to believe that feminine beauty was an entity that existed outside the person who embodied it, and it was unnecessary to hear, know, or understand a woman as long as we c ould see her beauty. The only chance for those women to present themselves beyond their physical look s was through a brief beauty statement an nounced by the host as part of their introduction Despite being only a couple of sentences long these statements to a certain degree expressed the views and understandings of these women about beauty, love, and life. The most common themes in the se bea uty statements are outlined below with examples
116 under the lights, our beauty spread e As an audience, there were likely to be two separate sets of viewing experience s of the Chinese pageant shows. Focusing on the visual aspect alone, one could be easily convinced that beauty pageants were just about young attractive women showing off their bodies in extravagant clothes with choreographed performances. But if the focus was placed on the rhetoric of the pageants especially on what the hosts and the contestant s were saying, one could come to the conclusion that beauty pageants were more about women s inner qualities (e.g., tal ents, skills, intelligence, and compassion) than their slender bodies and beautiful faces. This hybrid experience was indicative of the distinctive cultural location of the beauty pageants in neoliberal China. On one hand they imitated most of the visua l elements of Western pageants that accentuate d the physical beauty of young women; while o n the other hand, they incorpora t ed the culture specifi c messages (influenced by the communist ideology) that pronounced the significance of inner qualities in ideal feminine beauty. Nationalism, Consumerism, and Globalization Beauty with Chinese characteristics and significance World was hosted on the evening before the M id A utumn F estival, a traditional Chinese holiday for family reunion and celebration. The pro ducers of World took it as an opportunity to incorporate a special Chinese theme into the pageant show. For instance
117 at the beginning of each new segment a pre recorded video would play on the big screen that showed the contestants giving holiday remarks from a traditional Chinese lake resort. This was a format commonly seen in Chinese type shows and it was used to give the pageant a familiar Chinese sentiment. Feminists have argued that beauty and femininity is historically and culturally constructed (Banner, 1983). In the contemporary Chinese society feminine beauty is often conceptualized within a presumed cultural dichotomy between the West and the Chinese (Johansson, 1998). A beautiful Western woman is imagined to have blond hair blu e eyes, fair skin and large breasts, while being fashionably dressed and sexually provocative ; a beautiful Chinese woman, in comparison, is imagined to be dark haired and dark eyed, modestly dressed, and sexually conservative (Zhang, 2012). Each year, the winner of Miss World China would represent China and compete for the global title of Miss World. Therefore, it was one of the main goals in World to select a woman who could embody Eastern beauty ideals and also be competitive among the Western beauties. A key competition in the Miss World pageant is called National Costume Contest, in which each contestant showcases a specially designed costume that represents the national culture that she is from. Qipao has been used as favorite national dress style fo r Chinese women in international events (Chew, 2007), and the Chinese contestant has almost always worn a qipao in the National Costume contest in Miss World. As a result, a qipao show/contest was included in World not only to extend the Chinese theme of t he show, but also to help the judges assess each contestant s potential in representing the nation on the global pageant stage.
118 To further elaborate on its theme of b eauty with Chinese c haracteristics and s ignificance, World set up its final Q&A section to ask the five finalists to each describe an item that symbolized the Chinese tradition and culture: mahjong, Beijing opera, tea, M id A utumn F estival T he goal was to showcase the intelligence and eloquence o f each contestant and also her familiarity with Chinese culture. Contestant No.28 Liu Chen was one of the five finalists and her descriptions of the tree peony was witty appropriate and patriotic which was likely to have contributed to her eventual win of the pageant. Liu Chen : Just like our national flower tree peony, the winner of Miss World China is going to represent the glory of China, our five thousand year history, and the wisdom and beauty of Chinese women on the global stage. Through her, the world will witness the philanthropic nature of the Chinese nation! S pecial thanks to the pageant sponsors Since the beginning of modern pageant ry commercial sponsorship ha s always been an important component of pageant event s (Banet Weiser, 1999). Fol lowing this tradition, beauty pageants in China also have a strong commercial element and rely heavily on sponsorship. T he finale shows of Cosmos and World were large scale media events where their various sponsors were given the public recognition and fre e press that they were promised for their respective contributions. Major sponsors of the two particular pageants consisted of media groups real estate developers, and fashion and jewelry companies. Phoenix Television was the producer and also one of the major sponsors of Cosmos Not only the logo of Phoenix TV was ubiquitous throughout the broadcast, a live online voting session was also held to attract traffic to the company s website World was produced by Guangzhou satellite TV, a state owned televisio n station, and
119 sponsored by one of the largest private media companies in China, Nanfang Daily Media Group. The se media sponsors had the exclusive broadcast right to the pageant shows and the advertising revenue generated for their media channels. B oth Co smos and World had a major sponsor that was a real estate developer. 8 Real estate has been one of the fastest growing sectors and primary drivers of the Chinese economy in the past decade (Borst, 2012 ). It is a common scene in real estate offices in China where young and attractive women are hired as special shoulou xiaojie (female real estate sales agents) to attract customers Along the same line, sponsoring beauty pageants provided real estate developers another opportunity to use feminine beauty as a co nvenient sales tool. From swimsuit companies to hair product lines, the fashion and beauty industry has always had a strong presence in beauty pageants I n Cosmos one of the major sponsors was a jewelry company which provided all jewelry the contestants were wearing during the show, and the president of this jewelry company was invited to be the guest judge of two specialty awards. In World t he international fashion group Folli Follie was the ir exclusive fashion sponsor and the handbags and purses of th e Folli Follie brand were carried on the stage by the contestants as props during the bikini and evening gown shows. In addition to the openly acknowledged product placemen ts, the co founder of the company Katy Koutsolioutsos was also one of the six main j udges of the final competition The two Chinese pageants offered the audience the aesthetic satisfaction and novelty in seeing young attractive women present their feminine beauty in the format of 8 Cosmos was sponsored by Guang Group and World was sponsored by Yuanyi Group, both were major real estate developers in China.
120 a competition However, with all the direct recognitions or special thanks sent out to the pageant sponsors throughout the shows, the commercial nature of these pageants was unmistakably clear. There was no illusion that the purpose of these pageant shows was to make a profit for the parties that were involved i n this commercial transaction: whether it was the commission for the production team, the advertising revenue for the media company or the increased sales and reputation for the businesses. C apitalism lies in the heart of modern pageantry as the organizer s and the sponsors directly and indirectly profit from the pageant events through the production and consumption of feminine beauty. The prevalence and bluntness of commercial sponsorships in Chinese beauty pageants to some extent reflect ed the dominance o f capitalis m in neoliberal China. Transnational feminism suggests a shared context of exploitation and domination across North and South through globalization and capitalism (Gupta, 2006 ) As modern beauty pageant ry becomes a shared phenomenon between the One Third World (e.g., U.S.) to the Two Thirds World (e.g., China), the impact of the capitalist beauty culture to which beauty pageants belong, also spreads across the two locations When the Chinese beauty pageants straightforwardly endorsed media grou p, real estate developers and jewelry /fashion companies, they were essentially using the images and fantasies of feminine beauty to promote the capitalist beauty and consumer culture. Young women in China who were exposed to and participating in these beau ty pageants were then led to believe that not only feminine beauty was a product that could be consumed and turned into material gain, but its value was determined by the
121 big players in this capitalist system (e.g., the CEO of a sponsor company was the jud ge of the pageant). The global element economic growth that came after have completely changed both how the world views China and how Chinese people view the world. As more and more Chi nese people become familiar with the term native culture is increasingly a valuable asset. Many of the twelve Cosmos contestants claimed to have experience studying and working in a Western country and demonstrated f amiliarity with other cultures. As Contestant No. 12 Wei said in her self personality that combines the straightforwardness of the West and the persistence of t One of the pageant judge s who was female screenplay writer in her 50s expressed her amazement with the multi cultur al background and diverse experiences that some of the contestants had at a young age. It was previously discussed that World, as a national pageant that affiliated with Miss World, presented their discourses of feminine beauty with the special frame of Chinese characteristics and significance On the flip side of the same coin, being part of the overarching Miss World brand, there were a lot of international guidelines that the pageant organization had to follow in producing World. For example, the setup of the competitions had to be similar if not identical to the Miss World pageant, such as number/type of competitions, number of judges, and elimination procedures Also, since a very important goal and ultimate ambition of the Miss World China pageant is to select a candidate who has the best chance to win the title of Miss World, the organization
122 always has to take into account th e ir national winner s potential for future global success. Soon after World was aired, news came out in the Chinese media that doubts had been cast on the pageant winner Liu Chen. According to the people who were unconvinced about her win, Liu did not ha ve a face that was beautiful enough to be the beauty queen and especially she was not as beautiful as some of the other contestants (e.g., first and second runner ups) The counter arguments that supported L i u suggested that Liu had a n extraordinary heigh t of 180cm ( ) and demonstrated excellent public speaking skills in the Q&A section. S he was also the winner of the Talent Contest, which is important specialty competition in the Miss World pageant. The media controversy that surrounded Liu was short lived, but it raised an interesting question about the balanc ing act between the national and the international in beauty pageants like Miss World China. Brownell (1998) described a similar dilemma in early Super Model contests in China where the organize rs had to decide what kind of beautiful woman is most representative of China and therefore most suitable to promote Chinese culture on the world stage (p. 49). In the case of Miss World China the organization was also faced with the challenge to choose one woman out of all the contestants who would both satisfy the local/national a esthetics in feminine beauty (e.g., having a beautiful face according to the current most popular standards in China) and have competitive qualities required by international pageant competitions (e.g., being tall or having special talents). However, as globalization continues to infiltrate different cultural locations and blur the lines between national culture and international culture via consumerism and mass media, the ques tion of what is a beautiful Chinese woman
123 may soon become what is a beautiful woman and the previous dilemma in the Chinese beauty pageants may become history. When women like Liu Chen go on the global pageant stage and compete for the honor and pride of the nation, they are fulfilling a similar mission as the female athletes who compete in international championships or even the Olympics. Sportswomen in China, particularly those of successful careers, are treated as the symbolic figureheads of the Chi nese nationalism. The military style sports system in China not only regulates the bodies of these female athletes in terms of athletic performance but also feminine appearance, and they are celebrated as national heroines but not as women (Brownell, 199 8). However, a recent trend of female athletes entering entertainment business is gradually changing the public perception s of sportswomen in China. As more and more Chinese female Olympic medalists and beauty pageant winners appear on fashion magazine cov ers and in movie award ceremonies, the celebrity status and identity of these female champions are contributing to the establishment of consumerist nationalism in China (Brownell, 1998). Focus Groups Six f ocus groups were conducted with 3 8 Chinese college female participants to examine how urban young women in China negotiate d the beauty pageant phenomenon and what factors influence d their viewpoints. In the focus groups, the researcher particularly asked questions regarding how the women defined feminine beauty, what their impressions and understandings were of beauty pageants, how they related the beauty pageant phenomenon to other social issues in China. Additionally, the researcher used the media survey data to make sense of how media consumption
124 habits of the women might have influenced their perceptions of ideal feminine beauty and beauty pageants. This section presents the findings from the analysis of the focus group data. It summarizes the themes found in the focus group transcripts together with th e media usage survey, and uses exemplars to advance the theoretical argument (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Lindlof, 1995). To protect confidentiality, all the focus group participants were given pseudo initials, with each participant being identified by her pse udo initial s, her age and her level of pageant viewing experience (e.g., R.W., 23 indifferent viewer ) in this document. Beauty Pageants in the Eyes of Urban Young Chinese Women As mentioned in Chapter 3, only four out of the 38 women who participated in the focus groups indicated in the screening questionnaire that they had never seen a beauty pageant. 9 T he researcher mixed in the four with the rest of the women in the group assignment because she decided that it would make less sense to have a group jus t with these four women. During the focus group discussions, the participants in each group showed various levels of knowledge and experience with beauty pageants and beauty pageant shows. The focus group data suggested that among these Chinese college wom en there was not a division between pageant fans those who watched p ageants because they liked them and non fans those who didn t watch because they did not like them. Instead, their media exposure to the Chinese beauty pageant shows and their p erceptions on the beauty pageant phenomenon turned out to be more complex than previously imagined. 9 The four were L.M. (group 2 age 21), G.K, (group 4, age 23), T.R. (group 5, age 21), and B.B. (group 6, age 20).
125 Attitude toward t h e beauty pageant shows In addition to the ones who had never seen any pageant there were a number of women (fewer than half of the grou p) in each group who express ed clear indifference toward Chinese beauty pageant shows. A typical answer from these indifferent viewers would be Every once a while I would see a beauty contest on TV, but I usually just end up changing the channel because I don t find it interesting (Z.D. 22 indifferent viewer ); or I have not paid much attention to beauty pageants because I don t have time for that type of shows also it s not like I have any friend or relative who s in the competition, so there s no reas on for me to watch, really (H.F., 26 indifferent viewer ). However, there were two to th ree participants in each group who showed high familiarity with beauty pageant shows in China and claimed to have seen a number of different pageant shows The analys is in this first section (attitude toward pageant shows) was predominantly based on the comments made by the se more involved pageant viewers in the focus groups. To distinguish involved viewers from the non viewers and indifferent viewers, the researcher p aid particular attention to the occasions where they brought up specific pageants that they had watched as well as the in depth knowledge they demonstrated about Chinese beauty pageant shows. In spite of being the more savvy pageant viewers, the reviews th ese women gave Chinese beauty pageant shows were overwhelmingly critical and negative. Their biggest complaint was the lack of creativity and entertainment value in most Chinese beauty pageant shows. Speaking from a consumer s perspective, they pointed out that the pageant shows did not provide them as a TV audience the additive value they expected from television programs.
126 Q.K., 22, involved viewer : Basically you have 20 to 30 women on the stage, every one wearing a tag with their name, height, three measu rements, etc., and then they do their runway walks and then you have the winner It is exactly the same format every year and it gets tiring on the eye Z.Y., 20, involved viewer : Beauty pageants are not entertaining enough. The audiences are always looki ng for entertainment, and there are so many other programs on TV that are better and more entertaining, so why watch pageants? Beyond the entertainment function of beauty pageants, the savvy pageant viewers in the groups also found the presentation of femi nine beauty in the Chinese pageant shows troublesome. As young women themselves the participants expressed feelings of discomfort and aversion when they saw the pageant women dressed in skimpy clothing and show ing off their bodies. They considered the per formances in beauty pageants cheapening and demeaning to women. They also recognized the fact that pageant shows mainly catered to the interests of male audience as they put female bodies on display for the male gaze. G.J., 24, involved viewer : Personally it just annoys me to see young women try ing to show off their skinny bod ies or big boobs I find it tasteless and disgraceful. W.T., 19, involved viewer : I guess boys would probably enjoy those catwalks because they get to see girls in bikinis, but for us female viewers it doesn t do anything. Furthermore, these women had issues with the evaluation system (or lack thereof) in beauty competitions. From a practical standpoint, they had doubts as to whether a selective group of so called judges could give a credible and fair evaluat ion of the beauty of contestants. F rom a philosophical perspective, they questioned whether and how beauty could be measured at all. J.Y., 22, involved viewer : Some of the judges are professionals, but some are just celebrities who happen to be popular at the moment. So not all of them have the necessary credentials to judge a beauty contest on the professional level
127 Q.K., 22, involved viewer : A lot of beauty pageants right now try to incorporate the ersonal qualities in addition to the physical. humanity question or a geography question. I think the biggest problem ystem of judgment. J.W., 20, involved viewer : I have seen many beauty pageants, from Miss Hong Kong to in the world right now. But I always ended up being more confused t understand how they can make a fair choice. One time I was watching an international pageant and it came down to the top10 finalists. There were [brief pause, trying to recall information ] well, basically women from all over the world. And when they announced the winner, she was the contestant from a very small country in Africa make that decision? What kind of the criteria did they use? I guess nobody really knows. The only part of the Chinese beauty pageant shows the women showed particular interest in was the Q&A section, because they said they liked to see a beauty queen who was also knowledgeable intelligent, and eloquent A.D. (23 involved viewer ) mentioned that she often imagine d herself on the stage answering those tough questions and it was a fun exercise and a way for her to empathize with the contestants while she was watching a pageant show. M.L. (23 involved viewer ) said that she preferred to watch beauty pageants over model co ntests because a beauty queen was judged up on her intellect and benevolence as well as her physical beauty, wh ereas a model only The Chinese word for beauty pageant is xuanmei selection of It was interesting to note that a similar term xuanxiu was frequently mentioned in the focus group discussions on beauty pageants Xuanxiu, which means n based reality television shows in contemporary China. While some women made a distinct ion
128 between xuanmei and xuanxiu as they compared and contrasted the two, others tended to consider xuanmei (beauty pageants) as a particular type of xuanxiu (reality te levision). F ashion model contests emerged as a particular example that illustrated the blurring line between beauty pageants and other similar types of shows. On one hand, contemporary beauty pageant shows in China have largely borrowed the production sty le from the early super model contests of the 1990s, so to the average television audience in China a beauty pageant may look very similar to a model contest. On the other hand, both domestic and foreign reality television shows have gained massive popular ity in China in recent years. Some of the talent competition shows such as also involve female contestants competing based on their physical beauty which could have contributed to ambiguous views among the audience. Every year, o nly a few national beauty pageants in China are broadcast on network television. M ost regional and local level beauty pageant s are either only available on local channels or never shown on TV. International beauty pageants are also unavailable due to media censorship in China. As a result, the average Chinese television audience ha s a limited exposure to beauty pageant shows, and as the focus group data suggested, a great deal of the media exposure to beauty pageants in China in fact came indirectly from ne ws coverage of beauty pageants. P.L., 21, involved viewer : I don t remember seeing a lot of beauty contests on TV, but there is often news about so and s o female celebrity was from of beauty pageant, things like that. P.Z., 26, involved viewer : A b eauty c ontest is just a spring board to the entertainment business. If you take a look at the M i ss Hong Kong winners, they all went on to become singers or actresses People only know their pageant history becaus e the news always calls them former M i ss Hong Kong. D.L., 22, involved viewer : Many pageant contestants were former athletes, because female athletes tend to be very tall and have a nice body because of the
129 training. I read somewhere t hat Zhang Zilin the former Miss World also used to jump hurdles. To provide some context for the women s comments, the researcher did a small scale informal content analysis of the online news coverage of beauty pageants in China in the past three years. The researcher searched the keyword xuanmei beisai (beauty contest) with a major Chinese search engine Baidu, and reviewed the top 20 unduplicated news articles in the result. The articles covered both domestic and international pageant events, and the content mostly conveyed four main areas of information: 1, Title of th e pageant and the time and location of the pageant event ; 2 N ame of the winner, often paired with a photo, and a brief description of background of the newly crowned beauty queen; 3, Any notable history of the beauty queen before the pageant (e.g., Inter net sensation who recently made a trip to Japan ) and any future endeavor she may take on (e.g., she is discussing a potential film deal with a known director ) ; 4 Any controversy about the pageant event itself or the participants (e.g., Miss Delaware T een USA officially started a career as porn star ). Perception of the beauty pageant contestants Although none of 38 college women in the focus groups claimed to have taken part in a beauty pageant as contestant some did acknowledg e that they knew someone else in real life (often a classmate or friend) who had competed in a beauty contest L.M., 21 non viewer : A classmate of mine, she was recommended by our school to participate in the Campus Flower pageant in the city. I was working at the school radio station back then so I went to see her compete. J.W., 20, involved viewer Beijing Olympics. She is one of the fashion model m came here she was already competing in all sorts of competitions in her home town.
130 P.Z. (26 involved viewer ) was a bilingual broadcasting graduate student and she went to college with a former Miss Universe China winner. She shared with the group the story of this national beauty queen whom she knew personally P.Z., 26, involved viewer program in undergraduate. I think that was the year 2010, she represented China in the Miss Universe beauty pageant and ended up winning the Miss Congeniality award [wow other women in the group looked impressed]. Well, she ran into some trouble with the school when she was doing all the competitions, because it took up a lot of her time and she had to miss a lot of classes. I think she ended up taking an extra year to way we think about beauty. A tall girl c an win Miss China and can go out representing China in the international beauty contest, so in our head we m. Based on their personal experience and media exposure to beauty pageants, the college women in the focus g roups discussed some general impression s they had about the pageant contestants in China. First the women believed that most of the young women in China who would participate in beauty pageants were what they called ( fine arts students ) A fi ne arts school in China 10 is considered a special type of institute that often has very different student body than that of a normal school. To be admitted to a fine arts school, one needs to demonstrate skills and talent in at least one art form I t is als o common for the degree programs, such as dancing, singing, acting, or modeling, to screen their applicants for physical appearance as part of the admission process. Therefore, female fine arts students in China tend to stand out among women from the same age group with their good look s and artistic talents. They 10 For example, Beijing Film Academy and Shanghai Conservatory of Music are two top fine art s institutions in China.
131 are also more likely to have stage experience which make them ideal candidates for beauty pageants. W.L., 22, involved viewer : I have friends who go to the college of fine arts here in town, and I remember seeing those posters for different contests, beauty contests I think, a lot of them. Second, the women tended to agree that one of the most impressive qualities of the pageant women was their outstanding self confidence. Because of the extraord inary confidence required to present themselves both physically and personally, in a competition setting in front of thousands, the pageant contestants also represented a new generation of Chinese women who were taking full advantage of the increasing soc ial power granted to women in Chinese society and the freedom of self expression. G.J., 24, involved viewer : It definitely takes a lot of guts to stand up on the stage of a beauty contest. Even though I think many things in beauty pageants look fake or art ificial, I have to say I do admire the confidence of those girls. W.X., 24 indifferent viewer : The older generations in China are more conservative and today, especially the 90 hou (p ost 1990 generation), are very open minded and not afraid to express themselves. Last, they were under the impression that the young women who participate d in beauty pageants were driven by specific motiv es. Some of th ese motivations were considered more neutral such as having the urge to perform or wanting beauty to be validated, whereas others carried a slight negative tone such as materialism or vanity Z.Y., 20, involved viewer : beauty contest just as a sort of self assurance. B.B., 20 non viewer : I think there are two types of girls in b eauty pageants: the type that loves to sing, loves to dance, and just loves to be on the stage in
132 general; and the type that just wants to be famous and make a lot of money. J.W., 20, involved viewer : Some girls really want to be famous, be a celebrity. Pa rticipating in beauty pageants could get them recognized by the people in the business and give them a leg up in the competition. A.S., 20, indifferent viewer : Because they are pretty, those girls think they can achieve the fame and social status without h aving to work hard like most people. They just see it [the pageant] as a shortcut in life. From the transnational feminist perspective, the impressions the Chinese college women had about the beauty pageant contestants were reflective of their own unique h istorical and cultural locations. As a group of urban young women in China, the lives of these female college students were situated at the intersection of capitalist consumerism and traditional Chinese and communist values. The women were critical of the materialistic and opportuni st attitude s of some of the pageant contestants because they learned from their parents and schools to value hard work over chance, moral s over money. B ut at the same time they seemed accepting of the idea that the Chinese societ y is becoming increasingly money driven and young women are too taking advantage of the beauty economy. Overall, these Chinese college women demonstrated a mixture of opposition and endorsement of capitalism and consumeris m Compared to the rural Chinese women whose labor was exploited by corporations for capital gain the socio economic background of the women in the focus groups urban residents and college students exempted them from the direct exploitation of capitalism However, they were fully awa re of the changes in the value system of the contemporary Chinese society caused by the emerging capitalist consumer culture Accustomed to their roles as consumers, the attitudes of these urban young Chinese women towards capitalism w ere essentially
133 two f old : they showed a degree of frustration and despise when they discussed how beauty pageants were treated as a shortcut in life and provided unfair advantages for some young women; they also tended to rationalize the thought that materialism and individual success was a central theme modernization and the trend was unstoppable It was notable that none of the focus group participants admitted to having a desi re to participate in beauty pageants themselves Some women took the moral high ground by saying t hat they had no interest in being involv ed in such superficial affairs. However, most others quickly broke down and attributed their personal disengagement with pageants to a lack of self confidence M i nutes ago the women were talking quite assertively and critically about the beauty pageant contestants, but as soon as they were asked to imagine themselves in the same situation these young women became extremely self conscious and abashed. Specifically, th ey didn t think that their own physical appearance could match up to the pageant standards beautiful girls out there T.Q., 23, indifferent viewer : Those national or international beauty pageants, I know for rem ember our school had a College Campus Youth and Talent Pageant a couple of years ago and someone came to our dorm to recruit participants. I thought I was ugly, just I knew I front of people like those pageant girls on TV. W.L., 22, involved viewer : Even if secretly I have thought about it, I will never have the cour age to do it. Plus, modern beauty pageants all had very narrow standards, such as the height requirement, and I am not tall enough. N.N., 23, indifferent viewer : I actually like participating in competitions and I have competed in English speaking contests and TV hosting contests on
134 This remarkable tone change was likely the result of a social comparison process that had taken place. The language the women used such as revealed the very process in which t hey were comparing themselves with the women they saw in beauty contest s More importantly, a ccording to social comparison theory, w hen people compare themselves with other individuals they perceive to be better off or superior the comparison process is upward ( Buunk et al.,2007; Wood, 1989 ). Based on the confessions these college women were making, it was clear that they perceived the beauty pageant contestants as superior in physical attractiveness as well as self confidence; hence, the social comparisons they were engaged in were largely upward. Research has shown that upward social comparisons with idealized images about physical attractiveness could lead to body dissatisfaction and lowered self esteem among women (Richins, 1991; Martin & Gentry, 1997; Tiggemann & Polivy, 2010). Judging by the women s reasoning on why they wouldn t want to compete in pageants (e.g., I know my limits, need as well as the connotations of their remarks they sounded embarrassed and defeated. Therefore, it was safe to infer that when the focus group participants were prompted to make social comparison s with t he beauty pageant contestants, their self perceptions and self esteem were negatively impacted. Wood (1996) argued that social comparison information was not always deli berately sought after and it could be simply encountered As a result, when people enco unter social information, they could automatically compare themselves but then cognitively dismiss the comparison for defense or other purposes (Wood, 1996). In the
135 case of the focus group participants, when they encountered the social information of beaut y pageants (e.g., engage d in a discussion about beauty pageants), many of them could have subconsciously compared themselves to the pageant contestants but dismissed the comparison process as a defense mechanism. This could explain why the discussion of be auty pageants and pageant contestants did not seem to have negative psychological effects on these college women until they were asked directly about their personal disengagement with pageants, i.e., they were coerced to register the social comparisons. F urthermore, avoidance of upward social comparison may serve the purpose of self enhancement and preserve one s self esteem (Brickman & Bulman, 1977; Wood, 1989). For that reason, some of focus group participants may have deliberately avoid ed social compari sons with the women in beauty pageants to protect their own self esteem, and they did so by psychologically distancing themselves with the pageant phenomenon. Finally, this could then contribute to the college women s overall indifferent and negative attit udes toward the Chinese beauty pageant shows as well as some of their criticism of the pageant contestants. The influence of beauty pageants on young women in China On a personal level, the women tended to believe that competing in beauty pageants could be a valuable life experience for young women in China. J.Y. (22 involved viewer ) remarked on the lack of self confidence and public speaking skills among average young people in China today, and the benefit of participating in beauty pageant s in improvin g one s overall confidence. According to O.C. (24 indifferent viewer ), beauty pageant experiences could help a woman see her own strength and weakness ; even if she failed to win the title the experience itself would make her a
136 stronger person. Finally, K .T. (20 indifferent viewer ) saw beauty pageant s as a great opportunity for young women simply because it could add one more path to one s personal success. Meanwhile, t he women were also aware of some of the negative sides to participating in pageants F or example, some acknowledged that the feelings and self esteem of the pageant contestants could be damaged if the results of the competition were not what they were hop ing for. Others were concern ed that there might be the risk g corrupted during the process of beauty pageant participation. W.T., 19, involved viewer wear. You may experience things that challenge your moral values. Your life may just be completely differ ent afterwards. G.K., 23, non viewer : I would be worried if a friend of mine told me that she is participating in a beauty pageant because she wants to be famous. I really [brief pause] it could potentially be a buguilu (path leads to a point of no return). The women also had particularly strong feelings about the potential impact of the beauty pageant phenomenon on the young er generation of Chinese women A recent study has shown that middle adolescent girls (14 17) in mainland China report more appearance pressure from mass media and interpersonal networks than girls in early adolescence (10 13) and boys of the same age group (Chen & Jackson, 2012). Thus, worrying about the younger girls might not be baseless. The concerns were mainly focused on certain ideas and values that were being promoted in beauty pageants. According to the participants, beauty pageant shows tended to create an illusion for the au dience that winning a beauty contest was nothing but pure luck. P.L. (21 involved viewer ) commented that pageant shows rarely revealed that most of their contestants had professional training in modeling or performing arts,
137 and that these girls put in a l ot of effort in achieving and maintaining the perfect physical beauty pageant and t hat it was just a matter of luck. s: when a woman is beautiful and becomes a beauty queen, she is given a crystal crown and then cheered and praised by all the people. However, this connection between feminine beauty and personal glory could be unrealistic and deceiving. W.X., 24 indifferent viewer : I have a cousin, she is only in 4th grade and she already knows a lot about beauty. She loves shopping for pr etty clothes, and she once told me that she wanted to look like Fan Bingbing 11 when she grows up. J.W., 20, involved viewer : Nobody talks about the working conditions these female story to the public, and the young girls are just attracted to the flashy images. Finally, the women found beauty pageants potentially exploitive of feminine mein j ingji and the participants were especially critical of the fact that most beauty pageants and entertainment media in general only really cared about making profits for themselves and their sponsors, and n ot about the empowerment of women. L.M., 21 non viewer : I wish beauty pageants would really convey some positive 11 Fan Bingbing is a famous Chinese actress and celebr ity. She was frequently mentioned by the focus group participants and a ccording to the women, Fan was a living embodiment of all the physical beauty ideals in contemporary China : large eyes, tall nasal bridge, small face/narrow chin, porcelain white skin, long black hair, tall, and slender.
138 Q.K., 22, involved viewer : It [working in the entertainment business] is considered a beautiful woman enters the business and she has a maximum of 10 years before she is replaced by some newer faces. Definitions of Feminine Beauty in Neoliberal China The physical beauty standards The researcher encountered some initial reluctance from the focus group participants in expressing their opinions on physical beauty. The reluctance suggested a hig h cultural sensitivity among these college women toward the subject of feminine beauty in which no one wanted to accidentally say something that could hurt the feelings of others in the group. However, it did not take long before the ice was broken in the discussions on physical beauty, and one of the first things the women brought up xiao lian women had an overwhelming agreement that a small face with a pointy chin was an impor tant beauty mark for Chinese women. T.Q., 23, indifferent viewer : We live in a fast food era and everything is presented on the Internet and in front of a camera, so there is an increasing demand for physical perfection and people with small faces look pre ttier on camera. G.J., 24, involved viewer : If you have a small face, your facial features will be attention will be diverted to other parts of the face. D.L., 22, involved viewer : Zhui zi lian (stabber shaped face) is very popular right now. The pointier your chin is, the more beautiful you are. Celebrities like Fan Bingbing and Li Bingbing all had their jawbones shaved down by plastic surgery to look prettier. After that, the women cont inued to mention a number of specific physical attributes that were considered signatures of feminine beauty in China. At the top of the da yanjing, shuang yanpi gao biliang
139 nasal bridge 12 yingtao xia ozui bai pifu gaotiao miaotiao shencai yunchen (proportional body figure). The discussions on physical beauty standards yielded not only specific but also h omogenous viewpoints among the participants, with the same vocabularies and examples being used by across groups. However, when the researcher tried to probe about the reasoning behind some of these standards, most women seemed confounded and admitted that they never gave it much thought while s ome attempted to provide justifications. W.L. (22 involved viewer ) and G.J. ( involved viewer 24) believed that from an aesthetic and statistic point of view, tall people had a higher chance to have the optimal body proportion (e.g., leg to body ratio) commonly considered beautiful. That also explained why most designer clothing would look better on a tall person than a preference fo r fair skin, Yibai zhe sanchou being a Chinese tradition that was passed down from generation to generation, L.J. ( 24 indifferent viewer ) also argued that fair skin symbolized the simplicity and purity of feminine beauty. It was worth noting that many of the physical attributes constituting the contemporary Chinese standards of physical beauty were in line with the findings in evol utionary research on physical attractiveness. For example, research has shown that 12 In China, people tend to prefer a nose with prominent and defined profile, and one of the most popular cosmetic surgical procedures sought by Chinese patients is nasal augmentation, in which an implant was inserted to the nose to make the nasal bridge look higher.
140 women with longer legs and a higher leg to body ratio, which is a common characteristic of tall fashion models, are rated more attractive by research subjects in different c ountries (Prantl & Grndl, 2011; Sorokowski & Pawlowski, 2008; S wami, Einon, & Furnham, 2006). Additionally, it has been established with consistent scientific support that women with certain child like facial features, such as large eyes and a small chin, are considered more sexually attractive (Cunningham, 1986; Johnston & Franklin, 1993; Hnn & Gz, 2007). Evolutionary theorists tend to argue that much of what humans find attractive in each other with regards to physical appearance is determined by our biological and psychological instincts to survive (Etcoff, 1999). Under this theory, people of different ages, genders, classes and cultures would generally agree on who is attractive based on these shared human instincts ( Langlois et al., 2000). However, the evolutionary perspective does not go far enough to explain why people from different cultures tend to have very different interpretations of these universal standards of attractiveness and where they come from. Feminist theory, on the other hand, argue s that ideals of beauty are culturally constructed, and the patriarchal system is responsible for setting the 1991). Together, the two theoretical perspectives provided a focal point to look at how these young Chinese women understood physical beauty standards. A pro Western ideology of physical beauty P.Z., 26, involved viewer : When you look at the Europeans and Americans, their faces look so three from which angle you look at them, they just look prettier than us. Some women in the focus groups approached the discussion on ideal physical beauty by framing it as a Chinese obsession with Western beauty. According to the
141 women, the word xifangren (Westerners) was used to refer to people from Western countries, particularly those of European descent or Caucasians; most Chinese people tended to believe that these Westerners had an unspoken superiority over people of other races when it came to physic al beauty. In China a typical Western woman is imagined to have large eyes, high n a s al bridge, small face /chin, and lanky body, whereas a typical Chinese woman is perceived to have s ingle eyelids, f lat nose, round face, and dark complexion And because th e set of features that Western women often possess seem to match the ideal physical appearance by contemporary Chinese standards, many Chinese people are convinced that Western women are naturally more attractive than Chinese women. Mass media are likely to have played a part in the forming this stereotypical view of Western beauty. China is not traditionally an immigration country and the Chinese population demonstrates high racial and ethnic homogeneity (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2011) E v en though the number of foreign nationals continues to grow in major Chinese cities, it is still uncommon for the Chinese to have encounter s with other racial groups in their daily lives. With the increasing exposure to Western (particularly American) medi a content, many Chinese people today form their impressions of other nationalities from the media, which are known to promote idealized images of beauty. If a Chinese person s perception s of Westerners are mainly based on media representations (e.g., movie stars, pop singers, advertising models, etc.), it is not surprising that they are perceived as more attractive than Chinese. Furthermore, since xifang shijie (the Western world) is still largely considered economically and socially
142 advanced by the Chinese the images of beauty as portrayed in the Western media are also likely to be perceived as imminent ly superior F or the most part the college women in the focus groups were just as infatuated with the Western look as the average Chinese person, and t hey largely granted legitimacy to this pro Western beauty i deology. S ome women were even annoyed by the fact that some Westerners seemed to have a different set of beauty standards for Asian women. T.Q., 23, indifferent viewer : They think beautiful Asian women should look like the cartoon character Mulan, with long and narrow eyes, small mouth, and a round face. J.Y., 22, involved viewer : There are a lot of foreign exchange students and teachers at our school, and I would often see couples of a Western man with a Chinese girl where the Chinese girl is, at least in my opinion, quite ugly. I chubby Chinese girls, sometimes with bad skin and weird facial features. What was implied in the w omen s comments was that Westerners were prejudiced against Chinese women by insisting upon them a different and apparently inferior set of beauty standard s To make their point the women brought up the example of a famous Chinese model named L Yan, who achieved high prais e in the Western fashion world with her uniquely Chinese look : small eyes with single eyelid, high cheekbones, wide jawline, thick lips, and dark skin tone Like many other Chinese, the uccess. T he main issue they took with L s international influence was that she failed to present to the world the real /c ontemporary standard of feminine beauty in China. Furthermore, the women question ed the intention of the Western world in promoting L as the face for the Chinese beauty and found the representation rather suspicious and even insulting.
143 Social cognitive theory is a learning theory based on the idea that people acquire knowledge directly from observing the behaviors of others, or models (Bandura, 1988). As demonstrated by the famous Bobo Doll experiments, the models people learn form could be presented through interpersonal imitation as well as media sources (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963). In social cognitive theory of mass commu nication Bandura ( 1994 ) wrote, a great deal of information about human values, thinking patterns, and behavior is gained from models portrayed symbolically through verbal or pictorial ( p. 66). The degree to which the Chinese college women had int ernalized the pro Western beauty ideology was also indicative of this social learning process. From being exposed to idealized images of Western women in the media and the popular discourse that praised a Western appearance as the more attractive look, you ng women in China not only subscribe to the belief that attractive physical features such as large eyes and small face are essentially Western but also that these perceived Western beauty standards are more valuable than the traditional Chinese aesthetics Qizhi and personal definition of beauty P.Z., 26, involved viewer : When we look at women, there are two general types. The first type refers to those who truly have the fine looks: small face, big eyes, e. The other type, at the any of the fine looks. But from her body, she exudes a special qizhi, something that really attracts your attention. A.S., 20 indifferent viewer : I thin k a beautiful woman is when you lay your eyes on her, she would give you a comfortable feeling. That means she has good qizhi. convey a sense of freshness and naturalness. When the wom en were discussing Chinese cultural standards of beauty, the focus was mainly on the physical appearance In contrast, when they talked about their
144 personal definitions of femininity beauty, one particular word qizhi was frequently mentioned Qizhi is in English dictionaries. However, the researcher believed that none of these translations really captured the esse nce of the word qizhi, which consisted of two Chinese characters : qi (br eath or sense) and zhi (quality or character). According to Wu (2011) in in Taiwan, women with qizhi were perceived to have a refined disposition that the society favored, and qizhi was positively correlated with the classy intellectual beauty type. Given the ambiguous definitions of qizhi, the researcher asked the women to offer their understandings of the word in the context of feminine beauty. T hree themes emerged from the women s explanation s First, qizhi was understood as an ( mostly positive) impress ion or feeling a woman would give others. For example, to D.L. ( 22 involved viewer ) qizhi was when a woman was sincere and always spoke candidly. T o G.K. ( 23 non viewer ) and B.B. (20 non viewer ) qizhi was reflected in confidence, and culture d and dignified mannerisms, as well as her elegant postures. L.M. ( 21 non viewer ) associated qizhi specifically with motherhood S h e said qizhi is a feeling of tender For instance, a would be subtle and elegant instead of heavy and vulgar (J.Y. 22 involved viewer ), and she would dress appropriately to the occasion and in a manner suitable to her personality ( Q.K., 22, involved viewer ). Y.G., 22 indifferent viewer : A woman might not have a beautiful appearance, but when she stands in fro
145 being arbitrary either; it is almost like you willingly choose to be dominated by her because she makes you feel comfortable. Compared to qizhi, qichang is a newer Chinese term that has become po pular in recent years over the I n ternet The women surveyed believed that the word q ichang first came out of the talent based reality television shows in China which became popular in the early 2000s. In those shows, q ichang was used to describe a contesta stage presence during the competition. H aving strong qichang meant that the contestant was able to create an aura on stage that deeply engage d the judges and the audience. Qichang has also been used broadly to refer to a special sense of confidence th at someone has that impress es those around him/her Both qichang and qizhi point to the quality of a woman that goes beyond simple physical appearance According to the participant they might not consider a woman beautiful if she was apparentl y lacking certain personal qualities (confidence, elegance, etc.) even though she was physically attractive. To a certain extent, the women in the focus groups were trying to distinguish their own views of feminin e beauty from the dominant/ masculine percep tions that tended to overemphasize the physical beauty of women. By stressing the importance of the nonvisual and personal qualities of the female gender, the women made their attempts at protesting against the prevalent male view that objectified women s bodies by promoting an alternative viewpoint on femininity that was based up on personal/emotional connections instead of sex appeal. Beauty Pageant s and Contemporary Chinese Society Pageant conspiracy It became clear to the researcher that many women in the focus groups had generally negative impressions of beauty pageants because of some well circulated
146 conspiracy theor ies among the general public in China W ords such as neimu heimu anxiang caozuo ration) were frequently used in the discussions to refer to the unlawful deals the women believed were being made between the sponsors, the organizers, and the contestants of many Chinese beauty pageants behind closed doors. Like most conspiracy theories, the anecdotal evidence they gathered from other people or in the media An example that was mentioned in multiple groups was the Miss Hong Kong pageant, 13 one of the longest lasting and most prestigious beauty page ants in the greater China region 14 which suffered from numerous fraud scandals in recent years. Q.R., 20 indifferent viewer : The contestants [of Miss Hong Kong] did not compete on r last year, or the year before, she did not deserve that title at all because she did not stand out in any way, especially her appearance. Then everybody said that she won because she had a wealthy family that pulled some strings for her. O.C., (24 indi fferent viewer ) spoke from the personal experience of a former roommate of hers who participated in a local beauty pageant that was hosted in the name of selecting a city ambassador O.C., 24 indifferent viewer : She even made it into the top ten, but so on she realized that there were always three or four girls who would not have dinner with the group, instead they would join the sponsors and organizers in a separate room. At the end those girls all got to stand on the pedestal with ome later became the girlfriends of some rich men 13 Miss Hong Kong is a beauty pageant organized by Television Broadcasts (TVB), the leading television network in Hong Kong. Miss HK is one of the most established beauty pageants in the region, with a histor y that dates back to 1973. The winners and runner ups of the pageant have the opportunities to become signed artists at TVB, and many renowned actresses and celebrities in Hong Kong in the past four decades were discovered through this particular pageant. 14 Greater China Region is a term used to refer to Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan
147 [appears disgusted]. You see, this is the kind of thing that happens in beauty pageants, and of course it affects my views about it. Even though not every woman in the focus groups was a strong believer in pageant conspiracy, there was nonetheless an obvious lack of confidence in the organization of public events like beauty pageants in China. T heir lack of confidence could be seen as a manifestation of the broader issue of trust about the social justice sy stem in China. R.W. (23 indifferent viewer ) interned at a television station one summer and was encouraged by a producer to participate in the public contest the station set up to select their next anchor woman. R.W., 23 indifferent viewer : My first tho ught was, the winner must have been already selected! And this entire event was just a measure of self promotion for the station. People like you and I, even if we participated in the contest, would be nothing more than just decorations in the background. No matter what they were telling me, in the back of my head I was like there ha s to be some backstage deals. Some women further attributed the problem to the unitary socio political system of China where democra cy and transparen cy were not always availabl e to the public. J.M. (19 indifferent viewer ) drew an unlikely comparison between the selection of beauty pageant winners and the selection of national committee representative s in China, and she managed to make a clear point. J.M.,19 indifferent viewer : is the result, never any detail or explanation of the standards or the procedures used to come up with the result. Just like that time they were casting votes for a national committee repr esentative on campus, but a week later some teacher that nobody ever heard the name of just seeing even a nobody knows how the winner i s selected, and nobody really cares, really.
148 Socioeconomic disparit y and marry for money In many cases commentaries about conspiracy in Chinese beauty pageants had evolved into a discussion about the enlarging socioeconomic gap in China. The wom en explicitly suggested that money and power are always involved in the back stage deals in pageants where the title of a beauty queen could be easily bought by wealthy parents or influential parties that had an invested interest in a particular contestan t. Some women thought that the existence of the social group called fuerdai (second generation rich) were partially responsible for creating these social problems. Z.Y., 20, involved viewer : Many of these [pageant] girls are from rich families and their l ives are carefree. They may participate in a beauty contest just because they are bored plus they have the confidence to win because they know they have backstage supporters. P.Z., 26, involved viewer : In China, if you were born into a wealthy family, yo u are pretty much guaranteed a good job and a bright future, but if your parents are difficult. Furthermore, the women claimed that the increasing socioeconomic disparities between the ri ch and the poor in China could have cultivated a desperate desire for instant success and quick profit among the younger generations To some young women or girls, beauty pageant s might seem like a channel where they could materialize their desire for inst ant success, because winning a beauty contest often led to a lucrative profession such as model ing or act ing. J.W., 20, involved viewer : A model in a beauty product commercial makes two thousand yuan ( 320 US dollars ) in two days and all she needs to do i s to smile and pose in front of the camera. Meanwhile a production assistant that works on the set of the commercial probably makes two thousand a month and it is hard work. Given the chance, anyone would pick the easier job with the higher pay. Z.D., 22, indifferent viewer : A lot of them [young women in China] are 16 and 17 years old and quite nave. They see the attention and followers those female
149 celebrities have and dream of the same lifestyle for themselves. Some of them may be doing poorly at school or coming from lower income families, and they hope to change their destinies by competing in beauty pageants. In addition to the allure of overnight fame the women also mentioned another important motivation for young women to become a beauty queen: the possibility of marrying a rich man. Some brought up the fact that a number of previous Miss Hong Kong winners started a successful career as singer or actress after the competition and eventually landed a marriage with a wealthy businessman. O u tside pa geants, t he women acknowledged the occurrence of young beautiful women marrying rich powerful men in China was seen as just a fact of life P.L. (21 involved viewer ) remarked that status married a man who wanted beauty and yout h: there Another woman in a different group ( G.J., 24, involved viewer ) even called marrying the While the exchange bet ween female beauty and male wealth had always existed in traditional marriage s, t he idea of young beautiful women actively seeking marriage with wealthy men was relatively new to China. In feudalist Chinese societ ies most marriages were arranged between f amilies where a young woman rarely got to choose whom to marry. In those arranged marriages, even when the groom was wealthy, it was unl ikely the decision or intention of the bride to marry him. Since the Chinese Communist Party passed the Marriage Law of 1950, young Chinese have increasingly enjoyed the freedom to choose partners and form nuclear families with neolocal residence after marriage (Davis & Harrell, 1993). Arranged marriages decreased in
150 popularity in China and young people started to believe i n marriage for love 15 ( Davis & Harrell, 1993 ). The introduction of the past three decades largely relaxed existing social taboos against personal wealth. In the communist era, being rich was once conside red bourgeois and anti revolutionary, but become a symbol of success and a desirable trait in the marriage market (Chao & Myers, 1998). As a result, the empowerment of wom en and the pervasiveness of capitalist materialism have acceptable life goal for women in contemporary Chinese society. Furthermore, as women of the singleton generation start to enter the market for marri age they are not only under the cultural pressure to extend the family line but also under the financial pressure to support their aging parents and sometimes grandparents. In China, t he patriarchal system still dominate s many aspects of the social l ife and having a young beautiful wife remain s a source of self esteem and a status symbol for men. A ccording to a recent New York Times article, s ome Chinese male millionaires are willing to pay tens of thousands dollar in matchmaking service fee just to fi nd a future wife who is young (22 26), beautiful ( porcelain white skin), and sexually pure (virgin) (Larmer, 2013). Under the working s of both financial reality and lingering chauvinis m, more and more young women in C h ina are becoming increasingly anxious about getting married, and in order not to be become one of the so called leftover women ( unmarried female s over the age of 27 ) many of them are eager to 15 People who grew up with the First Marriage Law like to call their spouse airen (beloved person) which is an interesting residual of the propaganda from that t ime.
151 find a suitable match when they are at their peak of youth and physical attractiveness (Magistad, 2 013). The women believed that because feminine beauty was valued highly by the society there were higher expectations for women to be physically attractive than men, which often created unfortunate situation s for the less attractive women. X.G., 19 ind ifferent viewer : At least an ugly man could always work hard and hope to make a lot of money, and when he becomes rich he is going to be surrounded by beautiful women. But an ugly woman is pretty much doomed for her chance of finding happiness. Q.K., 22, involved viewer requirements of secretary or customer service positions, and they will always hire the prettier woman over the equally qualified but plain looking one. Lastly, while most of participa nts seemed to have taken a neutral position in marrying for and largely treated it as a matter of fact, there were a few women in the focus groups who were more aware of the persistence of patriarchy and gender inequality in modern societies. Howev er, even though they pointed out the inequalities women were facing, their attitudes tended to be cynical and pessimistic and they did not seem to believe there was real salvation for women. X.C., 22 indifferent viewer : world, and women control half was added only as a gesture of respect, something to make the women feel better when they serve the men. J.W., 20, involved viewer : On the scale o f the whole world, men and women still do not enjoy the same social status. If a woman wants to achieve the same thing as a man, she needs to put in a lot of more effort. But when she realizes she will never achieve the status on her own, she may as well j ust marry the man!
152 Women s pursuit of beauty in China Cosmetic surgery Cosmetic surgery was a topic that would emerge from time to time in the focus group discussions. In the context of beauty pageant s the women tended to agree that cosmetic surgeries g ave unfair advantages to the contestants who had them and should be prohibited. I n the case of female celebrities, however, the women showed considerable understanding and tolerance about cosmetic surgeries. T hey brought up the prevalence of cosmetic surge r y in the entertainment business and the fact that China might have been influenced by neighboring South Korea which was known for its strong cosmetic surgery industry. L.J., 24 indifferent viewer : If a woman wants to work in the entertainment business a nd has an average look, she almost has no chance without some surgery because the beauty standards for female actresses are kept very high. A.D., 23 involved viewer : You can tell that a lot of them had their eyes and chins fixed, because they all ended u p looking like they were carved out of the same mold. When the focus was switched to the general public, the women started to have divergent views on cosmetic surgery Some of them considered cosmetic surgery an absolutely unnecessary measure in the name o f pursuing beauty because of the physical pain, harms to the body, and health risks that were commonly associated with cosmetic surger ies Some thought that the desire to change one s appearance was a sign of self doubt and psychological weakness. A.D., 2 3 involved viewer for beauty -harmful to the body, and women do not have to do things like this for men! Y.B., 20 indifferent v iewer : I think it [cosmetic surgery] is something better to avoid. I
15 3 Angelababy 16 Her surgeries made her look perfect and she is very successful, or they got addicted to cosmetic surgeries. Q.K., 22, involved viewer : I understand if you had a birth defect and you wanted to correct it with surgeries; but if it is only because you F.N., 21 indifferent viewer : If God gives you this look you should be satisfied with it. There was also a side of the opinions that approache d the subject with more pragmatism and progressiveness. These women acknowledged the real life benefits of having cosmetic surgeries and claimed it to be a part of the personal freedom that should be left to each woman to decide for herself. W.L., 22, inv olved viewer : Cosmetic surgeries do serve some real more fame, make more money, or find wealthier boyfriends. Q.K., 22, involved viewer : Most definitely that I wil l not have cosmetic surgery myself, but I have no problem if anyone else choos es to do it for any reason whatso ever. Moreover, the women in the progressive camp largely assumed a causal relationship between the improvement of one s physical appearance thr ough cosmetic surgery and the increas e in self confidence and self esteem. Therefore, it was justifiable to have cosmetic surgery if the end result was a more positive self perception. G.K., 23, non viewer : If a girl thinks she is really ugly and her self esteem is suffering from it, nobody has the right to tell her not to do anything about it. If in the end she gets the glory she always wanted even though the price is physical pain, I think it is well worth it. 16 Angelababy (born in 1989) is a female model and actress from Hong Kong. The public perception of her often involves the rumor that she has performed various cosmetic surgeries to her face, although Angelababy refuted all such allegations.
154 Finally, some women believed that differen t people had different values and different pursuits in life, and cosmetic surgery was just another path that led to personal success and happiness. W.T., 19, involved viewer : When you have money you may choose to learn a new language or start a new hobby but others may choose to get a double eyelid surgery. The way I look at it is just a different type of investment. Cosmetic surgery, as part of the feminine pursuit of beauty, has been theorized by traditional f eminist scholars as largely oppressive and patriarchal (Wolf, 1991; Bordo, 1993). On one hand, the college women in this study showed a certain level of resistance to the idea of undergoing cosmetic surgeries in the name of pursuing beauty mainly based on health related reasons or the traditional belief that one should not change the body he/ she was given at birth To a great extent, these young Chinese women did not treat cosmetic surgery as an oppressive act On the other hand, th eir vie w s on cosmetic surgery seemed to be more in line with another feminist scholar, Kathy Davis (1995, 2003), who argued that women were capable of mak ing informed choices to undergo cosmetic surgeries and they should not be seen as misguided, or victims of th e system simply because they made that choice. The women in this study emphasized the fact that feeling confident and getting the same life opportunities as others was a right of every woman, and the choice individual women made to achieve those things in cluding cosmetic surgery, should be respected. Overall, the women showed high internalization of the cultural belief that physical beauty was directly connected to wom e esteem and self worth. They believed that physical appearan ce, even if t h rough extreme measures such as cosmetic surgery, women would increase their confidence in jobs, romance, or any
155 other real life circumstance. Their criticism was mainly confined within health risk and physical harm on the personal level and n ot an oppressi ve act to a social group. Furthermore, t hey considered cosmetic surgery potentially empowering for some women as they execute their right to pursuit happiness. Weight control The college women pointed out that regardless of its perceived le gitimacy cosmetic surger y was expensive and not everyone who was willing to change her physical appearance could necessarily afford the surgical procedures. In comparison, they considered weight control was a more reasonable and economic al way to improve Th e majority of them In every group there was at least one wom a n who admitted to have been trying to lose weight and more said they wish ed they were thinner. Based on the visual observat ion of the researcher and her familiarity of Chinese culture, most of the 38 participants had normal weight and average body type. Two women looked slightly overweight or chubby compared to the rest of the group, and a few looked underweight or skinny The common belief in China regarding the ideal weight for women could be summarized with the phrase mein buguo bai (a beautiful woman is no more than 100 jin or 110 pounds ) (H.F. 26 indifferent viewer ) In one of the groups the participants brough t up the idea of Body Mass Index (BMI) and they had a unique perspective on the relationship between the ideal weight and the healthy weight. A.S., 20, indifferent viewer : There is a bracket of BMI numbers that are considered healthy, and beauty is on the very end of the lower limit. If you go any W.L., 22, involved viewer : Most Chinese people have healthy weights according to the standard.
156 Ac cording to the women, parents in China were largely unsupportive of their daughters in engaging in weight control just to be thin Many of older generations in China had lived through the famines in the 1960s, and they still tended to associate thi n ness wi th malnutrition and unhealthiness F.N. (21 indifferent viewer ) described how her sister was in constant fights with their mother because of her dieting behaviors F.N., 21 indifferent viewer : She has been on a diet ever since she went to college, even why my mom really hates skinny girls. The women also believed that men actually did not find ultra thin women mo re attractive and that the obsession with thinness was mainly a self induced problem among young women and had little to do with the sexual preference of men. G.K., 23, non viewer : I think there is a difference between what men think is a beautiful female body and what women think. Most women like the international fashion model type, really tall and really skinny. But men actually prefer women to have some meat on the bones, it feels better when they touch it I guess [laughter]. Lastly, most of the women a dmitted that dieting was an unhealthy way to lose weight B ut at the same time they still prefer red dieting over other methods of weight control such as physical exercise because they found exercise incompatible with their current lifestyle as a college student N.N., 23, indifferent viewer : to maintain on a long term basis. D.H., 21 indifferent viewer : In brief, the thin beauty ideal was highly internalized by the Chinese college women in this study. They placed a high importance on weight, and believed that how thin a woman looked was more important than how healthy she looked when it
157 came to indications of beauty. They also seemed to put more emphasis on losing/ maintaining weight than toning the body which was reflected in their pr eference for dieting over exercise. According to second wave feminists, young women were victims to the patriarchal beauty system (Bordo, 1993; Jeffreys, 2005). These Chinese college women believed that young women were not pressured by older generation s or the opposite sex to lose weight, but instead chose to do so because they wanted to look beautiful. From their negotiations of the weight control issue, young Chinese women in this study showed relatively low awareness of the social root of the thin idea l and mostly considered the practice of weight control part of the female obsession with beauty. Mass Media and Beauty Perceptions Each focus group participant was asked to fill out a media usage survey at the end of the meeting. The survey included ques tions about their general usage s and preference s in television, film, magazines, and the Internet. The se survey results would be used in combination with the focus group data to explore the potential relationship s between these college women s mass media c onsumption habits and their perceptions of cultural ideals of feminine beauty and beauty pageants in China. Media consumption habi ts There were considerable variations in weekly television viewing time among the focus group participants, both within a g roup and between groups. Some women watched as little as half an hour of TV per week while others watched over 25 hours. The intra group difference could be explained by different dorm policies of each college campus. For example, some dorms allowed the st udents to have their own television sets installed inside their rooms, whereas other had strict rules against such personal
158 electronic devices Within a group, different television viewing time could be explained by the fact that some local student s could go home on the weekends where they could watch TV with their famil ies, whereas students from out of town did not have such opportunity In contrast to the variance in viewing time, the women showed similar tastes in television content Across all groups, drama and entertainment had higher viewing discussions, the women frequently used the wo rd yule jiemu as an umbrella term to describe all programs that had high entertainment values. Some common entertainment programs the women mentioned included entertainment news, variety shows, and reality TV. Originally in the survey, reality TV was listed as an individual television program genre but later excluded for validity reason. zhenrenxiu (true man show) was the common term used in Chinese media to refer to reality TV, the meaning of the word turn ed out to be unclear to the college women Some of them asked the researche r to clarify what zhenrenxiu meant in the survey and others wrote indicating a general lack of understanding or ag reement on the meanings of zhenrenxiu. Therefore, despite of the increasing popularity of certain local reality television programs (e.g., If You Are the One ), reality TV may not be established as a stand alone television genre in mainl and China.
159 The survey also inquired as to the women s viewing habits of television programs produced in different regions in the world. 17 The results showed that mainland Chinese programs had the highest viewing frequency, which was not surprising given the censorship of foreign media content on Chinese broadcast and cable networks. media users often looked for foreign television programs on the Internet. As a result, programs fr om Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Europe America 18 each attracted a set of frequent viewers from these college women and an average viewership overall. Japanese and Korean TV programs were the least frequently watched The majority of the women reported spending o ne to three hours per week reading magazines Most women were subscribed to c ertain title s or read certain types of magazines on a regular basis. Duzhe a literary magazine, and Vivi a beauty and fashion magazine, represented the two most popular magazine titles and types among these college women. The rest included weekly news and entertainment tabloids, as well as specialty magazines on travel, photography, music, and health. Based on the self reported movie watching frequencies, the majority of those Among the six movie genres included in the survey 19 ro mance and c omedy were the two favorites among all the women while t hriller and s ci fi movies had some 17 The regi ons included in the survey were M ainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, E urope America, and O ther. The same regions were also used in the questions about Movies later. The selection of these particular regions was based on researcher s nativ e knowledge of the most commonly used categorization of television program source in China. 18 Oumei America) is the most commonly used term in Chinese to refer to the West. In the context of mass media, it generally refers to media content from all Western countries. 19 The six genres are Action Comedy Drama Thriller Sci Fi and Romance
160 dedicated fans. M ovies from the Europe America region received overwhelmingly high viewing rates. More than half of the women indicated they frequently watched European or American movies. Movies from mainland China were second place in viewing frequency, followed by movies from Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, and India. In the past two decades, because of the relaxation of rules regarding importing foreign media as well as the prevalence of piracy, o u mei dapian (big productions from Europe Ameri ca) have established a solid audience base in mainland China. With no intent to generalize this study provided some empirical evidence to the claim that the Chinese today are exposed to a considerable amount of foreign media content Furthermore, the youn g Chinese women in this study showed strong interests and personal preferences in Western movies relative to movies from other regions. As survey results suggested all of the 38 women had regular access to the Internet. The majority reported between one and five hours daily Internet usage while a few said they were online more than 10 hours a day. The women also reported a range of online activities and the frequencies they would engage in each of them : stream music and watch videos ( ) use weibo 20 instant messaging, or do online shopping and r ead, check emails, play games, do research, or download videos ( Media influences on perceptions of feminine beauty B oth the focus group s and survey data suggested that the college women that participated in this study were active media consumers and media could have played 20 Weibo is the most popular micro blogging site in China. Known as the Chinese Twitter.
161 strong influence s on their perceptions of cultural ideals of feminine beauty. Many of the participants mentioned watching entertainmen t television shows and reading blogs as personal interest s and they frequently quote d stories or people from the media to support their argument s In the discussions of beauty ideals in contemporary China, different groups actually presented a very simila r and specific set of beauty standards and they tended to back up these ideals with similar examples from the media. For example, some women suggested that the cultural preference for women to have a thin body and a small face could be partially attribut ed to the prevalence of N.N., 23, indifferent viewer : The fact is everything is on television now. And they all say that the camera will add 10 jin [approximately 11 lbs] to anyone. So only the truly skinny peo ple would look good on TV. G.J., 24, involved viewer : And they will tell you that having a small face is the secret to adve rtisements. One woman further supported this argument by making a comparison between the female celebrities today and the ones before the digital media age. T.Q., 23, indifferent viewer : gene Angelababy. In fact, many of them had round face and chubby cheeks, like the famous singer Deng Lijun 21 [other women nod in agreement]. But if Deng was alive today, I guess she probably wante d to change her face to be smaller too. According to Bandura (1994), the social learning process may occur deliberately or inadvertently through the observation of behaviors modeled via interpersonal or mass media channels. Thus, media as an important soci alizing agent might have played a 21 Deng Lijun (1953 1995), a Taiwanese female singer popular in mainla nd China between late 19 7 0s and early 1990s.
162 crucial role in shaping the se Chinese college the cultural ideals of feminine beauty For example, t he fact that across the focus groups the participants all had very similar accounts on a certain su bject (e.g., a small face being beautiful) indicated that they were likely to have shared a common source of learning : the media. When the media present a female celebrity with certain facial features as highly attractive, popular, and successful, young wo men in China could learn to imitate the model by trying to achieve the idea look (e.g., through makeup or cosmetic surgery) and anticipate similar result for their imitated behavior which is being valued by the society. In addition to shaping public aes thetics of physical beauty, media also seemed to play a part in constructing beauty ideals that involved personal qualities in a social context. On the positive side, sometimes a particular female celebrity became recognized for her femininity because stor ies about her personal background and accomplishment s were publi cized in the media. Women in different focus groups mentioned the Chinese media person ality Yang Lan 22 and the British actress Audrey Hepburn as their ideal beautiful women. Beside their phy s ic al beauty, both Yang and Hepburn were highly regarded by young women because the media portrayed them as successful and inspirational female individuals On the negative side, a new class of women baifumei beautiful) was recently c reated by the Chinese media. The characteristics of a typical b aifumei woman were a combination of high physical attractiveness and unapologetic 22 Yang Lan is a female journalist and co owner of the S u n Television Cynbernetworks in China. She is considered one of the most influentia l women in the Chinese media industry, and an idol and inspiration for many young Chinese women because of her beauty and success.
163 attitude and entitlement about materialism Shortly after it came out, the term b aifumei became massively popul ar on the Internet, and more and more Chinese youth started to adopt the ideology that beauty and wealth determines the ultimate social status of a woman. X.G., 19 indifferent viewer : It all started with this one girl in If You Are the One who famously s aid that I would rather cry sitting in a BMW than laugh riding on the back of a bicycle. controversy to attract viewers, or really want to promote this kind of girls as the new beauty ideal. Further develo pment in social cognitive theory posits that learning is more likely to happen when the observer feels a close identification with the model and if the observer feels that she/he has the ability to carry out the imitat ed action (Bandura, 1988). As active m edia consumers, the Chinese college women were frequently exposed to media representations of ideal femininity in contemporary Chinese society Based on social cognitive theory, when these young women in China identified with the female celebrities they sa w in the media (e.g., Yang Lan), they were more likely to adopt the behaviors that they modeled, such as pursuing a successful career or being involv ed in charitable causes. But at the same time, if they believed that they had the self efficacy in followin g through certain behaviors modeled by the baifumei women in the media (e.g., insist on marrying rich men), they were also more likely to imitate those controversial behaviors Media influences on perceptions of beauty pageant s All the focus group partici pants showed at least basic understanding and familiarity with beauty pageant s despite of different levels of viewership of the pageant shows. As discussed previously, much of the pageant knowledge the women had was likely to come from the overall media co ntent they consumed The media usage survey
164 results showed that entertainment programing television consumption In the focus group discussions, the women often drew examples directly from entertainment news to support their arguments. Z.D., 22, indifferent viewer : You see those headlines in the news all the time, former winner of Miss so and so pageant married a millionaire. And young girls S.D., 20 indifferent viewer : I read this the other day, there was this girl, a senior in high school, decided not to take the entrance exams because she wanted to participate in a pageant and become famous. What made it newsworthy was the fact that her mo ther was also very supportive of her daughter giving up college and making the shortcut in life. The women reported in the survey that they were active Internet users, and in the discussions some of them attributed their low interest in watching beauty pa geant s to the Internet. They believed that most people in China today, including themselves, had already satisfied their voyeuristic curiosity about feminine beauty because an abundance of images and videos of beautiful women were readily available online. As a results, the main attraction of beauty pageant shows, which they believed to be the display of young women in skimpy clothing, was no longer a novelty and could not capture the attention of today s savvy audience. G.K., 23, non viewer : I spend most of beautiful women. Maybe because photo editing software is very common now, the women in those pictures all look perfect. And when I watch a pageant show, to be honest, those girls just look plain an d unattractive compared to the photos I am used to. P.L., 21, involved viewer : Maybe beauty pageant s were popular ten twenty years ago because there was not much entertainment available back then and people had greater needs for visual stimulation. But now with power of Internet, there is a surplus of beautiful women everywhere you look and people start to get aesthetic fatigue.
165 tendency to believe in the conspiracy theories of beauty pa geants Just like in the U.S., entertainment media in China thrive on rumors and scandals of celebrities Thus, the Chinese entertainment media might intentionally stir up rumors and scandals about beauty pageants and their contest ants in order to increase tabloid sales and website traffic. T he women in the focus group s showed significan t interest and consumption of entertainment media but low interest and consumption of beauty pageant shows. As a result, their main information source about beauty pageant s was entertainment news, which in turn led to their high endorsement of the pageant conspiracy. Furthermore, most beauty pageants in China were sponsored or hosted by state owned television stations In consequence, formal Chinese news media were un likely t o investigate any scandal about beauty pageants because it might lead to negative exposure of the government. In depth Interviews In depth interviews were conducted with eight women between the ages of 19 and 24 who were contestants of a regional pageant o f 2012 Miss World China. This particular pageant took place in Shanghai, a major city on the east coast of China, and the interviews happened during the last two weeks of the competition At the time of the interviews, the contestants had already participa ted in various competitions and sponsored events of the pageant for over two months. All the interviews were conducted in the hotel where the pageant rehearsals were being held This hotel/tourist resort was also one of the major sponsors of the pageant, providing the space and convenience for all the pageant activities to take place. There were between 50 and 200 people affiliated with the pageant present in the hotel at any
166 production crew, the contestants, and family and friends The majority of the contestants of this pageant were local college students O ther than a few who were accompanied by a family member or friend, most of them came to the rehearsals and competitions by themselves using public transportation. Judging from their appearances, the contestants all looked in their early 20s. The mother of a high school student told the researcher that her daughter who recently turned 18 was the youngest in the competition. Table 4 1. Information about i nterview p articipants ( p seudonyms) Age Major/Profession Hometown Past Pageant Experience Ailan 19 Telecommunication Shanghai None Cai 21 Fashion Modeling and Design Hefei, Anhui None Feng 21 Bi lingual Broadcast ing Haerbing, Heilongjiang 1 anchorwoman contest 1 car model contest Hui 20 Theater Yancheng, Jiangsu 1 local beauty contest Jialin 24 Flight Attendant Shanghai None Meili 22 Musical Performance Hefei, Anhui 1 local beauty contest Miss Asia 201 1 Pageant Nana 20 Elementary Education Fuyang, Anhui 3+ local beauty contests Qian 22 Digital Media Design Zibo, Shandong Miss International The eight women who participated in the interviews (pseudonyms) came from relatively diverse background s ( Table 4 2). Seven of them were college students in sophomore or junior years ; they were studying a variety of majors in six different schools. The only non student interviewee was a flight attendant working for a Chinese
167 airline. Only two of the eight wome n were born and raised Shanghai, the city where this pageant was hosted and t he rest came from five different cities in four provinces. Of the eight women three had never participated in any beauty related contest prior to this one, two had previously pa rticipated in one beauty contest, and three had participated in two or more different beauty contests in the past. Becoming a Beauty Pageant Contestant Supportive parents The eight interviewees came from diverse personal backgrounds with various levels of past pageant experiences and different attitudes and goals towards the current competition However, they all shared something in common: parents that were very supportive of their involvement in beauty pageants. Qian: My mom saw that I had lost all tha t weight since I started the modeling Cai: My parents have always kept an open mind in raising me. As long as the general direction is positive, they always encourage me to experience for not trying. Ailan: My parents are quite supportive of me coming here. Because of my height, I look pretty tall and thin at my school, so my parents think this kind of event is a good place for me to present myself. They were less supportive before when I wanted to participate in Super Girl, because they thought I had very little chance [of winnin g] in a singing competition like that without any professional vocal training. This time [in a beauty contest] they think at least I have a chance to continue on. P arental support seemed particularly important to these young Chinese women who were partici pating in beauty pageants and there were culturally specific reasons. Except for Ailan and Qian who had a younger brother, the other six interviewees were all from single child families Because of the historical background of the single child
168 policy in C hina, the singleton generation tend s to be particular ly dependent on their parents compared to other generations (Fong, 2004) Unlike many American parents who would let their children move away from home and start to care for themselves after graduating f rom high school, most Chinese youth live with their parents until they get married and rely on their parents for complete financial support throughout and sometimes after college. Therefore, Chinese parents often play a more involved role in the lives of t heir 20 something daughters including participation in beauty pageant s. According to the interviewees, the ir parents supported their beauty pageant aspirations because they wanted the best for their children. Some parents believed the pageants provided a great opportunit y for their daughter to get exposed and open doors for potential future careers ; some hoped their daughter would gain valuable life experiences in a competitive environment and grow as an individual; and some just simply enjoyed the fact that their daughters looked beautiful and happy on stage. Throughout the time the researcher spent at the pageant site she saw a number of mothers who would show up to every rehearsal and competition to show support for their daughters To some of the in terviewees, their mother was the single most invested person in their pageant career. Meili: Sometimes when I participate in a contest or event, my mom will come along to give me support. She will take photos and videos of me, and g et me whatever I need a t the moment. She always tells me that I really shine on the stage. Feng: lot of effort in educating and cultivating monetary way yet. But if I can make her happy and proud, it is the best encouragement and motivation for me.
169 started her mother decided to fly d own and accompany Feng throughout the entire three month s of competitions critiques of her performance along with a lot of encouragement. Feng performed ethnic dancing, played traditional musi c instruments, and drew Chinese calligraphy in her talent performances, all of which she learned at a young age under her mother s influence. Interestingly, this kind of collaborative effort between mother and daughter was similar ly found in the portrayals of pageant families in American reality television, 23 only that the pageant girl in the case of China was much older in age. At the same time the overwhelming support these pageant contestants received from their parents should not be interpreted as a ge neral endorsement of beauty pageantry from all Chinese parents. Compared to most European and American parents, Chinese parents tend to be more guan greater emphasis on the academ ic training and achievement of their children (Chao, 1994). In China, parents set up strict regimes for their children so they don t fail to get into a good university which is still considered vital in secur ing a well pa ying job. Therefore, it might be t he case that many Chinese parents actually disapprove of their daughters potential participat ion in pageants because it would divert their attention from schoolwork, and only those young women whose parents are supportive made it to the competition 23 For instance, American reality television series Toddlers & Ti a ra s began on cable television during 2008, which follows the families of contestants in child beauty pageants. The show started so me controversies over the costumes the young girls were wearing, yet it provided the general public a close look at a certain aspect of the pageant world.
170 Fine arts background During the field trip, the researcher was able to chat with the production crew and had a two hour informal interview with Justin, the executive producer of th e Miss World China Shanghai regional pageant The information gathered from t he crew and Justin in particular was used in the analysis to provide a factual background for the in depth interviews with the pageant contestants and was presented without interpretation. According to Justin, the talent competition was an important compon ent of this regional pageant. Above all, it was following the tradition of the Miss World pageant brand which has always had the talent competition. M ore importantly, individual talent performances of the contestants carr ied a lot of weight in maintaining the entertainment value of the show. As a result, the contestants who had stage talents and experiences were particularly favored by the pageant organization. In the focus groups, the college women expressed their impressions about beauty pageant contest ants in China, most of whom they believed were yishusheng ( f ine arts major students ). This impression was confirmed by the interviewees of this study, as a majority of them and the rest of the contestants at the current pageant had a background in fine art s For example, Meili started learning ballet at the age of five and went to a dancing school to pursue professional training before she decided to study musical performance in a well known art institute One of the main reasons Meili was attracted to beau ty pageant s was that she got to practice the things she learned at school on the pageant stage. Meili: Since the first time I competed in a beauty pageant, my goal was to find a platform to practice and perform what I learned. Otherwise I feel that I key in everyday life but a totally different person on stage. I feel like a shining star when I have the stage to myself.
171 Hui was a theater major at a performance arts college and in the tal ent competition she performed a pop song with both singing and dancing. In addition, she volunteered to be the announcer in Being quite active on stage, Hui believed that opportunities like this really fit her perso nality. Hui: I am a happy go loves to be on stage and perform. That happiness and satisfaction I get from being on stage is hard to convey with words. My family and friends all think [beauty page antry] is a perfect thing for me. Cai and Qian came from a local university famous for its fashion model ing program. According to Justin, th e modeling department of this university had been an important recruiting site for their regional Miss World China pageant, and the head of the modeling program was in fact a committee member and consultant of the pageant. Moreover, because of their professional training and stage experience modeling s tudents from this program had frequently brought home the title of this pageant, including the current event. 24 In feudal China, x izi (opera singers or stage performers) were often looked down upon in the society because of the nature of their profession. Especially as a woman, being a stage performer was considered shame ful because her beauty and talent was on display for strange men, which made her unsuitable for a respectable marriage. However, in contemporary China stage performers are addressed as yiren (artists or talents ) and many have reached the status of celebr ity and accumulated large numbers of fans. Since the economic reform, there have been notable value changes among college educated Chinese youth with dramatic increase in individualism and materialism 24 A s revealed in the final contest not long after the interviews, the winner of this Miss World China regional pageant was again a modeling student from this university.
172 (Wang, 2006). A survey study showed that idol worshipin g was a common phenomenon among Chinese youngsters and stars (including pop, TV/film, and sports stars) consisted of the top personages worshi p ped (He, 2006). As a result, being a stage performer has become a desired career path for young Chinese women in the modern age and those who succeed as models, actresses, singers, or dancers often found marriages with wealthy business men (He, 2010). The attitude shift in Chinese society towards stage performers may have contributed to the increasing number of you ng women in China who pursue fine arts majors and beauty pageants. Furthermore, fine arts major ed female students often have very different paths and prospects of life compared to the average college woman in China (e.g., the focus group participants). M a ny of them were recruited at the age of 14 or 15 to a fine arts institute to study modeling or dancing because of their special physical attributes, such as being tall, having lanky figures, or having beautiful faces. They are also more likely to have a we ll paying job as a stage performer when they graduate and not have to compete in schools or the job market like other college students. The fact that physically attractive young women in China are increasingly attracted to the life path as stage perform ers is indicative of the patriarchal gender belief that women should take advantage of their physical beauty as a valuable asset to secure a good life. Past experiences and motivations Meili first encountered beauty pageant s in the summer when she graduate d from high school and s he participated in a local beauty contest in her hometown A lthough
173 she did not win any award in that pageant, it led her Miss Asia pageant, 25 in which she made it to the top 10 finalists. Feng was a lso a junior college student who was studying bi lingual broadcasting at a university in a nearby city. In her first year in college Feng participated in a beauty contest hosted by a television station in search of the next anchorwoman and made it to the top 10 N ot too long before the interview, she competed in a local car model contest and won the first place. Hui was a sophomore theater student and had only one but very memorable pageant experience when she was much younger. Hui: I was 13 that ye parents thought it would be a good idea for me to get out of the house and do something, so my mom entered me in this magazine model contest in my home town, which was just like a beauty pageant. I rem ember we did six rounds of competitions and each round I ended up having the highest score! It then became a controversy as to whether the award should be given to me, a 13 year old kid! In the end they still pronounced me the winner of the contest because 26 award money! In a way, Meili, Feng, and Hui came from similar backgrounds. They were all fine arts major college students with outstanding talents to p erform on the pageant stage. Compared to most other contestants, they had more experiences and achievements in beauty pageants, and seemed more confident in the competition. For them, Miss World China (and the possibility to compete in Miss World) provided a prestigious opportunity to bring their pageant endeavors to a higher level. Meili, in particular, was extremely devoted and determined to win a beauty queen title. 25 Miss Asia is an annual international beauty pageant hosted by a Hong Kong television network. 26 Equivalent of approximately 800 US dollars.
174 Meili: to win! I am very serious about this opportunity and I am doing my best to prepare for it. Qian was a digital media design major and she made the decision to join the amateur modeling club after losing 30 pounds. She told the researcher it was her dream to become a fashion model since she was a little girl and g oing to model classes and participat ing in beauty contests were a way for her to explore this model dream. Qian: Last summer, the amateur modeling club of our university was recruiting, and my mo nine months, and I have lost 30 jin (33 pounds) .This is the second beauty contest that my modeling teacher has introduced me to this year Cai, on the other hand, was a fashion model and design major in the university who already had many industry experiences 27 modeling in China. Like many of her classmates, Cai signed with a modeling agency that regularly sent her to fashion show a uditions around the country. By participating in beauty contests she was hoping to venture out from the fashion world and discover new potentials. Cai: I am a fashion model major and I never participated in any beauty contest before. Our department chai r told me about this Miss World pageant and I think it is a great opportunity. On her recommendation, I am also going to compete in the Miss International pageant later next month. Both Qian and Cai were participating in beauty contests because of direct recommendations from their modeling teachers. To them beauty pageantry was just a side interest that they chose to pursue at this particular time, and eventually they would continue their real career paths as designers and models. In contrast, Nana showed very strong internal motivation in participating in pageants and she believed that by 27 According to Cai, she had modeled in Shang hai Fashion Week, Beijing Fashion Week, and fashion shows for designers like Gucci, Dior and Qi Gang in China.
175 competi ng in these beauty contests she could change her destiny and create a better future. Like many young people of her generation Nana followed what she thought was t he only way to succeed in life: get ting a college degree. A s she began the third year in was determined to do something else. Nana: not going to school here and where I am from I feel there are fewer udy and study. Living in a city 230 miles away from the Shanghai Nana had to take a 6 hour train ride to come to a rehearsal or event each time. Before this pageant, Nana had already participated in quite a few small scaled beauty contests and she usuall y would not pass on any opportunity to compete. He r attitude towards beauty pageants was am hoping for is to find a stage to show myself and find some opportunities for the Ever since Zhang Zilin won the title of Miss World 2007, she has gained significant media visibility and commercial success as an A list celebrity in China. T h e executive producer Justin told the researcher in a convincing tone: irl here wants to be an album selling singer, a big hit on the big screen, a cover girl on the It was interesting to note that even though the connection between participation in beauty pageants and becoming a celebrity seemed obvious to the outsiders (e.g., the college women in the focus groups and Justin), the pageant contestants themselves were very cautious in making this
176 connection. In fact, Jialin, the flight attendant, was the only one that mentioned t he word mingxingmeng celebrity dream) in her interview. Jialin: If I could win this contest and represent China in the international pageant, then it is a dream come true. You know, every girl has a mingxingmeng, and mine is realized if I get to be Mis particular profession in mind, I am interested anything, acting, advertising, spokesperson. Overall, the interviewees reported different levels of past pageant experiences and the direct and indirect factors that had motivat ed them to become a beauty pageant contestant. Most of them were intentionally vague on the materialist ic aspect of pageants, such as the winner having a chance to become a celebrity and make a lot of money. However, the women all shared the sentiment that beauty pageants were to them a channel for personal improvement, and that they belonged to new generation Chinese women who actively made efforts to better themselves and explore different possibilities in life. Participating in Miss World China Attitud e towards the competition By the time the interviews were conducted, the contestants had spent two months competing in this regional Miss World China pageant and participating in various sponsored events. Particularly the contestants went on a three day road trip for a series of pageant events in a distant province a couple of weeks prior to the interviews The experience of travelling together and sharing hotel rooms had g iven these young women the chance to get to know each other and develop a special t ype of friendship or comradeship as fellow pageant contestants. Ailan: I remember that in the quarter final, the atmosphere was not so harmonious because we still saw each other as competition. But during the trip to Jingdezhen, because we were not compe ting but working
177 together in the promotional events for the sponsors, I got to make a lot of good friends! The women talked fondly about the new friends they made in the pageant. Being similar in age t hese pageant contestants found a lot in common with on e an other ; and being from different schools and different hometowns they also found enough new things about each other to keep the interactions interesting. Jialin: At this pageant, we have girls who are from all over the country. When we get together w e like to talk about the interesting things about our friends. Cai: All my friends at school were fashion models, and it was nice to meet girls who Based on the obs ervation of the researcher at the rehearsals, the dynamics between the contestants were indeed more amiable than hostile. Not only were the breaks and makeup sessions filled with jokes and laughter, the women also tried to help each other during the compet ition s For example, Cai was giving tips to the contestants who were non model majors about how to choose an evening gown that fit one s figure and how to pose at the end of the runway routine because of her profe ssional ballet background. The collaborative and harmonious atmosphere at this regional Miss World China pageant could be indicative of two things. Firstly, u nlike masculine sports that focus on the contestants toughness and competitiveness, beauty conte sts are special feminine competitions that emphasize tolerance and collaborations among the contestants. A s a result, the women in the pageants might be carefully maintaining an optimum feminine image by being humble and generous to each other Secondly, m ost of the women
178 participat ing in the pageants might not consider w inning the competition the ultimate goal because they were mainly looking for the experience and the exposure Hence, being friendly and establishing future relationships might be more impo rtant and beneficial than winning the title. Furthermore the majority of interviewees were hesitant in explaining their specific goals or expectations in the competition. I n most Asian cultures, including Chinese, humbleness is considered an important vi rtue and openly speaking about personal ambition c ould be perceived as arrogant or crude. Also, traditional gender role beliefs in China, which were heavily influenced by Confucianism, require women to be submissive to men (Tamney & Chiang, 2002) ; th us women s ambitions are often even further subdued in the Chinese society M eanwhile in a competitive environment like the pageant self confidence was crucial to the spirit and image of a contestant and one did not want to appear under confident by not having an inspiring goal. Therefore to strike a difficult balance, the tactic many of the interviewees chose to use was to minimize the importance of the results while emphasize the efforts one put in the process. Cai: My goal is to do my best in the c ompetition, and to show the best side of myself; any particular pressure to win or anything like that is unnecessary in my opinion. Hui: certain title or place to make this exp erience worthwhile. I believe that as long as you put your heart into something, you will get what you deserve. Another possible explanation to goals and expectation s was that they did not want to seem too utili tarian or too materialistic. In spite of the fact that China as a nat ion ha s greatly embraced capitalism and consumer culture since the economic reform, the lasting communist ideology still
179 leaves certain social stigma associated with extreme materialism Both Hui and Feng stressed the fact that they were not in the pageant just to win the title because that gongli Feng: to win as many titles as pos sible and use it as a way to become celebrities. I think my attitude towards pageant is very neutral I am not opposing it -either. As previously discuss ed, these pageant contestan t general attitude towards participating in beauty pageants showcased the progressiveness and confidence of modern Chinese women. However, when questioned about their goals and expectations in this particular competition, their answers were more in line with the traditional gender roles, in which they were trying to adhere to the affable and humble image of femininity Specifically, t hey carefully avoided speaking directly about their ambition to win the competition and distanced themselves from utilitari anism. This tone change was demonstrative of the ne gotiated position these young women had as pageant contestants in China. On the one hand they wanted to show that they were the new generation of Chinese women who enjoyed the freedom to pursue personal advancements through participating in beauty pageants. On the other hand, in the context of a competition about ideal femininity, they were eager to be seen as a group of friendly, humble, and sophisticate d women that posted no challenge to the traditional beliefs of femininity. Model vs. non model contestants Meili: very thin, or something else. But I told myself I needed to at least look thin, You know, normally I like all sorts of food and I
180 really eat a lot, but for this competition I told myself I had to restrict my appetite and to lose weight. As a regional competition of Miss World China, this pageant shared most of the same components as the national pageant analyzed in the textual analysis. At the beginning of the bikini contest, the contestants would take turns walking down the runway and quickly say three things in front of the m icrophone: their name, height, and beauty statement. The majority of the contestants at this regional pageant were discussed previously, a good number of the contestants at this r egional pageant were recruited directly from the modeling program at a local university. And in reality, these modeling major students tended to stand out from other contestants when they were walking down the runway. Justin: For example, a very pretty gi rl of average height came to our competition. She may be considered a real beauty by most people, but when she certain things that judges have to consider: height, qizhi, figure, face, and o Western, and there is a certain jiazi (body frame) that is the standard. If To a great extent, the prevalence of tall contest ants and especially modeling major students in this beauty pageant was reflective of a media induced physical beauty ideal in contemporary China. Due to globalization of mass media, international fashion magazines such as Vogue and ELLE are readily availab le in China (Haughney & Landreth, 2012), which not only increased the demand and consumption of fashion and luxury goods in China, but also promoted the images of extremely tall and thin fashion models as the beauty ideal for Chinese women. When more and m ore Chinese people
181 screens, and billboards, the sight of a woman of normal height and body frame, especially when she is standing next to a fashion model, could be a stra nge and unsatisfying experience. As a result, in beauty contests in China, the contestants are often held to the standard of fashion model regarding height and bodily figure, and those with modeling backgrounds have an apparent advantage in the competition In addition, the model contestants tended to have more runway experience which could be particularly beneficial in a beauty contest. Cai was one of the model contestants in this pageant who became close friends with many of the non model contestants. Sh e was delighted by the fact that her non model friends were very appreciative of the help and critique she gave them on the runway, and that they were Cai: The common view of fashion models is that we live a flashy lifestyle, and we can make a lot of money just by wearing different clothes and walking around. But a lot of them [non models] realized this time, after they had to deal with the high heels, the evening gowns, and the swimsuits, that modeling was not as easy as one might think. They now know that modeling is also something that requires a lot of time and effort to master. Earlier on in the competition the non model contestants might have felt intimidated by the f ashion models because of their advantages in height and runway skills. But by the time of the interviews which was two months and several elimination rounds into the competition, all the women seemed to have found their own place and no one seemed particul arly insecure. Nana: When I first came to the contest, I felt that I was not very tall and other contestants had some obvious advantages over me. But after the quarter final competition, I realized that I too had left a very positive impression on many p Feng: There are a lot of professional models at the contest and they are a lot better at walking the runway and much taller than us. So I try to learn from
182 talent shows, it is my strong suit. When the lights come on and all the eyes are on me, I feel very confident about my performance and myself. Nonetheless, there was abundant evidence showing that these beauty pageant c ontestants were engaged in social comparisons with each other throughout the competition. For example, in the two comments mentioned above, Nana considered more tale nted contestants, and Feng recognized that her own runway walk was unprofessional compared to the performance of the model contestants. According to social comparison theory, beauty pageant contestants could be engaged in upward comparisons where they com pared their own skills and attributes with the ones of the contestants who they believed to be more competitive (Festinger, 1954; Wood, 1989). Their main motivation for these upward social comparisons were likely to be self evaluation, as in they compared themselves to those whom they thought had better chances in winning in order to size their own chance in the competition (Festinger, 1954; Wood, 1989). These upward comparisons might have initially led to low self perception or self confidence as hinted i contestants were comfortable with their performance in the competition, they seemed to be able to redeem their confidence by focusing on the positive feedback and experiences. In the case of Fe ng, she concentrated on her own advantage in the competition talent performance, and at the same time engaged in downward comparisons with contestants who did not have a strong talent f or self assurance purpose (Wills, 1981).
183 Social comparisons between the pageant contestants could also be motivated by a desire for self improvement (Gruder, 1971). As mentioned earlier, model contestants held a key advantage over non model contestants by having more runway experience. Non model contestants motivated by by a desire to improve their performances in the competition might compare their own runway techniques to the ones of the model contestants and learn from the differences. Moreover, the results of these upward comparisons were less likely to be detrimental t evaluation because Lastly, when the focus of comparison was on a physical attribute, such as body figure, engaging in such upward comparisons could lea d to negative psychological impacts on the pageant contestants (Jones, 2001; Suls et al., 2002). For example, Meili acknowledged an internal pressure to lose weight and control her diet since she started competing in pageants. Even though her intention was to demonstrate her self discipline and determination, the remarks still revealed a degree of frustration and a lowered self evaluation of body image. Meili: There was this girl and we were sitting together at the makeup section during the quarter finals. She was very thin and she was snacking the entire afternoon. I remember myself wondering: is her tummy going to stick out later in the swimsuit competition? Apparently not. She just had that flat body type, no matter how much she ate, it was never going t o Performing femininity in evening gowns and swimsuits Many interviewees, particularly non model contestants, mentioned the evening gown show as their favorite segment of the competition. Some said they struggled with the long dresses an d the high heels at first because they were not used to clothing that was so restricting. But at the end they very much enjoyed and appreciated the
184 experience because it was considered a rare opportunity for most young Chinese women to dress up in formal e xpensive clothing like an evening gown. and trousers as men as feminine dresses or bl ouses were deemed as bourgeois and anti revolutionary (Johansson, 1998). After the economic r eform in the early 1980s, Western styled clothing such as jeans and t shirts started to gain popularity and eventually replaced the communist unisex style of clothing as the mainstream in China. oth in the media and on the street, and Chinese women have a massive selection of clothing available to them as China is currently one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the world. However, for an average young woman in China, even if she lives in an urban area, the opportunity to wear a formal evening gown is still almost nonexistent. A typical young girl growing up in urban China is probably required to wear uniforms at school from first grade all the way till graduating from high school. Her parent s are likely to discourage her from paying too much attention to beauty or fashion because they want her to focus on school work. Since most schools in China still operate under the communist ideology, there are no schoo l proms or formal parties as in the U.S. where teenage girls could dress up. As a result, it was not surprising that many of these pageant contestants (except for the modeling major students) had never had the chance to wear an evening gown until they came to the beauty contest. Ailan: I pa rticularly like the evening gown [competition], because I never wore one before! It made me feel very elegant and noble. I was transformed from a mere college student to a graceful and feminine woman. The women were fascinated by the evening gown competi tion also because they got to experience and perform a more mature side of their femininity. As mentioned
185 earlier, the singleton generation in China tends to stay dependent, both financially and emotionally, of their parents until they form a family of the ir own. Thus, having spent most of their lives being a student in school and a child to their parents, many of these pageant contestants had yet to establish their identity as an adult woman. When they put on a formal gown, they were compelled to exhibit a femininity that was less familiar, yet exciting and new. The experience of transcending from a student and child to a woman seemed particularly memorable and valuable to them. The swimsuit or bikini was another type of attire the pageant contestants had little experience with, and most of them found it more challenging than the evening gown. Except for a modeling major student, the rest of the interviewees all admitted that they were faced with initial self consciousness and embarrassment when they were a sked to wear a two piece bikini on stage Sun tanning on the beach is not as popular in China as in many other countries because of a strong cultural preference for fair skin (Xie & Zhang, 2012) Afraid of getting dark, most Chinese women stay away from l ow coverage bikinis, and some even wrap their face in nylon masks and wear full body suits on the beach (Levin, 2012). Moreover, China is still largely a sexually conservative society where wearing bikinis in public can be considered vulgar or inappropria te. Therefore, it might have been an unfamiliar and uncomfortable experience for the contestants to dress in two piece swimwear in front of a large number of people which led to varying levels of apprehension Feng: [What was your least favorite part of Hui: The bikini co mpetition was a little, [pause] how to say, awkward. After all
186 walking down the street in bikinis. In a competition like this, you are wearing a bikini and there are a lot of people watchi the same as walking in the street, just with a smaller audience. However, most of the contestants were able to overcome their self consciousness by the sheer thought of comfort that they were not alone in the competition. The fact that other women were also on the stage wearing bikinis seemed to have given them a collaborative courage to face the swimsuit competition. This sentiment was similar to the one the researcher found during the focus group recruitment. Young women in China had a tendency to be anxious about being singled out or doing something differently than everyone else. Thus, having their peers around doing the same thing often made them more confident and comfortable in a new Additionally, some contestants tried to justify the swimsuit competition by stressing the important role it played in a beauty contest. They argued that physical perfection was an indispensa ble part of feminine beauty, so having the contestants wear bikinis was a necessary measure if not the only fair way to judge beauty because no bodily flaw could be hidden or camouflaged when wearing a bikini. Hui: k at the outer as well as inner beauty. physical defect, or if your body is proportional. Meili: I think swimsuit is a nece ssary segment in beauty pageants because the motivation for me to lose weight because I have to show my body to to be perfect. From a feminist perspective, these Chinese pageant contestants did not share the critique of Western feminists of beauty pageants on constructing femininity for
187 display (Banet ctive, or the male gaze, to look at themselves and at each other ( Sassatelli, 2011 ). They had internalized the idea that the perfection of female bodies was a key component of feminine beauty, and feminine beauty could only be properly evaluated by the spe ctators (e.g., pageant judges, audiences) when the female body was displayed and scrutinized as an object. The only reservation they had was over the conflict between a woman revealing her physical body in public and the conservative attitude towards femal e sexuality in Chinese society. Overall, these Chinese pageant contestants demonstrated a low level of feminist awareness of the male gaze, and treated their performances of femininity in the pageant as new and positive life experiences. E valuation proces s and sponsors Based on the conversations with the pageant contestants, there was a general lack of information of the evaluation process used in this beauty contest. The women suggested that the organization did not disclose to them at any point the crite ria used to evaluate or score the contestants, and the majority of the eliminations (except in the final competition) were privately made by the pageant committee. Ailan: I thought there was going to be a question and answer section, but it seemed not to be. So I am really not sure what the standards are. There has been no scoring during the competitions, and every time they just call you afterwards if you passed. Nana: competitions s uch as evening gown, sportswear, and bikini, and they are judged separately. But they never showed us the scores after each competition. In the past we were just notified by phone whether we made the cut or not. Like many aspects of the Chinese culture a nd society, ambiguity is a form of existence that many Chinese people tend to accept as normal. In the Western culture
188 social justice is largely based on installation of rules and surveillance, and clarity and transparency is expected in any type of evalua are almost always a central factor and the fact that judgments are made with fluidity in a holistic manner is largely expected and sometimes preferred. As a result, in spite of the ambiguous evaluation system of the beauty pageant, most of the contestants still expressed high confidence in the fairness of the competition, which they believed to be ensured by a collective conscience of all the people involved in the judging process. Hui: obviously outstanding and she ends up being eliminated. Excellence is there for all to see. At the same time, if the result does not meet your expectation, it can only mean that you are not good enough or oth ers are better than you. You should be humble and learn. At the same time, based on their own observations, many contestants also came up with some hypotheses about how the pageant evaluation worked. Qian: I think having a talent performance is definitel y a bonus. It gives you more applause and points. At the same time, your appearance and overall qizhi t stage. Hui: In my opinion, the appearance of a contestant is definitely a consideration. wenhua cengci (level of education and culture). I also think the confidence one presents on stage is very important, the way she take note of that. From the perspective of the pageant org anization, keeping the contestants uninformed about how exactly they were evaluated in the competition could be a strategic decision. Not informed of any specific judging criterion, the contestants were left to rely on their own imagination of the evaluati on process, and every woman could be led to believe that she had certain advantages in the competition and that her
189 excellence and efforts would not go unnoticed. To some extent, while the pageant not only avoided any potential complaint of unfair judgment because there was no set standard to base an argument on, it also motivated the contestants to keep putting in efforts believing everyone had a chance to win. Another way the pageant organization seemed to keep the contestants occupied and motivated was to engage them in various sponsored events. As mentioned earlier, the contestants of this regional pageant were brought to different provinces for a weekend of pageant events. Many interviewees found the trip an interesting experience and enjoyed traveling together with other contestants, although a few of them remembered it to be physically taxing. Ailan: We spent a long of time on a bus, and there were a lot of photo shoots at the event where we had to stand in the sun wearing very little clothes. I got so tired after walking around all day and without much sleep. Feng: The bus ride was 11 hours and we got there around 2 a.m. Then we had having a stomach pain from not having time to eat or rest. But there were a lot of media taking photos of us. I had to smile so much my face got stiff at the end of the day. It is common practice in beauty pageants to involve the contestants in various sponsored events. According to the pageant produ cer Justin, even though this regional pageant was officially affiliated with the Miss World brand, its organization and operation was entirely independent. Other than following certain structural requirements set by the Miss World British headquarters, the main goal of the organizers of this regional pageant was to secure enough sponsorship to fund all the pageant activities while making a profit. Therefore, for the most part the top priority of the pageant was to please its sponsors.
190 Being between the age s of 19 and 24, these Chinese beauty contestants had largely grown up with the emergence of a consumer culture in China. Throughout the interviews, the women showed high familiarity and acceptance of the commercial nature of most beauty pageants as well as and sometimes models and actresses, for the pageant and the sponsors. Some indicated that they personally did not care for certain sponsor events, but as a group these pageant contestants did not raise any question or concern about the business lisuo dangran Feng: When I told my family I was going to a beauty contest, some of them were wondering if there was going to be any qian guize (latent rules). And they told me if I see any sign of back stage deals, they would not want me to continue because winning a pageant title is not that important, especially if I have to make any sacrifice. Largely spoke n in euphemism, some women suggested a certain wariness about the involvement between the pageant sponsors and the contestants. Qian told the researcher that during one of pageant events, she and a few other contestants were invited to dine with the sponso rs and special guests of the pageant. Even though they seem to like the atmosphere. Qian: u rather than complicated. According to Justin, many of the sponsors in this pageant were local businesses and wealt hy individuals. Besides the commercial benefit from investing in pageants, some male sponsors and representatives also just enjoyed the fact that had the chance
191 to know some young and beautiful women. At the same time, many of pageant contestants such as N ana were looking for future career opportunities; hence, such social events provided them the venue to network with pageant sponsors and influential individuals who could help them achieve their goals. In general, these pageant contestants expressed a hi gh level of confidence and trust in the pageant organization regarding the evaluation system and the pageant sponsor relationship. Compared to focus group participants, these pageant contestants painted a highly positive image of beauty pageants in China. Although they hinted at some issues such as lack of procedural transparency, they did not bring up any major concern. At times, it seemed like the contestants were trying to avoid making negative remarks about the pageant as a way to justify their own invo lvement. One particular was mostly pragmatic. T he top six contestants of each of regional pageants could advance to the national Miss World China pageant. Hui, as well as a few other women who participated in the interviews, ended up with an individual award but did not make it into the top six. In complete contrast to the positivity she presented in the interview about the pageant, Hui was enraged by the result and sta rted questioning the pageant committee about their judgment right after the show was over. It turned out tha t Hui had doubts all along about the pageant procedure but chose to believe in the fairness of the organization. She claimed that there must have be en certain backstage deals in the pageant because some girls who made it into the top six were clearly unqualified. Hui and her family were eventually able to calm down and accept the defeat, but this incident definitely left a bad
192 taste in the mouth of ma ny people who were part of the pageant and left the researcher wondering how many of these young women actually believed in beauty pageantry while others were merely taking what they needed from a n apparently flawed system. Perceptions of Self and Feminine Beauty after Pageant s Increased self confidence Many contestants mentioned a boost in self confidence as a result of their beauty pageant experience. By the time of the interviews, these women had already passed multiple rounds of eliminations in this reg ional pageant. According to the information provided by the pageant organization, they originally received over 300 applications from which the committee selected 85 as official contestants after screenings and auditions. Another 35 women were eliminated d uring the quarter final competition, which means the eight women in the interviews were among the 50 remaining contestants in the competition. Like any competitive event, making the shortlist and surviving eliminations was an encouraging thing for beauty pageant contestants. An anecdotal story Justin told the researcher provided some background explanation for this increase in self confidence among the pageant contestants. Justin: There was one girl at the quarter final competition, she was doing fine du ring the audition, but when she got to the first rehearsal and saw so ow. From a social comparison stand point, the girl in this story was engaged in upward comparisons with other pageant contestants whom she perceived as superior in beauty, and her self perception and self esteem were devastated when she thought she could not match up or compete with them. On the opposite side, the women who
193 passed multiple rounds of eliminations in a beauty pageant might experience an increase in self esteem when they make downward comparisons to their competitors whom they perceived as we aker or were eliminated from the competition. Ailan: Before I always felt that I was too tall or too thin, and there was a sense of distance between me and the other students at school. You know, my schoolmates tended to be shorter. So in this competitio n, I got to meet so many tall girls and I started to feel like I am also a mein (beautiful woman) Now when I go back to school, I feel different and more confident about my appearance. in the class of mein. After being surrounded by other tall women in the beauty pageant, she discovered a sense of belonging after years of feeling alienated in normal schools. In the later member check email, Ailan told the researcher that she started do ing part time modeling jobs under the influence of the model friends she made at the pageant. She said the compliments she received during the pageant had given her a lot of confidence which motivated her to pursue higher goals in life. She was also thinki ng of going back for another Miss World pageant because she really enjoyed being on stage and the fact chance to do Qian started amateur modeling before the pageants a nd her experience competing in beauty contests had compelled her to overcome a common fear that many young Chinese people had about public speaking and made her an overall more confident person. Qian: As a non professional 28 contestant, I have to get used to being on stage and presenting myself. It was a lot of pressure at the beginning because I 28 Some contestants refer to the contestants who had stage training and experience (e.g., modeling, dancing, acting, etc.) as professional and the ones who came from other backgrounds as non professional.
194 teacher asks someone to do a performance in front of the entire class, every student would lowe common case in China. So I had to really break though this barrier and person so much faster in this competition than in any other setting. The focus group women had perceived the pageant contestants in China as attractive and outstandingly confident young woman. This public impression was confirmed by the contestants of this pageant both from the ways they handled the interviews an d the performances they put on in the pageant competition. The confidence of some of the women might have come from years of stage performance experiences before the pageant while others might have gained their confidence from participating in the pageant. Overall it is safe to postulate that beauty pageants both attract and produce young women with high self confidence, and beauty pageant contestants as a group could be representative of the spirit of modern Chinese femininity which is positive, strong wil led, and fearless. Approaching the ideal femininity According to these pageant contestants, ideal feminine beauty was a combination of outer appearance and personal qualities. Meili: After the Miss Asia pageant, I really started to understand what beaut y is. First of all, every girl loves beauty and wants to be beautiful. Then I think beauty is from both the inside and outside. You need to have some Also you need to learn how to ba ozhuang (package) your appearance, dress appropriately and pay attention to your mannerism s Hui: A very important part of this pageant is its emphasis on personal compassion and environmental awareness. I think a basic standard of beauty is being compas sionate. If a woman only has a beautiful outside, she may be considered a mein, but she is just a low class mein. Real mein has to also have inner quality, she is not a just a huapin (flower vase).
195 Cai: A lot of foreigners think the beauty of Chinese women is introverted and my opinion, Chinese beauty is natural and easy going, just like Miss World ee with the pale skin ideal in China. I think beauty is healthy and natural, and if you look like you are sick or unhealthy, you definitely cannot represent beauty. Many of the pageant contestants suggested in the interviews that the very concept of beaut y pageantry was closely associated with the pursuit of the ideal femininity. They believed that through all the training and competition they experienced at the pageant, they were also approaching the true embodiment of the ideal form of feminine beauty. In addition to having a professional hair and makeup team and quality costume providers, the pageant made sure the contestants were properly coached on the stage. One of the committee members and judges of this pageant was a department chair at Cai and Qia responsible for providing runway training to all contestants. Similarly, one of the executive producers of the pageant was an experienced stage performer and choreographer at a danc e company, and she was giving instructions to the contestants on the opening dance as well as their individual talent performances. Jialin, the flight attendant, said that she always admired the special qizhi many fashion models had, and during the runway training at the pageant she was able to learn how to walk like the models, with confidence and qizhi. Meili had been a ballet her outward foot stance and stiffened che st. But after months of training her runway appearance was improved tremendously and she felt beautiful walking as well as dancing. As a modeling major, Cai realized that the ideal image of feminine beauty was
196 not quite the same in the pageant as it was in fashion. Being used to the extreme thin, androgynous, and expressionless look of fashion models, Cai learned from her pageant experience that feminine beauty could also be soft, girly, and with smiles. Cai: When I was modeling, they told us that on the r unway we should look expressionless and the steps have to be steady and strong. So I feel that my runway walk was a little too masculine compared to the other girls in the pageant. I am learning to show more of the girly and feminine side of myself. Anot her thing the contestants seemed to grasp from their pageant experiences were limited in the ways that they could communicate their femininity to the audience. Because the re gional pageant did not have a Q&A section, the contestants were only able to present their beauty through how they looked and how they moved. As a result, the women learned to pay diligent attention to the overall image they present in front of others, whi ch included her physical appearance, manners, and qizhi. Feng: perfect smile and spirit. Every moment you are outside, you need to let people around feel your sunny and positive attitu de. Meili: As a dancer, I used not to pay too much attention of what I wear. But now public. Also I used to sit with my knees open, a bad habit of being a dancer, but I realiz e other people might perceive me as uncultured if I sit much communicated through the image she presents. All of the eight interviewees considered their involvement in beauty pag eants an overall positive experience that they would definitely recommend to other women with similar interests. Also, they ap peared to be strong believers in nianqing buyao liubai Qian: If you really have a dream, you need to at least give it a try. Because before you do it, you always think it is just a dream. Only when you put
197 really be this person. According to t he women, the most satisfying part of participating in a pageant was the fact that they pushed themselves to chase after a dream. Even though they knew there were people who were against or indifferent to the idea of beauty contests, they were glad that th ey had the courage and determination to utilize their youth and beauty to achieve their goals Feng: reason not to do it. Otherwise when you get older, you might regret not trying because even if you tried and failed, you can still tell yourself that anymore. Meili: Every girl loves beauty, and e very girl has a dream. What I want to say is You have to act right now if you want to achieve something great in your life. It was worth noting that there was a sense of urgency t hat the women were trying to convey in their comments. There seemed to be a latent assumption that beauty was not only an important but also a time woman should take advantage of her youth and beauty when she still had it. This sentiment not only suggested an ingrained gender belief among these pageant contestants that the value of feminine beauty was determined by a patriarchal social system, it also indicated a cultural anxiety in which Chinese women felt th e pressure to trade their youth and beauty as commodities Essentially, in a capitalist and patriarchal society like neoliberal China, young Chinese women did not feel completely in control of their own femininity and were urged to cash in on their fleetin g beauty.
198 However, if one looked at the issue from a different perspective, the comments of these pageant contestants were celebratory of the fact that the new generation of Chinese women were given the opportunity to make life decisions for themselves an d go after their personal dreams and desires. In a way, these women were proud of the fact that they were participating in beauty pageants, something that was potentially controversial in the Chinese society, and recommended that other young women bravely pursue their own dreams. To a great extent, the positive outlook these pageant contestants had about their lives and the unapologetic attitude they had about their beauty and youth could be seen as both evidence and a source of empowerment for the young ge neration of Chinese women.
199 CHAPTER 5 DISCUSSION The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the contemporary Chinese ideologies and ideals of feminine beauty through the cultural phenomenon of beauty pageant s It investigates the gender discourses, fem inine beauty ideals and consumerism in Chinese beauty pageants, and aims to further the understanding of construction of feminin ity and contemporary Chinese culture in context with mass media and globalization. Previous research has yet to focus on neolib eral China as a unique and important historical and cultural location for studying beauty pageant s and feminine beauty. This dissertation is one of the first to explore this timely topic and its findings will contribute to feminist discourse and communicat ion scholarship on beauty and China. In social science, the application of several research methodologies in studying the same phenomenon, or triangulation, is used to facilitate validation of the data and increase the credibility and validity of the resu lts (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007). This dissertation adopted an exploratory inductive approach and combined three qualitative methods. First, t extual analysis was used to examine the media texts of two Chinese beauty pageant shows which allowed the embedded mes sages and symbolic meanings about gender, beauty, and culture to be analyzed Second, s ix focus groups with 38 Chinese college women were conduct ed, providing insights into the public perceptions of beauty pageant s in China and the negotiat ions of urban yo ung women of the phenomenon. Third, i n depth interviews were conducted with eight contestants of a regional Miss World China pageant which offered a close look at the perspectives and lived experiences of the women who were part of the phenomenon under st udy.
200 In this chapter, the researcher reviews some major findings from the textual analysis, focus groups, and in depth interviews and discusses the implications of these findings The discussion is divided into four main areas The first area focuses on t he gender discourse s in Chinese beauty pageants, paying particular attention to the traditional and patriarchal gender beliefs and objectification of female bodies The second area focuses on the construction of ideal feminine beauty in Chinese beauty page ants and how urban young women negotiated these ideals with in the sociocultural and personal context The third area discusses the implications of the Chinese beauty pageant phenomenon in relation to capitalist consumer culture and the globalization of ma ss media in neoliberal China especially through issues such as pageant conspirac y mingxingmeng and cosmetic surgery. Last but not least, the fourth area examine s the current status of feminism in China with the evidence found in the Chinese beauty pagea nts and with young urban Chinese women In addition, this chapter discusses the limitations of this study and suggests areas for future research. Implications of Findings Gender Discourses in Chinese Beauty Pageants Confucianism, which emphasizes the dis tinctions between sexes and their roles in the family, is at the root of many Chinese cultural and social beliefs (Tamney & Chiang, 2002). Under Confucianism, girls at a very young age are taught to be submissive to the males in the family and devote thems elves to their roles as daughters, wives, and mothers (Tamney & Chiang, 2002). Based on the finding of the textual analysis and in depth interviews, beauty pageants in China were framed as a special type of feminine competition, in which certain traditiona l and patriarchal gender beliefs were reinforced.
201 Beauty pageant s are China, and the competitive nature of the event s was emphasized in the organization of the pageants (e.g., multiple eliminations th roughout the competition ). However, unlike sporting events or reality talent shows, in which the participants are often portrayed as ambitious and aggressive, the contestants in the Chinese beauty pageants were frequently referred to y), and portrayed as amenable and ultra feminine. On stage, the Chinese pageant contestants were rarely given the opportunity to express themselves freely if at all ( especially in M i ss World China), and their movements were highly confined by the choreogr aphed dances, catwalks, and poses. O ff stage, these pageant women also tended to maintain a humble and amiable image by avoiding discussions of their goals or expectations while emphasizing friendship over competition. To the average pageant viewer in Chi na, the young women who participated in a beauty contest were not portrayed as actively competing against each other; instead, they were passively exhibiting their feminine beauty to be judged, rated, and awarded. Not only did the winning and losing in a b eauty contest seem coincidental because of the vague evaluation system, the pageant contestants also appeared emotionally detached from the competition when all they were shown doing was smiling and looking beautiful. In the end, beauty pageants in China perpetuated the stereotypical gender belief that women were docile, reserved, and unambitious, and all they could do were to gracefully accept what they were given in life. A great deal of production effort was made in the Chinese pageant shows to bring out the best performances of the contestants (e.g., the extravagant stage and
202 costume designs, professional makeup team and diligent runway coaching ). The goal of each individual s performance was to demonstrate her ability to embody the ideal feminine beauty and stand out in the competition. However, from a feminist cinepsychoanalysis point of view, in a patriarchal culture the media representations of pageant performances inevitably eroticized and objectified the women on stage for the male ga ze (Mulvey, 1975/1989). Some focus group participants of this study pointed out that most of the Chinese beauty pageant shows dedicate d the majority of their air time to showing the contestants in costumes that revealed and accentuated their bodies, and t his type of performance of femininity seemed to only cater to the interests of heterosexual male audiences. T hese young Chinese women showed rejections of the sexualized performances such as the bikini contest in beauty pageant s because they felt alienat ed as an audience and objectified as women. In their opinion, beauty pageants would attract more female audience if they would make efforts to showcase the intelligence and individuality of the contestants in addition to their perfect appearance. At the s ame time, the Chinese pageant contestants showed less critical opposition to the bikini contest than the college women. The interviewees who participated in a regional Miss World China pageant admitted that wear ing bikinis on stage was psychologically chal lenging at first, but mainly because they were not used to exposing their bodies in front of a large audience and that the conservative sexual culture in China dictated a subdued female sexuality Then they overcame the initial apprehension with a collecti ve self assurance that they were not alone and with the
203 idea that the female body was a key component of feminine beauty that needed close scrutiny for perfection. Historically, the swimsuit contest has been a focus of feminist critique on modern beauty pageants which argues that it creates anxiety about female bodies and constructs feminine beauty for display ( Banet Weiser, 1999 ). T he format of a bikini show in the Chinese beauty pageants is directly copied from the Western pageants, and there has yet b een any systematic feminist protest against it. The young Chinese women who participated in the bikini shows demonstrated discomfort on the personal level, but largely failed to acknowledge the male gaze or the sexualization and objectification of women in these performances on the social level. The only rejection of the bikini show came from the female audience of the pageants, but even they tended to stop at the admission that they were not the target audience therefore the only thing they could poss ibly do was not watching it. As a result, China is unlikely to see any organized obstruction against the bikini show in beauty pageants until there is significant feminist conscious raising and movement, hopefully by the newer generations of young Chinese women. One of the most important messages promoted in the Chinese beauty pageants was that the public recognition of beauty, such as winning the title of a beauty queen, is the ultimate achievement for women. By stressing the effort and determination requ ired should feel when they finally achieve it, beauty was framed as a crucial and defining worth.
204 Many of the pagea nt contestants in the interviews reported increased self confidence after participating in pageants because of the experience in defeating other women to stay on top of the competition as well as a newfound self identification in the class of mein (beauti ful women). Some also indicated the desire to participate in more and higher level beauty pageants in the future because they really enjoyed the sense of achievement they got from excel l ing in feminine beauty. The findings of this study indicate that the f eminist critique of the beauty system in the Western context is also applicable to neoliberal China The that Naomi Wolf (1991) wrote about was also endorsed in t he Chinese beauty pageants when they suggest ed to young women in China that becoming a beauty queen is a real accomplishment that merits recognition, celebration, and ultimately reward from society. Through beauty pageants, the importance of physical attractiveness of women was reinforced in the contemporary Chinese society, whic h was increasingly image driven and obsessed with feminine beauty. By framing beauty as the most crucial task and ultimate achievement for any young woman, the Chinese beauty pageants further substantiated the patriarchal and capitalist beauty culture You ng women were taught to associate their self confidence and ability to succeed with their physical appearance and to believe that their pursuit of beauty was worth any emotional and financial investment. The Chinese Beauty Ideal s Theorists from both evolu tionary and feminist traditions tend to agree that p h ysical attractiveness plays an important role in people s lives ( Langlois et al., 2000). E ven though certain physical attributes are considered universally beautiful for the female gender (e.g., large ey es, high waist to hip ratio, smooth skin, etc.) (Gangestad &
205 Scheyd, 2005), other feminine beauty standards (e.g., slenderness and pale skin tone) tend to have historical and cultural ly specific roots (Mazur, 1986; Johansson, 1998 ) From investigating the beauty pageant phenomenon in China, two particular physical attributes being tall and being thin were found to be important in the ideal feminine beauty in China. The thin beauty ideal has been extensive ly studied in the Western context for its close relationship to female body image issues and eating disorders (e.g., Bordo, 1993; Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002; Thompson et al., 1999; Tiggemann & Polivy 20 10 ). In China, research shows that urban young women are increasingly experiencing weight related body image dissatisfaction (Luo, Parish, & Laumann, 2005) and some scholars argue that anorexia nervosa is no longer bound to specific Western localities but grounded in an international culture of modernity (Lee, 1996). Just like in most Western beauty pageants, the women who competed in the Chinese beauty pageants were uniformly thin. O ne of the pageant contestants (Qian) told the researcher in the interview that she had lost more than 30 pounds since starting modeling lessons and the weight loss was a primary motivation for her to start participat ing in beauty pageants Another contestant (Meili) who was a trained ballet dancer was determined look her best by sticking to a strict diet during the pageant so she could compete with the ultra thin fas hion model contestants. Even though thinness was a shared standard in both Chinese and Western beauty pageants, the ideal thin female body appeared slightly different in the two cultures. In the West, particularly the U.S., t here has been a fitness moveme nt in which women are the key players as they continue to gain social power (Stern, 2008) As a
206 result, the ideal female body in the contemporary Western culture is not merely thin but and physical exercise or working out is a comm on method Western women use to pursue and maintain a slender body with certain body parts (e.g., abdomen and thighs) being slightly muscular. A s demonstrated by the beauty pageant contestants in the China the ideal thin female body in China i s in contras t In spite of the fact the C o mmunist Party once promoted the ideology that men and women had equally capable bodies to work and contribute to nation building (Yang, 1999), it seemed that many traditional and patriarchal gender beliefs have re e merged as the dominant gender discourse in China since the economic reform. Young Chinese women are often hesitant about physical exercise because they have been taught that girls are supposed to be wenjing (cultured and quiet) instead of overly active like boys, and because they don t want to put any muscle on their bodies because it is considered unfeminine. According to focus group participants, weight control was extremely common among college women in China, and most of them preferred dieting over physical exercise The difference in the ideal thin body for women soft versus fit between the Chinese and the Western cultures is subtle but meaningful. American feminist scholar Susan Bordo has written about the p ursuit of slenderness as a troubled intersection between the traditional construction of femininity and the new requirement for women to embody the masculine values in the public/work arena (Bordo, 1993). W hile young girls in the West are searching for a f eeling of strength and an entry into the privileged male worl d through the anorexic body (Bordo, 1993), young girls in China are resorting to
207 extreme diets in pursuit of a thin body that make them look and feel more feminine. T he difference reflects the sp ecific social and political positions of women in the two cultural locations and the struggles women are facing against patriarchy. It could also suggest that certain theoretical perspectives on beauty and the female body developed in the West may not be a ble to explain the experiences of young women in contemporary Chinese society. Compared to being thin, being tall is potentially an even more alienating beauty alterable. The averag e adult woman in China is 158 cm ( ) while the average contestant the Chinese beauty pageants is over 173 cm ( ) Before modern beauty pageant ry was formally introduced to China, there had been super model contests in China in the 1990s (Brownell, 19 98, 2005). Many women in the focus groups used beauty pageant s interchangeabl y with model contest s, because the t wo often share a very similar format of competition as well as contestant pool. In fact, a large number of the women who participated in the Sh anghai regional Miss World China 2012 pageant were fashion model major college students who stood substantially taller than the non model contestants. In beauty pageants in China, the contestants with a modeling background had obvious advantages not only b ecause they had more runway experience which was useful in the competition, but also because their fashion model body type fit the tall and thin ideal in the contemporary Chinese culture As mentioned by the college women i n the focus groups, one of the top criteria in judging feminine beauty in China was height, because it was commonly believed that tall women with had better body proportions and
208 would look more beautiful in clothing. T his viewpoint is consistent with the favorable perceptions of women w ith higher leg to body ratio among other population groups (e.g., Prantl & Grndl 2011; Sorokowski & Pawlowski, 2008), and is likely to be influenced by the fashion industry and mass media which religiously us e tall w omen with lanky bodies to model fash ion as well as ideal feminine beauty (Guaradi et al., 1999). Many pageant contestants in China were fine arts major students from specialized art institutions. These women tended to be trained in performing arts and were perceived as different from the college women in normal schools. None of the 38 focus group participants were fine arts majors or had participated in any beauty contest. When they were prompted to compare themselves to the pageant contestants many of them expressed feelings of defeat an d inferiority about their own physical attractiveness which indicated the negative impact of such body image related upward social comparisons on the self perception of and self esteem of young women But at the same time, these Chinese college women show ed strong resilience to the unwanted social comparisons with the pageant contestants by psychologically distancing themselves from beauty pageants (e.g., indifferent attitude toward beauty pageant shows) in order to preserve their self esteem. The pageant contestants, on the other hand, appeared to be actively engaged in social comparisons with one another D rive n to evaluate their own chance in the competition, the women compare d themselves with the contestants whom they thought were strong competitors W hile the perceived discrepancy in skills (e.g. runway skills) served as the motivation for the women to improve thems elves and led to minimum negative psychological impact when physical attribute s (e.g., height, body type) were
209 the focus of comparison th e women appeared to have negative self perceptions after such upward comparisons Furthermore, the women also engaged in downward comparisons with the contestants who they thought were worse off in the competition for self assure purposes and maintain ed th eir self confidence According to the college women in the focus groups, there was a very distinctive and well defined image of what a beautiful face looked like in contemporary Chinese culture: large eyes with double eyelids, tall nasal bridge, small/nar row chin, and fair skin tone. I t was worth noting that even though most of the facial features mentioned above are actually included in the universal standards for female facial attractiveness established in the evolutionary research (see Hnn & Gz, 2007 ) these young Chinese women seemed to believe that they were uniquely Western or Caucasian features, and that Western women were essentially more beautiful than Chinese women. This pro Western beauty ideology demonstrated by these young urban Chinese wome n could be an important addition to feminist critique of cultural imperialism and globalization When some argue that Asian women are increasingly adopting a westernized beauty ideal and pursuing the white features through cosmetic surgery (Haiken, 199 7; Kaw, 1999), an alternative question could be asked: what make s certain ideal/attractive facial features (e.g., large eyes, small chin) particularly Western or white? Certainly not all Caucasian women have large eyes or a small chin, nor are all women wh o have large eyes and a small chin Caucasian. So a possible answer to this question is that the globalization of mass culture has reinstated a pro Western ideology of feminine beauty which leads people from non Western countries like China to believe
210 that what is beautiful is also Western, regardless of the fact that certain facial features are considered attractive across cultures. Beauty Pageants and the Neoliberal Chinese Society Textual analysis showed that the two Chinese beauty pageants paid direc t tributes to their various sponsors throughout the shows, whether it was including the name of the sponsor in the pageant title, putting the sponsor on the judge s table, showcasing the sponsor s products, or inviting the sponsor to present an award. The major sponsors of the Chinese beauty pageants consisted of big media groups real estate developers domestic and foreign fashion companies, as well as other local businesses. The fact that beauty pageants in China were completely forth right about the comm ercial nature of their events suggested a largely justified beauty economy in contemporary Chinese society ( Xu & Feiner, 2007). At the same time, the Chinese college women in the focus groups who were consumers in the beauty economy also showed high level of awareness and internalization of the commercial nature of beauty pageants in China. The women pointed out that all the parties involved in the Chinese beauty pageants were inevitably looking for some way to benefit themselves : if a pageant was successf ul, t he media company c ould earn advertising dollars for producing and airing the pageant show, other sponsors c ould boost reputation and increase sales from the free publicity the contestants c ould get the exposure they needed for professional and person al advancement, and the audience s co uld s atisfy their voyeurism by gazing at the bodies of the young women on stage. From a business standpoint, beauty pageant s seemed to create a win win situation for everyone In reality, various issues had emerged with in the beauty pageant
211 phenomenon in China Many focus group participants and some pageant contestants raised their suspicion s on the collusion between pageant organizations, sponsors, and contestants in fixing the results of beauty pageants Under the enla rging socioeconomic disparities in China terms like f uerdai (second generation rich) and guanerdai (second generation of government officials) were created to describe a new Chinese aristocratic class that often use s its wealth and power to achieve unjust a dvantage s Thus, fused by media censorship and a lack of transparency in the sociopolitical system in China more and more Chinese people were inclined to believe in the pageant conspiracy Another social concern raised in the Chinese beauty pageants was that young Chinese women were increasingly enticed by a mingxingmeng (dream to be celebrity) Since the economic reform and the development of a consumer culture in neoliberal China images of young beautiful women are frequently used for commercial pur poses (Johansson, 1998; Yang, 2011) while feminine beauty is greatly associated with social and professional advancement for Chinese women (Zhang, 2000) The focus group participants in this study believed that a combination of rapid social change towards capitalist consumerism and a broadening socioeconomic gap between the wealthy and the poor in contemporary Chinese society had cultivat ed among the youth in Ch ina a strong desire for instant success as manifested in beauty pageants Even though most of th e pageant contestants in the interviews did not talk about mingxingmeng directly, they admitted that participating in beauty pageant s was a carefully sought opportunity for their personal as well as professional advancement. The single child policy has to a great extent improved life opportunities of the young generation of Chinese women especially in urban areas, as they were allocated
212 the same family and social resources as their male counterparts (Fong, 2004). A t the same times, these female singleto ns are also under great parental and social pressure to achieve personal successes while fulfill ing certain expectations based on their gender. Most of the pageant contestants in the interviews either had a background in stage performance (e.g., dancing, a cting, or modeling) or a desire to enter show business. They also suggested that their parents showed overwhelming support for their beauty pageant endeavors because they all believed that pageants provided a great platform for them to get experienced and exposed In addition to the prospect of getting a high paying job as model or actress, participating and winning a beauty contest could also mean the opportunity to get to know and eventually marry a rich man. The women in the focus group participants sug gested that young women in China were enticed by beauty pageants because they were attracted to the possibility of an easy and comfortable lif e, even when it meant marrying for money. J.W., 20 involved viewer : It is very simple: t he better a person is be ing paid at his (her) job the better he (she) will be living life. Then if the pay is the same, why would someone pick a profession that requires more hard work when he ( she ) could pick an easy one? You see, marriage is also a profession It s a profession that has the highest payoff Furthermore, the prevalence of the m ingxingmeng among young Chinese women as they both emphasize self expression and individuality. During the Mao era, wome was masculinized and stripped of any aesthetic and erotic appeal ; and a fter the marketization of the Chinese economy, images of fashionable, beautiful, and Westernized urban women have become one of the most familiar symbols of post Mao memo ries (Johansson, 1998) Many of the pageant contestants said in their interviews
213 that they genuinely enjoyed exhibiting their beauty and talent on the stage for other people to see. As a group of 80 hou and 90 hou (post 1980s and 1990s generations) the se pageant contestants demonstrated a strong drive to express themselves as well as the confidence and pride in doing something different than other girls of their age. China has been considered a collectivist culture compared to most of the Western cou ntries where individualism is more prominent (Hofstede, 1997). As China continues to shift from communist nationalism to consumerist nationalism under the influence of globalization (Brownell, 1998), vanity and materialism also rapidly spread among the you th in China who increasingly aspire to stand out and be recognized. Meanwhile, beauty pageants like Miss World China pride themselves for being the important sites where Chinese culture and feminine beauty is represented on the global stag e Therefore, t o a growing number of young women in China, becoming a beauty queen is an u ltimate path to self expression and self importance as well as the modern definition of individual success. Th e young women in the focus group s suggested a very distinctive set of be auty the contemporary Chin ese culture. The women also believed that most of these facial beauty ideals were in fact divergent from the traditional Chinese aesthetics while similar to the western/Caucasian ones As active media users regularly exposed to local entertainment programs and foreign media content these college women showed a high degree of internalization of the mainstream pro Western beauty ideology. In order to achieve the ideal facial features su ch as large eyes and a small chin many Chinese women turn to cosmetic surgery (LaFraniere, 2011). In China s emerging
214 consumer culture, more and more Chinese people, especially young women, are embrac ing cosmetic surgery as an expression of freedom, indiv iduality, and modernity (Brownell, 2005). T he college women in the focus groups also seemed to have adopt ed a consumerist approach to cosmetic surgery holding the belief tha t consumers had the right to consume products and services that were legally avail able to them regardless of the health risk or controversy it may cause. From a transnational feminist perspective, these young Chinese women s attitude toward cosmetic surgery suggested that capitalis t consumerism has made a strong foothold in neoliberal China. Consumption was deemed as a fundamental right of individual consumers while any potential damage result ing from the consumption fell within personal responsibilities. G.K 23 non viewer : If we just see it [cosmetic surgery] on the same level as g etting your hair done or your nails done, both are changing your bodies, just one self esteem is suffering from it, nobody has the right to tell her not to do anything about it. If in the end she gets the glory she always wanted even though the price was physical pain, I think it is well worth it. Moreover, the women largely acknowledged the importance of physical appearance in women s self confidence and self esteem and claimed to understand and respect the decisions made by individual women for themselves to undergo cosmetic surgery I n an image driven society, the se Chinese college women conceded that having an attractive appearance would help a woman achieve the happiness and su ccess in life on which she might otherwise miss out. Although they were aware of the fact that women were under more pressure to look beautiful than men, they did not consider cosmetic surgery an oppressive act Instead, their views resonated the arguments made by feminist beauty scholar Kathy Davis (1995, 2003) who stressed
215 the elements of surgery. Current Status of Feminism in China The main research goal of this dissertation is to examine th e Chinese beauty pageant phenomen on for gender discourses, beauty ideals, and capitalist consumer culture in neoliberal China. Grounded in feminist theories and activism, this dissertation also has a secondary mission to investigate the current status of f eminism in China and identify obstacles and potentials for China s feminist movements. From interacting with urban young Chinese women and hearing what they had to say about beauty pageants, feminine beauty, and the Chinese society, the researcher was able to analyze the feminist position (or lack thereof) these women were holding and its implications for women s political advancement in China. Righteous ness is shown in that men and women occ upy their correct place; the relative revolutions in the 20th century, women in traditional China were subordinated and controlled in the family and in society by ide ological mechanisms like Daoism and Confucianism (Croll, 1978). During the May Fourth Movement in the 1910s and 1920s, students and intellectuals protested against the corrupt government and foreign invasions in China and n hope of making China a made a firm commitment to ensure equality between men and women, as the then 2001).
216 The social status of Chinese women has been improved remarkably since the communist regime changed the structure of Chinese society through ideological revolution and economic reform (Guthrie, 2009). However evidence of gender inequality still rem ains largely present in contemporary China. According to a recent report from the United Nations, women in China still earn about 70% of the income of men in spite of their increased participation in education and the workface, and this economic gender gap predominance in lower biased employers (UNDP, 2010). Fr om examining the beauty pageant phenomenon, this study also i nspected the Based on the findings of this study, beauty pageant s in China were framed a s events that celebrated feminine beauty and co ntributed to the empowerment of women by providing a unique platform for young Chinese women to express their individuality and achieve personal goals As part of Chin s booming beauty economy, beauty pageant s have allow ed young and attractive women to be nefit from the commoditization of feminine beauty in ways that were unavailable and unimaginable to the older generations. The pageant contestants were portrayed and p erceived as a new generation of Chinese women who took initiatives to challenge themselve s and explore new possibilities in life. A t the same time beauty pageant s entice d these young Chinese women to compete in contests that focused on their abilit y to attract and entertain an audience with their physical appearance and stage talents rather than their intelligence or
217 academic achievements. If physical attractiveness continues to be held as the most important achievement for women as reflected in beauty pageants, not only individual women would experience higher rates of body image dissatisfac tion, women as a group will be subordinated because they are not judged and valued the same as men. Eventually women s political advancement in China could be stifled if not sabotaged because of this patriarchal beauty system. F eminist scholars in China h ave made endeavors in searching for an identity for Chinese feminism in a global context. Differing from an earlier preoccupation with defining the feminism of the reform period vis scholars, under the impact of Western theory, rather turn to spatial definitions of Chinese feminism vis vis international feminism and adopt p. 31 32). This d issertation attempts to contri bute to the local definitions of Chinese feminism by providing a discussion on the feminist position (or lack thereof) of the young urban Chinese women participated in the study. First of all, b oth the college women in the focus groups and the pageant cont estants in the interviews demonstrated various degrees of intellectual awareness and sensitivity of social justice and gender equality in C h ina, but generally low familiarity with Western feminist thought Based on the research data as well as the overall interactions between the researchers and these women, their ambivalent feminist position was likely to be the result of the absence of a systematic feminist education and conscious raising in Chinese schools and families, together with the collision of the communist and capitalist ideologies in neoliberal Chin a. Whil e a number of women who participated in this study recognized the persistence of certain patriarchal gender beliefs in the Chinese society which might be
218 prevent ing Chinese most others tended to internalize th e se beliefs as part of the Chinese chuantong wenhua (tradition and culture). Six decades after feudalism was demolished by the communist revolution, certain patriarchal and subordinating gender practices (e.g., men tak ing mistresses ) are making a come back in neoliberal China to serve the emerging class of nouveau riche men (Levin, 2011) Unfortunately, many young Chinese women seemed to be captivated by this trend without questioning the patriarchal origin of the so ca lled tradition. Situated in the thriving market oriented economy and consumer culture in China, these women largely assumed the commercial nature of beauty pageant s and appeared detached from the fact that feminine beauty was commoditized and consumed f or monetary gain. O n e of the most important feminist critique s of beauty pageantry t he issue of objectification of women or the was mo stly missing in the focus group discussions and strategically avoided in the interviews of the pageant con testants. Overall, the se young Chinese women did not seem to share the feminist critiques o f the patriarchal beauty system or the capitalis t exploitation of feminine beauty. Instead, they demonstrated an impartial attitude toward the pragmatism and materia lism result ing from the emerging consumer culture in China In their view, capitalism and globalization was an inevitable path for China to achiev e economic success and social advancement even if it meant putting college women in bikinis on television. I n contrast to their debatable stance in feminism, the women in this study exhibited notable optimism about the ever improving social status of Chinese women Chinese women had more social power than any previous generation and they were actively and consciously making
219 decisions for themselves in a rapidly changing social environment. They believed that feminine beauty essentially played an empowering rather than oppressive role in the lives of young wom en in China and that the beauty pageant ry was just another manifest ation of the young generation of Chinese women taking charge of their own lives and making the most out of the global consumer culture of which they were a part. Limitations of the Study This dissertation is part of the initial efforts made to better understand feminine beauty and Chinese culture through the phenomenon of beauty pageants in neoliberal China. It is exploratory in nature and the main purpose is to open the door for future e ndeavors of this kind Notwithstanding, due to the scope of the study and its ambitious task at hand, there are many limitations that apply. First of all, this study took a snapshot of the phenomenon in question by only look ing at a particular point of ti me (year 2012) in the history of Chinese beauty pageants. Such a limited time frame has prevented the study from accounting for the entire course in which the phenomenon has been evolving and the critical historical events and moments that have contributed to its current status. Secondly, the materials and individual perspectives included in this study might not be able to represent the breadth and width of the phenomenon under study. The two Chinese beauty pageant shows selected for the textual analysis w ere both (inter)national pageants, which did not allow for the potential differences among beauty pageants of various scales (e.g., local, regional, national) to be investigated. Similarly, the beauty pageant contestants were recruited from a specific regi onal pageant of Miss World China hosted in Shanghai and many of the interviewees were students from renowned fine arts institutions in the region Given their distinctive backgrounds and
220 experiences the insights of these women might be substantially diff erent from the contestants of other smaller scaled beauty pageant s in China. Thirdly, participants were college students of a particular region in mainland China and their past experiences with beauty pageants as a media audience were s cattered and uneven. As a result, their opinions of Chinese beauty pageants might be biased by their relatively low media exposure to pageant shows on television, and should not be used as equivalence of opinions of devoted pageant viewers in China. Also, since China is a considerably large country with significant regional differences in prosperity level and culture, some of the findings of the focus groups might be unique to the geographic and cultural location of the research site Lastly the researche r was the sole investigator in this study and she was responsible for all the data collections and analyses. In qualitative research, it is useful for the researcher to immerse him/herself in the data by being involved in the collecting, transcribing, and analyzing processes. But sometimes it is also helpful to have more than one investigator to look at the same data and provide alternative interpretations. This study was conducted in mainland China and all the original data was collected in Mandarin Chines e T he data analysis process could have ben efited from having another bi lingual researcher with similar training in social science ensure the accuracy of all the translations and offer a second opinion on the analyses. Areas for Future Research This study examines the media representations, public opinions, and participant experiences of beauty pageants in contemporary China. Throughout the course of this study, the researcher came to notice a recent tide change in the beauty pageant scene in China. A fter a pageant craze swept the country in the mid 2000s, the Chinese
221 government recently started to implement media control on beauty contests and reality competition shows in e ffort to correct the bourgeois ideology promoted in those events. 1 The f ocus group d ata showed that beauty pageant viewership was low among young women in China and it could be the result of the decrease in the number of pageants hosted by state run media outlets and/or broadcasted on television. Future research can take a historical app roach and examine the present and past trends in Chinese beauty pageants. By going back in time to the beginning of modern Chinese beauty pageant and tracing its evolvement, researchers can paint a fuller picture of the beauty pageant phenomenon in neolibe ral China and discover new relevant issues in feminine beauty and Chinese culture. This dissertation focused exclusively on the perspectives of urban young women in China and the findings shed light on the impact of the contemporary beauty economy on the lives of young Chinese women. The focus group participants suggested that most beauty pageant shows seemed to predominantly target the male audiences. The researcher also observed at the pageant competition site that men played many key roles in beauty pag ean ts: from producers to judges, from sponsors to audiences. Even though the lives of Chinese men might not be directly influenced by beauty pageants, the role s they are playing in the Chinese beauty economy are worth examining Focus groups can be conduct ed with young C h inese men discussing the ideal feminine beauty and the commoditized beauty culture in China and the findings could be compared to the ones in this study to develop a more comprehensive view of the beauty pageant 1 Based on personal exchanges with Justin the executive producer of Miss World China 2012 Shanghai regional pageant.
222 phenomenon in C h ina that ta kes into account the male perspective as well as gender d ynamics. Field studies or ethnographies have been successfully used in previous studies of beauty pageant s in different countries, and they are likely to be beneficial in studying the lived experien ces of pageant women in China in the future By spending an exten sive period of time with the pageant contestants throughout the competitions, the researcher ( s ) can gain native knowledge and deep understanding of what beauty pageant s mean to such a self se lected group of young and attractive women, as well as what their participation s in beauty pageants means to the Chinese society as a whole. B y engaging with the organizations of beauty pageants, the researcher (s) could also delve more deeply into the busi ness side of the story and uncover the behind the scene forces that are driving the entire industry forward. The findings of this study indicated that the current status of feminist awareness among young Chinese women was at a discouragingly low level. Al though the participants were optimistic and confident that young women in China were taking control of their own lives and making efforts to improve their social status they also appeared overly accepting and uncritical about the patriarchal gender belief s and capitalist consumer culture in the Chinese society The evidence of a potential lack of feminist education and conscious raising in Chinese schools and families deserves more ent, future research should bring the issue to the forefront and systematically assess the current status of feminism in China for potential improvement.
223 Last but not least, the study is one of the first to examine beauty pageants in mainland China. Compar ative studies of beauty pageants between China and the U.S. where modern pageantry originated could yield important insights on how feminine beauty is constructed, experienced and negotiated differently or similarly in t wo influential and sometimes oppo sing cultures. Also, future studies could compare and contrast beauty pageants in the Chinese communities in different parts of the world, such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Australia (example see Wu, 1997), and focus on how beauty ideals and discourses of fem inine beauty evolve where Chinese culture encounters other indigenous cultures and/or national identities in a global setting. Conclusion Since the first Miss America pageant in 1921, the concept of beauty pageant ry has evolved extensively in the America n society. In the U.S., different people are likely to have different mental pictures of beauty pageant s : some may think of large scale media events such as Miss Universe or Miss USA, others may think of the homecoming queens in their high schools and coll eges, and some may even bring up the child pageant s they saw in Miss Little Sunshine or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Furthermore, b eauty pageants in the U.S. could be hosted for different purposes: some are to promote tourism or sell products, some are to cel ebrate a cultural identity, and some are to support and award outstanding young girls with scholarship s s are still quite recent and uniform at times. The findings of this study showed that beauty pageants in China tended to be in identical formats and the contestants were predominantly college students with performance a rts backgrounds. C ompared to the U.S., beauty pageants in China also tend ed to serve a singular commercial purpose, whether it is a regional c ompetition for
224 a n international pageant like Miss World or an underwear model competition in the local mall. Even when the pageants attempt ed to claim philanthropy or Chinese nationalist pride as a main theme of the show, the bluntness and pervasiveness of commercial sponsorships just made everything else seem like an afterthought. Under the rapid advancement of a capitalist consumer culture in neoliberal Chin a, b eauty pageants were perceived as just another type of commercial events or entertainment progr ams on television While the businesses and individuals that sponsor ed the beauty pageants aimed at financial and status returns, the women who competed in pageants were hoping to realize their dream of becoming a celebrity or simply working in the enterta inment industry. T he increasing socioeconomic gap in contemporary Chin ese society was believed to lead young girls to pursue quick success and shortcut s in life while generating social conspirac ies about the beauty pageants. By and lar ge, beauty pageant s in China were imagined to be the vanity fair where feminine beauty was in open trade with masculine wealth and power. Feminists have argued that beauty contests reinforce the patriarchal system and hegemonic femininity by objectifying, (Banet Weiser, 1999), and international beauty pageants in particular promote consumerist values and westernized ideals of feminine beauty (Cohen e t al., 1995). The current study indicates that these feminist cr itiques are also applicable to beauty pageants in neoliberal China given the abundant evidence of patriarchal gender beliefs, commoditized femininity, and pro Western beauty ideology In addition the young Chinese women in this study while limited in th eir feminist awareness raised issues
225 such as different expectations of physical attractiveness between men and women, and young girls being taught to pursue mingxingmeng or simply marry for money. The purpose of this dissertation i s to examine beauty page ants in neoliberal China as a new phenomenon that has yet received much scholarly attention. All the preceding pages have aimed at bringing an initial understanding of the various components of this phenomenon and providing a starting point for future ende avors in studying feminine beauty in China. Through the literature review and empirical findings, the researcher has tried to point out how important this issue is and how little is known about it. Essentially, it was an intrinsic sense of curiosity and ur gency that inspired this dissertation, and hopefully the questions that have not been answered in this study will motivate more scholars to join this stream of research. On August 18, 2012, Miss World celebrated its 62nd annual pageant in Ordos China, a mi ning city in Inner Mongolia on the edge of the Gobi desert (AFP, 2012). This year, China convinced the world not only of its ability to successfully host one of the biggest international pageants in a less expected location, but also its competitiveness in achieving the global epitome of feminine beauty by bringing home the Miss World crown for the second time since 2007. Even though the initial zest among the Chinese public and the central government seem to cool down after a decade, it is still fair to sa y that beauty pageant s will continue to grow as an integral part of the beauty economy and as an inherent platform for feminist movement in neoliberal China.
226 APPENDIX A TEXTUAL ANALYSIS CODEBOOK First Order Category Second Order Category Miss Chinese Co smos Miss World China Gender Discourses Beauty is an achievement 1 1 1 2 1 1 Feminine competition 1 1 2 2 1 2 Gender roles between male and female hosts 1 1 3 2 1 3 Gender role of contestants 1 1 4 2 1 4 Performance of femininity 1 1 5 2 1 5 Feminine Beauty Ideals Outstanding height 1 2 1 2 2 1 Thin/slender 1 2 2 2 2 2 Soft and delicate 1 2 3 2 2 3 Facial beauty 1 2 4 2 2 4 Inner beauty/qualities 1 2 5 2 2 5 Consumerism and Globalization Beauty with Chinese characteristics 1 3 1 2 3 1 Pageant sponsorship and commercial nature 1 3 2 2 3 2 Global element 1 3 3 2 3 3 Feminism Feminist awareness 1 4 1 2 4 1 Progressiveness and empowerment 1 4 2 2 4 2
227 APPENDIX B FOCUS GROUP GUIDE Introduction Hello everyone, my name is M eng and I am a doctoral student from University of Florida and I study mass communications. First of all, I want to thank you all for coming today to participate in my dissertation study about beauty pageants in China. Today we are going to have a focus gr oup discussion. If you are not familiar with focus group, it is like a small group discussion on a particular topic. This is not a class and I am not your instructor. My role is to ask you some open ended questions about beauty pageants and facilitate the discussion process, and also to keep us on track. Think of this as more like a conversation among friends, and please feel free to say whatever that is on your mind. Let me again ensure you that there are no right or wrong answers in this focus group, and research. Before we start, I want you to know that your participation in this focus group is co focus group at any time, but please be mindful not to interrupt the discussion. Also please be respectful to other participants and try not to interrupt when someone else is talking, and please turn your cell phone off or switch it to silent. The discussion will last about an hour, and I will try my best to keep our conversation on track so we can finish on time. You may notice that there are two electronic recorders on the table, and our focus group discussion will be recorded for the purpose of future reference. Please let me assure you that the recording will only be heard by me and the supervisor of this research, and it will be transcribed by me within four weeks of the focus group session. During transcription, the audio files will be kept in a secured place, and any information that could identify individual participant will be deleted. After the transcription the original audio files will be erased. You will be asked t o fill out a survey about your media consumption at the end of the focus group. If you need to leave immediately after the meeting, I will email you the survey and you can fill out electronically and send it back to me. Ok, do you have any question? So go around the table and each say your name, where you are from originally, and who is your favorite female celebrity? Grand Tour Questions In your opinion, what is cons society?
228 Where do you usually learn about this social/cultural beauty ideal? (media? celebrities) Beauty pageant viewing What beauty pageant have you seen /heard of before, and on what media did you see them? What are some of the things that particularly captured your attention in those pageant shows? What did you like and not like about the beauty pageant shows? What are some of the reasons that you choose not to watch beauty pageants? Beauty pageant general perspectives How do you define beauty pageant? (Use a few sentences or words to describe your understanding of a beauty pageant) What are you general impressions about the phenomenon of beauty pageant in China? In your opinion, what are some of the thin gs that might have contributed to the popularity of beauty pageant in China? Beauty pageant personal feelings Do you personally know anyone who has participated in beauty contest(s)? If so, tell us a little about what you know. If one of your good friends or family members wants to participate in a beauty pageant, what will your reaction be? Have you thought about participating in a beauty pageant or any similar contest yourself? What make you (not) want to participate? Wind up & Media usage survey (Aft er moderator giving a summary of discussion) Is this summary complete? D o es it sound OK to you? Is there something we have missed? Do you have any final comment? Thank you very much for your time. Please fill out the media usage survey. If you have any add itional question or comment, I will be here for another 20 minutes and you can also email me.
229 APPENDIX C MEDIA USAGE SURVEY On average how much time do you spend watching television per week ? How often do you watch the following types of television progr am? (place an X in the box that applies) N ev er Rarely Sometimes O ften V ery often News Talk Show Drama Entertainment Reality TV Documentary Cartoon Other Other: ________________________________ How often d o you watch television pr ogram produced by the following countries or regions? (place an X in the box that applies) N ever Rarely Sometimes O ften V ery often Mainland China Taiwan Hong Kong Japan South Korea United States Other Other: ________________________________
230 On average how much time do you spend reading magazines per week ? List some of the magazines you subscribe to or read regularly: How often you watch movies of the following genres, including go ing to the theater, watch it on DVD, on television or online? (place an X in the box that applies) N ever Rarely Sometimes O ften V ery often Action Comedy Drama Horror Sci Fi Love/Romance Other Other: ____________ ____________________ How often do you watch movies produced by the following countries/regions? (place an X in the box that applies) N ever Rarely Sometimes O ften V ery often Mainland China Taiwan Hong Kong Japan South Korea United States Other Other: ________________________________
231 On average, how much time do you spend using the Internet per day? How often do you perform the following activities on the Internet? (place an X in the box that applies and feel free to add other activities that are not mentioned at the end of the table). N ever Rarely Sometimes O ften V ery often Reading News Email Micro blogging Shopping Chatting Playing games Watching video Musi c Other 1 Other 2 Other 3 Other 1: ________________________________ Other 2: ________________________________ Other 3: ________________________________ Your name as used in today s focus group: _________________________
232 APPENDIX D INTERVIEW GUIDE B i ographical questions Tell me a little about your background? Where are you from in China? Family members? What do you do for a living? Or where and what do you study? What do you like to do in your spare time? ( Interests h obbies ) Gran d tour questions Tell me a little about your past experience with beauty pageants a) When did you first start getting involved in beauty pageants? b) Other beauty pageant or similar competition that you have participated? c) How did you hear about the Miss World C hina pageant and what motivated to come? Focus questions How are people you know reacting to you participating in pageant? a) Family? Do they know? Do they support/oppose it ? b) Friends? Teachers? To you personally, what kind of event/activity is a beauty pagea nt? a) What is the purpose of a beauty pageant ? b) A nyone else who share s this view with you? Anyone who has different view? D escribe your overall experience as a beauty pageant contestant ? a) What parts of the pageant did you find most and least enjoyable? b) What s your relationship with other contestants? (Do you compare yourself with the other girls?) c) How do you like the pageant organization? (Can anything be improved?) d) Some memorable things from participating pageant? What do you hope to gain from this experience ?
233 a) Have you set any specific g oals or expectations b) What s your plan after the pageant? In what ways has competing in beauty pageants change d (or not change d ) your life? a) Do you feel different about yourself afterwards? Windup What do you have to say about beauty pageants to other young women in China?
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250 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Meng Zhang is a researcher who is interested in beauty, gender, media, and Chinese culture. Born and raised in China, Meng has a bachelor s degree in Arabic and English from Shanghai International Studies University. S he worked in m edia production in China both in advertising and documentar y. In 2006, Meng came to the U.S. for graduate school and obtained a master s degree in Radio and Television from San Francisco State University. Meng worked as public relation intern and marketing assistant in San Francisco b efore she started her PhD program at University of Florida College of Journalism and C o mmunica tion s As a doctoral student in mass c ommunication, Meng focused on topics related to mass media, beauty, and China, such as televisi on and women s body image, media representation and audience perception of sexiness, ideals of feminine beauty in China, skin beauty advertising between China and the U.S., and modern beauty pageants. Meng received her PhD from University of Florida in th e summer of 2013.