After having graduated law school and having built a successful academic profile, Jiang Tao was ready to dive head-on into the start of his professional career. He knew that his strong recommendations and experiences would make him an extremely competitive candidate for the work force, or so he thought. As he began to search for job openings, he quickly felt his high hopes and aspirations diminish. He met all job requirements except one: he was too short.
The advertisement for a staff position of the Chengdu Branch of the People’s Bank of China listed that all male applicants must be over 168 cm in height (5 feet, 6 inches) and that female applicants be over 155cm ( 5 feet, one inch). Jiang could no longer take the discrimination and sued the bank in the People’s Court of Wuhou District. The case was quickly dismissed by the court on the basis that height requirement was not judicially review-able, according to CNN.
Appearance in the Job Market
Jiang Tao is far from the first to have experienced discrimination based on physical traits in China. The Hunan provincial government’s strict requirements for female civil servants previously included having “symmetrical breasts”
Courtesy of shanghaiist.com
and the government-run Nuanchang Institute of Aeronautical Technology requires flight attendant applicants to “parade on stage in swimwear,” according to the Taipei Times. It is also not uncommon for job applications to require a recent picture to be submitted with resumes.
Those working in fields that frequently interact with the international community have even stricter requirements. Diplomats, for example, must be a minimum of 170 cm tall to give a “positive” image of China. China Southern Airlines requires that flight attendants be at least 160 cm in height, and males 170 cm. According to the job posting on their website, “qualifications, height, and appearance are the judgment criteria during the first interview, while the second interview will include Chinese and English oral exams including response ability and deportment.” They are also required to hold a perfect “eight-tooth smile” with a chopstick between their teeth.
Physical traits also affect chances of attending certain universities. Anhui University had a height requirement for students majoring in media studies and history, amongst other subjects, according to Natural Height Growth.
So what is considered attractive in China?
There are two Mandarin terms that sum it up quite nicely: 高富帅 (gāo fù shuài), or tall, rich and handsome and 白富美 (bái fù měi), meaning white, rich and pretty. These two more modern terms have risen from the demands and stereotypes of the society. To be considered a beautiful woman, you must fit most of the following characteristics:
- Skinny, the closer to size “0” the better. Size 3 and 4 are too big.
- White, as in porcelain white. Michael Jackson’s skin shade is best.
- Your nose must be 高高的 (gāogāode), or “tall”. Flat noses are unacceptable.
- Round eyes. This can sometimes be a bit challenging in the Asian community, but read about alternatives here.
- Long sideburns
- Large earlobes
- Height, obviously
- Face shaped like a goose egg or a sunflower seed
- Be a 美女 (měinǚ), or just be pretty
Generally, a complete absence of moles and freckles is also essential to be considered attractive. Small eyes, large lips, and high cheek bones are also considered unattractive. There is a strong emphasis on the white skin shade, which has led to the saying, 一白遮百丑(Yī bái zhē bǎi chǒu), or white can cover all ugliness. Men on the other hand don’t have as many requirements. They just need to have sharp facial features, a tall body and long legs. If they are rich, its always a bonus. Of course, many products, such as herbal tonics, have been created to stimulate growth hormones.
This added pressure to be beautiful can be extremely stressful for young women, and can lead to a depressive state which, in turn is one of the causes for China’s high suicide rates. “I try hard to make my skin white,” said Hilda Chu, 18, a student at National Tsing Hua University, according to the Global Post. “If my skin is lighter, I will be happier because I think I look good. It makes my emotion better, yes.”
Appearance can become an obsession for single young women. I have personally met several young women who have resorted to extreme measures to fit the society’s standard of beauty. Tea diets, whitening products, and cosmetic surgeries are very common. When shopping for face wash, I have to look extra carefully to make sure I do not accidentally choose a product with skin-whitening characteristics, since there is such an overwhelming abundance at supermarkets. One of my closest Chinese friends uses one of many whitening products every night, without fail. It’s just part of her daily routine, now, before going to bed.
Photo Courtesy of Wcarn.com