Dieting in Asia: An Unexpected Reality

She needs a diet?

Believe it or not, a majority of the “skinny” women that you see when visiting Asian countries believe they are, themselves, “fat” or “overweight”. It is appalling to Western women when I tell them this but it is a reality. However, the reality of being “overweight” in a country like China is no different than in the US. Why? Because it is 100% relative and culture-based.

In China, women are worried about roundness and often strive for an image that westerners would call “boney”. When asked about the Western “plus-sized” models, many women here think that it’s not right to be so big. They agree with the fashion magazines that show thin, tall women. The first time I heard someone say that plus-sized models were not necessary was a strange moment for me, but then I realized that this culture (and their eating habits) seem to allow most women a fair chance at achieving a healthy, attractive figure. This “chance” is the result of traditional healthy eating habits, which one of the many reasons I started writing AL.ME.

But with the increase in Western-style eating, that healthy figure is becoming less of the norm. Since there is always a competition for being the hottest (in virtually all modern cultures) many of them want to get even thinner! As you might expect, confusion sets in for some of them and the results are quite unexpected, to be honest. The following are a few before and after photos of typical young women in China trying to reach their ideal weight… (All images were self-posted on Weibo in late 2012)

Before and After Dieting Photo 1
Before/After Dieting in China

This girl thinks a round face is the same as “fat”.

Before and After Dieting in China

And the next girl thinks she looks better in her after photo…

Before and After Dieting in China
Before cute/After skeleton

And this next one is a Cantonese girl who thinks she has lost weight… but I can’t make out any difference…

Maybe before and after dieting
Before and after?

The above are all very common misunderstandings of what “going on a diet” really means. Actually, this last photo I’m posting in this article is from a Chinese mom in Taiwan. Her pregnant photo is probably less fat than she tried to make it seem, and her after photo is actually quite beautiful. With a traditional diet after child birth, the after photo is not as unlikely as you might think.

Chinese woman after a baby
Before/After a baby in Taiwan

So, there you have it. The expectations that are put on women (and men) to be a certain weight can be blown out of proportion quite easily, but it really is a matter of where you live and what your local culture expects. When Chinese students visit the US, and again extra 5 pounds, they might not see a big difference while abroad. But when they come home it is a different story; They WILL hear family and friends make direct comments about their weight and shape. For whatever reason, it is normal for them to make comments about a friend looking “fat” in front of friends or the entire family.

What does all of this mean for westerners? Nothing. We have our own unique ways of understanding beauty and that’s fine. But if you have any concerns about your weight, it’s probably not a good idea to visit an East Asian country until you are ready to be hounded about your weight and shape.