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The Unfortunate Truth About Asian Beauty Standards

Have you ever heard of the…

  • A4 waist challenge, where women showed how their waists were narrow enough to fit behind a sheet of A4 paper?

  • 100 yuan challenge, where women showed how their wrists were narrow enough to be encompassed by a 100 yuan banknote?

  • Fit-inside-a-child’s-t-shirt challenge, where adult women showed how they could fit inside a child’s t-shirt from Uniqlo?

These were all trending unhealthy beauty challenges designed to promote “thinspiration” among Asian women.

Now, thinness is only one aspect of (in my opinion, ridiculous) Asian beauty standards, and the reality is, these standards have gotten out of control and are causing irreparable damage to young girls and women’s body image.

Let’s dive into this more.

I Didn’t Conform to Taiwanese Beauty Standards.

I was born in Taiwan but immigrated to Canada when I was 3. The first time I went back to Taiwan after moving abroad was when I was 12. And boy, was I in for a rude awakening.

I was unaware and unprepared for the fat-shaming and beauty standards in Taiwan.

You see, in Canada, I hardly gave any thought to my looks. I had my family and friends. I was healthy, going outside to play a lot, and I was happy.

But I started becoming more aware of my looks when I visited Taiwan after living abroad for so long.

Because here’s the thing…

Taiwanese people are blunt. They’re quick to point out if you’ve gained weight, lost weight, got acne, insert any insecurities you have, straight to your face.

So whenever I saw my relatives, they, without fail, commented on my looks.

“Oh, she looks like her dad. Oh, she’s the cute type (There’s a difference between pretty and cute). Oh, she’s kind of chubby and has a round face. Oh, she didn’t get her mom’s double eyelids. Oh, she doesn’t have a high nose bridge.”

Those comments, to this day, still affect me emotionally. To the point where I get scared about the thought of visiting relatives when I’m in Taiwan. Every time I go back, I’m terrified people will say I’m ugly, I’m fat, or I’m not pretty enough.

And unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one who struggles with body dissatisfaction, considering these are the criteria to meet the “ideal” beauty standard in Taiwan.

The “Ideal” Beauty Standards in Taiwan:

  1. You need to have pale skin.

  2. You need to be as thin as possible.

  3. You need to have big eyes with a double eyelid fold.

  4. You need to have a prominent nose with a high bridge.

  5. You need to have a v-shaped face, so slim, with a defined jawline and chin.

How to Love Yourself From the Inside Out:

This is still a work in progress because even to this day, I still dread visiting relatives during holidays or returning to Taiwan after a few months abroad.

But, over the years, I’ve started to learn how to love myself from the inside out. I’ve started to:

  • Take care of my body. This means, I make sure I stay in shape by lifting weights, going on walks, and stretching, because I noticed I’m more susceptible to people’s comments when I slack in this area or if I’ve gained some weight. It also means I'm more mindful of what I eat. I focus on eating whole foods to fuel my body properly to look and feel better.

  • Take care of my skin. When I have pimples, or wrinkles, or when my face feels dull, I feel uglier. So, I make sure to take care of my skin by sleeping early. I make sure to drink lots of water. To wear sunscreen every day and a hat. To eat less spicy foods. To rinse my face with water in the evening and wear vaseline at night.

  • Take care of my soul. I make sure to do things I love. And that includes walking, reading, drinking matcha lattes, playing the piano, singing, spending time with people who energize and uplift me, doing fulfilling work that brings me closer to my goals like writing, and journaling to remind myself that I am worthy of love and belonging.

Learning to love myself will be a lifelong journey, and that’s okay. There will be days when you feel absolutely beautiful and like poop on other days, and that’s okay, too. If you zoom out your perspective, you’ll see that you’re still moving in an upward trend with your healing.

The Main Takeaway Message

Asian cultures need to stop promoting unhealthy beauty standards.

Because when young girls and women fail to meet them, they are left to feel shame. To feel ugly. To feel like they’re not enough. To be unloved. And to feel unworthy.

We should not teach young girls and women to have a waist as thin as an A4 paper. To have a wrist thin enough to be wrapped around by a 100 yuan banknote. To be 29 and still fit in a child’s t-shirt. To starve themselves to reach the “ideal” beauty standard.

Instead, we need to teach them to move their bodies, to eat healthy foods, to drink water, to manage their stress, and to love their bodies. To love themselves by nourishing their minds, bodies, and soul. In this way, this is how they build ultimate self-worth and confidence.

We should not judge or shame their appearance to the point where they feel that they need to lose weight, bleach their skin, or get eye and nose surgery to look beautiful.

Instead, we should celebrate their innate qualities like how kind they are, how empathetic they are, how disciplined they are, or how much integrity they have. These are qualities they have control over and are worth being appreciated for.

Stop pressuring us to conform to your beauty standards.


I’m completely aware that unrealistic beauty standards exist for every culture. I’m writing based on my experiences with Asian/Taiwanese culture.


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Photo by isco on Unsplash

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