China’s Viral “Skinny Enough” Challenges Are Incredibly Dangerous, But Social Media Influencers Are Speaking Out
TikTok challenges tend to go viral easily, especially when celebrities or major influencers join in on the trend. And while there can be great trends, like when a fan of TXT created a dance trend for their recent song “Thursday’s Child Has Far To Go,” even TXT joined in on…
…many viral trends can cause harm to those watching. For instance, a series of trends have gone viral in China, dubbed the “Skinny Enough” challenges. The “Skinny Enough” challenges include extreme weight-loss diets that would be dangerous to partake in.
There is the “collarbone coin” challenge where you see how many coins you can fit on the space above your collarbone.
There is the “A4 waist” challenge where you’re expected to have a waist as thin as the width of an A4-sized paper. That’s only 21cm!
And there’s the “belly button” challenge, where you’re expected to be thin enough for you to hug yourself from the back and be able to reach your belly button.
Because of dangerous and unsafe trends like these, teenagers, in particular, are susceptible to developing body image issues and even eating disorders to fit into the “ideal standard of beauty.” VICE Asia interviewed some Chinese women to learn how they struggled with societal pressure to look a certain way.
One woman, named Alex Shi, focused on how while societal beauty standards do exist everywhere, they differ drastically by location. For instance, while studying in the United States for two years, she kept getting complimented for her athletic figure.
If I hadn’t gone abroad, I would have been like other girls. I may have been extremely conscious of my figure. Counted the calories, quit sugar or something.
— Alex Shi
But when she returned to China, an older man confronted her to tell her she needed to lose weight.
I was looking down to see where my car was. There was an uncle who was walking his dogs. Then he came over to me and looked at me and said, ‘It’s time to lose weight,’ and then left.
I had absolutely no idea how to react. I don’t know if I offended him by what I was wearing or by how I looked. For me, that was very inexplicable and it made me feel bad.
In New York, I think the expectations for Zumba teachers are different from those in China. [In New York], they value your choreography, your vibe, and your appeal. These are more important to them. In China, if you teach dancing, even if you are not thin, you must at least have a relatively ‘acceptable’ figure.
— Alex Shi
Alex Shi stands by the fact that everyone is going to have different ideal body types, so “there will always be haters,” and you can’t prioritize trying to please them.
Don’t think that they will like you if you’re thin. If you lose weight, someone will have something else to say. If you exercise, someone will say something. If you did your eyebrows, someone will say something. There will always be haters. If you can’t see my value because of my body it’s your problem, not mine.
— Alex Shi
And social media influencer Qinwen Zhang (who goes by Popo) also opened up about her extreme struggles with her body disorder. Popo was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder when her weight dropped to only 28kg (61.7lbs).
I had just entered university in 2016. I read all kinds of information on the internet, and it told me, for example, that a person weighing 36kg (79.4lbs) shouldn’t have thick legs. That made me want to lose weight all over my body.
I started to have an obvious desire to start exercising, eat less and then chose to go on a diet. From 2016 to 2018, my weight decreased from about 45kg (99.2lbs) to about 22.5kg (49.6lbs).
Her extreme, dangerous dieting had harmful side effects on her body.
The most obvious thing was probably hair loss, there was no glow on my face. When it got really serious, there were spots on my body. My period stopped.
It also had a significant impact on her mental health. She revealed that she “was also having feelings of depression.”
Because of the extremes that she was putting her body through, Popo was sent to the ICU (intensive care unit) at the hospital. Her health was critically ill.
Because I was too thin, I was sent straight to the ICU as I was critically ill. After that, I received infusions and nutrient solutions from the hospital.
When I looked in the mirror, I knew that I was not good-looking. I knew very clearly that I had to gain weight.
But unfortunately for Popo, it wasn’t any less harmful for her to regain her weight, and she started to do a lot of binge eating.
Although I was very thin at that time, I would eat until my stomach got very big and bloated. It’s a bit like an addiction. If I didn’t have food in my mouth, I would feel very sad. My whole body would be shaking.
Her body image disorder took an extreme toll on Popo’s mental health, even causing her to consider death by suicide.
I told my parents many times that I wanted to [die by] suicide. It was my mother who knelt down and begged me and said that we would not be a family in the next life, if I [died by] suicide. These incidents happened many times.
But Popo’s difficult experiences have helped inspire her to publicly share information and raise awareness about body disorders on social media. Her determination was especially brave as physical and mental disorders aren’t openly discussed in China.
Foreign countries are more educated about eating disorders. Not many people will body shame. But not many actually know about it in China.
In China, maybe because of the development of the internet in recent years, everyone may feel that thin is beautiful, and then such information is popularized. So many children are easily influenced by this when they have access to the internet.
It does not mean that eating disorders have only occurred in recent years. It’s just that in recent years, everyone will quickly learn that being thin is the standard. Soon it will evolve into a situation where more people will develop eating disorders.
And although eating disorders may not be openly discussed in China, Popo has received many notes from fans who encourage her and support her for what she does.
These are notes given by fans. They are quite deep. They have a lot to say to me. [Through the notes,] I found out that many people have the exact same situation as me.
By publicly talking about eating disorders and body positivity, Popo is hoping that she can bring the public’s attention to this mental illness.
Because I have been studying gynaecology, orthopedics, and endocrinology, I finally realized that eating disorders are a mental illness. I want to tell everyone about this disease. I may be one of the first to tell everyone that this is a mental illness. They need to know that they can get better, that this disease can be cured.
And thankfully, Popo isn’t alone in raising awareness about eating disorders. She has connected with other influencers in trying to make the discussion more public.
I felt that all my self-confidence was given to me by others. It had nothing to do with myself, and I especially wanted to feel that others cared about me and liked me.
— Yiyi Li
It’s only after I got sick that I felt that body shape was not that important. After I experienced ED (Eating Disorder), I knew how bad the situation was and I would never want to go back to that state.
— Wanting Zhang
We have our family and we have friends who are willing to believe in us, to accept us, and grow up together. It’s not so lonely on this path of struggle.
Thanks to these powerful women and others out there raising awareness on these toxic traits of social media, there will hopefully be an end to others taking extreme and dangerous measures to fit unrealistic and unhealthy standards. You can watch the full video here.