A piece of A4 paper is 29.7cm long and 21cm wide, while an iPhone 6 is 13.8cm by 6.7cm.
That a piece of A4 might be compared to an adult’s waist – or the smartphone to a pair of knees – might strike you as ridiculous. But on the Chinese internet almost anything is possible.
The craze for so-called ‘devil-figure challenges’ (female ‘devils’ are good at seducing people in Chinese mythology) started last year with the ‘reach-around-the-wrong-way-and-touch-your-belly-button’ fad. In another trend, women competed to balance as many coins as they could on their collarbones. The A4 waist challenge is the latest craze. It is pretty self-explanatory: take a photo of yourself with a piece of A4 held vertically over your waist. If any part of your midriff is visible you don’t make the grade.
Thousands of Chinese women have taken part in the challenge, posting images on social media to prove that they are indeed ‘paper thin’. Many justify it by saying that it inspires them to keep fit. And indeed, both the People’s Daily and the Global Times have reported that the craze encourages “healthy thinking”. The Global Times promtoted the trend: “People seem to have failed to notice how many pictures were taken in gyms. If the challenge proves anything, it showed that a growing number of women are willing to make efforts for a better shape rather than simply starving themselves or turning to diet pills to lose weight.”
It is also true that Chinese women generally have smaller frames than their Western counterparts – and that makes the A4 challenge, well, less of a challenge.
To pass the test, participants need to have a waist circumference of 63cm or less (size 0 is typically a 64cm waist). But these A4 ambitions have still been beyond the reach of many Chinese women. And there are plenty of netizens – male and female – who find the whole thing distasteful, including Zheng Churan, a prominent feminist activist, who posted a picture of herself with a piece of A4 paper announcing: “Bodies don’t need eyes looking at them. I love my fat waist”.
One wonders then what Zheng might make of an even newer craze: the “iPhone legs” challenge, which involves stretching out legs and placing an iPhone horizontally across the knees. In theory the test checks for ‘bulky’ knees: if the smartphone doesn’t cover both of the knees, the person has failed. But some netizens have argued that the exercise is as much a test of financial means as beauty – after all, you’ll need a two iPhones to do it properly (one for the test, one to take the photo). Others have simply tired of all the “skinny” challenges. “Forget iPhone 6 legs,” one of the stouter candidates quipped online. “These are my MacBook legs.”
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