The weight of opinion

Are Chinese starlets more vulnerable to body shaming?

Meng Jia-w

Meng Jia: made an apology to netizens for looking fat

Last week, pop star Selena Gomez was body shamed for having gained some weight after pictures of her most recent public appearance surfaced online. In a now-viral TikTok video, she fired back on the critics: “I’m trying to stay skinny, but I went to Jack in the Box and I got four tacos, three egg rolls, onion rings and a spicy chicken sandwich,” she added. “I don’t care about my weight because people bitch about it anyway.”

“Bitch, I am perfect the way I am,” proclaimed the 29 year-old.

It wasn’t the first time the singer had been trolled online because of her weight. In 2015, when she was publicly called out for being “fat” she had to go to therapy to take care of her mental health, she said at the time.

In China, however, female stars are less outspoken when it comes to their own body shaming.

Pop star Meng Jia recently appeared in the variety show The Treasured Voice on Zhejiang Satellite TV and was told by onlookers they were surprised that she looked a bit heavier than usual. In some angles, the 33 year-old is seen to have a ‘double chin’ and the former girl band star’s tummy is not as flat as it used to be.

Some even compared the thickness of her thighs to those of the male singer Tan Jianji with whom she performed alongside in the same TV show.

“What happened to Meng Jia? She looked so much better when she was on Sisters Riding Waves [a popular reality competition show in 2020] but in her last few appearances she looks increasingly worse for wear,” one wrote acidly on social media. “This outfit makes her look fat,” another cruelly observed.

Instead of slamming the critics, Meng actually offered an apology for not looking her best.

In a statement posted on her personal weibo she wrote: “My latest appearance on The Treasured Voice did not meet everyone’s expectation that’s my problem! I’ll work hard to lose weight… all your suggestions motivate me to improve!” 

She wasn’t the only one who was body shamed.

Starlet Yu Shuxin, too, was called out for her weight gain after she appeared as a guest on the hugely popular variety show Ace Vs. Ace, which aired last week.

“What happened to her? Her face is like a mantou [which means steamed bun in Chinese]. Is she swollen or is she fat?” a curious netizen queried.

Other comments were equally scathing: “As a celebrity, she really should look after her body.”

In a response to the online onslaught, Yu’s agent published a statement along with a picture of the scantily-clad actress – seemingly to clarify that she is still very slim – explaining that she had pulled an all-nighter the day before her appearance on the show so she looked a bit swollen.

Some commentators, however, wouldn’t let it go, saying that by “refusing to admit that she’d put on weight” Yu had only shown that she is “unmotivated [to work]”.

Indeed, the Chinese tends to be critical when it comes to women’s weight, especially so for out-of-shape celebrities. They often associate chubbiness with a lack of discipline and a poor work ethic.

Male stars have also been called out in the past for putting on the pounds, although critics were much more forgiving about their weight fluctuations. Many male celebrities also attributed their weight gain, paradoxically, to spending too much time at the gym so no one could blame them for being “unmotivated”.

While the issue of body shaming has drawn scrutiny globally as more and more women have emphasised acceptance of their bodies, in China, a woman’s weight and physical appearance is often discussed freely and openly. 

Even in job advertisements, employers often stipulate height, weight and “attractiveness” requirements for women.

Not that it always goes down well: in an infamous 2015 job posting, Alibaba said applicants must have “recognisably good looks”. The e-commerce giant was forced to delete the posting after drawing widespread public outrage.

Nonetheless, as body shaming became a trending topic again on social media this week, many argue that looking skinny is an integral aspect of a show business career.

“For artists, weight management is an important part of their profession,” one blogger wrote on WeChat, China’s most popular messaging platform. “However, audiences should also be more understanding. In addition to weight, health is the most important. It’s the same for celebrities and the public alike!”

Some critics took the opportunity to address the double standard between male and female celebrities. “The question is, so many male actors have obviously gained weight, but why didn’t we see them apologise, and why didn’t we see netizens urging them to lose weight? It is not uncommon for celebrities to gain weight when they are in between work. But why weren’t audiences equally harsh on the men who couldn’t slim down?” Sina Entertainment thundered.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like this latest round of controversy will be the last instance of body shaming in China.

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