A new craze in China that led to women posing with A4 pieces of paper to demonstrate how thin they are has been criticised and mocked on social media.
The hashtag #A4Waist has had more than 110 million views and more than 100,000 comments on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.
In several posts, women triumphantly posted images of themselves behind a vertical piece of A4 - their waist not visible on either side.
“Let me show mine too!” said one poster, who had no trouble conforming to the demand. “Does this count as an A4 waist?” she asked.
Even government organisations joined in, with verified police forces’ accounts posting photos of female employees holding A4 sheets bearing information on how to prevent identity theft, or admonitions against drink-driving.
The craze was termed a “fitness challenge” by the official People’s Daily newspaper on its Twitter account.
However, social media users around the world were quick to criticise the trend.
Users on Instagram and Twitter mocked it by posing behind multiple pieces of paper taped together, holding A4 sheets with body-positive messages written on them, or using university diplomas and asking: “Does this degree make me look fat?”
Others simply used a horizontal A4 sheet instead.
“You’re very beautiful irrespective of A4 waists or breasts that can hold up pens – your beauty is unique, so don’t apply weird standards to yourself,” said one user.
Xiao Meili, a women’s rights activist who once walked 2,000km from Beijing to Guangzhou to raise awareness about sexual violence, deemed the fad “utterly boring”.
Such contests became popular due to of a lack of knowledge about gender issues in China and because “standards of beauty are very, very, very uniform”, she said.
“Everyone’s very superstitious, talking about what angle cheekbones should be at, how high a nose should be, or how many centimetres there should be between people’s eyes,” she said. “People think that beauty can be measured.”
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Last summer Xiao started a selfie campaign of her own that encouraged women to post pictures of their unshaven armpit hair to challenge those standards.
“It wasn’t very popular,” she admitted, and Chinese media found it “a bit offbeat and disgusting”.
“There’s no way the number of participants could compare with competitions like this A4 one,” she added.
Source: The Guardian