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A4 waists, iPhone legs: Chinese women set bizarre new standards for beauty on social media

Women are using everyday items to show just how slim they are, but experts say the fad is dangerous and unhealthy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 March, 2016, 1:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 March, 2016, 4:17pm

If you were to measure your weight or vital statistics, would you use an iPhone 6 or an A4 piece of paper?

Hundreds of young Chinese women are recording the size of their waists and knees using vertical sheets of paper and mobile phones – and their photos are going viral on China’s social network Weibo and instant messaging platform WeChat.

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The women are using the everyday items to show just how paper-thin they are – a physical feature believed to conform to universal standards of beauty in modern Chinese society.

But women’s health experts have pointed out how dangerous and unhealthy the fad is.

“The pressure for women to conform to a thinness ideal pervades all parts of the developed world and China is no exception to the rule,” the Women’s Foundation Research and Advocacy manager Lisa Moore said.

“Media has played a significant role in transmitting thinness norms and values, which has shown links to increased body image dissatisfaction, eating disorders and lowered self-esteem among women.”

It began as the #A4Waist trend – a piece of A4 paper is 8.3 by 11.7 inches – where the woman has to ensure that the width of the paper entirely obscures her waist.

The fitness challenge mania has spread across China’s social media sphere, with the hashtag #A4Waist generating 110 million views and 115,000 comments on Weibo.

The trend then evolved into the even more bizarre iPhone 6 challenge – if a woman’s knees were slimmer than the length of an iPhone 6, she would then be considered attractive.

“We are concerned with the ways that unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards are directly affecting women and girl’s sense of self-worth,” Moore said.

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“Global research conducted by Dove ... indicates that six out of 10 girls choose not to do something because they don’t want to draw attention to the way they look, including not participating in classroom discussion or not turning up in school at all.”

But some fitness clubs and plastic surgery medical centres have seized the opportunity to advertise their services on social media, claiming they can help their customers shape a body with an “A4 waist”.

Many celebrities, in particular young actresses and models, have also joined the craze.

Lynn Hung, a renowned Hong Kong artist, posted a photo of herself holding a small, coloured paperboard much wider than her waist.

“Don’t be green-eyed by those with an ‘A4 waist’. Just work out hard! Go Go Go!” Hung’s post said.