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A famous Chinese comedienne‘s appearance in a men’s magazine triggered a fierce debate about how society defines female attractiveness. Source: Weibo

How should women be sexy? A photo shoot featuring a famous Chinese comedienne sparked a feminism debate

  • Li Xueqin is one of China‘s most famous comedians, thanks to her pointed criticisms of patriarchy
  • So her decision to pose in a sexually suggestive men‘s magazine sparked a debate about sexiness

A debate has exploded in China about how women should define their own sex appeal after one of the country’s most famous stand-up comedians was featured in a photo spread in a sexually suggestive men’s magazine.

The pictures feature Li Xueqin, who became famous, in part, for her clever jokes about Chinese patriarchy, and were published in the June 22 issue of the For Him’s magazines published in China.
Because of Li’s reputation, many people called her a hypocrite or said she was betraying her sexiness, which they said came from her wit, not her body.
Li Xueqin rose to fame for her criticisms of Chinese patriarchy. Source: Weibo

“The incident has insulted women. The magazine sent out a message that no matter what features a woman has, she needs to expose her body in order to show her value. It’s objectifying women,” wrote someone on Zhihu, the Chinese equivalent to Quora.

Huang Lin, a feminist researcher and professor at Capital Normal University in Beijing, said sexiness comes in diverse forms, rather than just taking a picture of a woman in a revealing dress to appeal to males.

“The definition for sexiness is much broader than what was defined in the patriarchy culture before. Being androgynous, looking cool or being smart can also be regarded as being sexy,” Huang told the Post.


China’s new wave of young women stand-up comedians tackle stereotypes

China’s new wave of young women stand-up comedians tackle stereotypes

However, there were those who said Li posing in a traditionally sexy photo shoot is a feminist act in itself, especially considering the heap of criticisms piled on the comedian across Chinese social media after the photos were published.

Among the 22,000 comments left on a Weibo post about the photo spread, most did not appreciate how she presented herself.

Fang Lian, the director of the Centre for Women’s Studies at Shantou University, said Li probably saw the reaction coming.

“The definition for being sexy is quite subjective. There has never been a standardised criteria,” said Fang. “Li is smart and is an independent personality. I think she chose to take sexy photos to overturn people’s stereotyped aesthetic standard for a sexy woman.”

Li’s supporters also pointed out that the actress is taking control of her sex appeal.

“Those pictures are nice. They are a big departure from her previous images. Girls should be brave to demonstrate their beauty. Good job Xueqin!” said a person on Weibo.

I feel nervous because I don’t know how to do those sexy poses. It will be funny for me to pose like that.
Li Xueqin

Li herself admitted to nerves before the photo shoot. She posted a trailer on her Weibo account while wearing a loose T-shirt and slippers and said this “dowdy” look is how she dressed in her everyday life.

“I feel nervous because I don’t know how to do those sexy poses,” she said before the photo shoot. “It will be funny for me to pose like that.”

During the shoot, a photographer told her if she did not know what she was doing, she should pose in a way that felt the “most uncomfortable”, the video showed.

Li graduated from Peking University and has used comedy to become famous in China. Source: Weibo

Li graduated from the prestigious Peking University and entered the spotlight three years ago by making creative short videos in which she pretended to introduce landmark buildings to her idols.

She eventually transitioned to traditional stand-up routines and used the stage to deliver sharp critiques of China’s powerful patriarchy through pointed jokes.

Her advocacy for women’s independence and insisting on being herself has won her many fans, especially among people in their 20s and 30s.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: No laughing matter as sexy photos of stand-up comedian provoke storm