If you live off a man’s compliments, you’ll die from his criticism.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
Mentioning the Unmentionable

There are many issues in British society that are not highlighted by popular media due to the fear of causing offence and upsetting those who live within the confines of political correctness. Mentioning taboo subjects such as honour killings and forced marriages in religions such as Islam could potentially lead to accusations of discrimination against the religion as a whole.Jason Burke wonders whether raising awareness of these issues will help combat them and is concerned that, “Focusing on ‘honour and shame’ can lead to the Asian community being stigmatised and stereotyped.” Any negativity surrounding Islam could potentially fuel ignorance and hatred towards it by those outside of the religion. Speaking about the new laws that could be put in place to prevent underage forced marriages, John Bingham believes that, “Currently it is not illegal in Britain to force someone to get married against their will and the law might “stigmatise” communities and drive the practice even further underground.” Banning a practice that is acceptable in other cultures will just further marginalise minorities who see no problem with their way of life.

However, issues such as forced marriages and honour killings should not be ignored. The authorities and government can’t be afraid of causing offence and instead need to send the message out that practices such as honour killings are not acceptable as part of any religion in society- it is just murder and nothing more. Jason Burke’s article in The Observer exposes many shocking statistics regarding the amount of domestic abuse, murder and suicide caused by the extreme pressure to strictly adhere to a certain way of life. His main point is that, “Supporters say the killings maintain social order in changing times; critics allege that chauvinistic men use the ‘family honour’ as a pretext for punishing women who want more freedom.” Burke concludes that some Muslim families may be concerned about keeping up appearances with other members of the community but ultimately, it does not excuse murdering family members of a different generation who have different aspirations.   

The murder of Shafilea Ahmed made the news after her parents killed her in front of her siblings over fears she was becoming too “westernised.” In her article for The Huffington Post,Hayley Meachin believes that rather than dismissing her death as simply another honour killing, in actual fact Shafilea was killed because her parents were nothing more than “bullies and murderers.” Elif Shafak agrees that murder is not honourable in her article for The Guardian. She argues that, “Violence against women cuts across all ethnicities, cultures and nationalities.” Therefore, certain crimes and horrors just cannot be justified by religion and they certainly can’t be unspoken about in the media due to the fear of causing offence towards a certain religion. Raising awareness is important for victims who are too afraid to speak out or escape their situation, as it shows that they are not alone and there is support available.

Veiling Freedom of Choice

The word ‘Feminism’ means something different for every woman. Some women believe feminism is about standing up to the patriarchal male in society and other women deem feminism to be all about celebrating the unique strength and beauty in all women. The word may be interpreted differently by different people however, feminism has always ultimately been about giving women the freedom to choose how they live their life. So, it was fairly surprising to discover that there are feminists in the UK who are firmly against Muslim women wearing any form of veil. Is it really feminist to dictate what women should wear? By demanding the ban of the veil, it is surely limiting the choices of women who actually choose to wear it.

Julie Bindel recently wrote an angry article for The Daily Mail and asked why so few feminists agreed with her views about how having part of your face and head covered is the biggest female oppression of the modern age. One of her main points about the niqab includes: “Its presence should be challenged as a threat to the freedom of women, not celebrated as a harmless aspect of multi-culturalism.” Her use of the word “freedom” is interesting, as she wants to take away the freedom to wear that particular article of headwear. Bindel adds, “For this is not about a simple article of clothing. It is about a symbol of the relentless subjugation and control of women.” Would it not still be controlling if the niqab or any other veil was actually banned? A country that did ban the veil was France and any woman caught covering their faces with a burqa would be fined or taken to court. Nabila Ramdani is against this ban and inher article for The Guardian, she expresses that enforcing rules and declaring that an item of clothing is offensive will lead to a further marginalisation of certain minorities.

Julie Bindel is adamant however that, “The very impulse to dictate what women should wear and how they should appear is based on the ruthless stereotyping of an entire gender. It is an outlook that shows not the slightest respect for women as individuals.” This is very true but it is also very contradictory, as Bindel is ultimately just dictating what she believes women should or should not wear. Individualism is more than just an outer appearance. Surely a woman’s most unique and important feature is her brain and personality, so what she wears should not be that important. Leila Aboulela also explores the significance of the veil in her novel, Minaret. For the protagonist, Najwa, wearing a veil offers her a form of identity through Islam and a place to belong after losing her family and being forced to move to London from Sudan. Instead of feeling oppressed by wearing it, it actually liberates her as she feels she can be whoever she wants to be. Allie Renison agrees that being pressured into not wearing a veil is taking away the individual rights of women as it commands that they have to look a certain way in order to be part of society.

Bindel doesn’t understand why many other feminists haven’t spoken so publically about their views of the niqab and other types of veils. But perhaps the reason for this is that apart from Julie Bindel and her Daily Mail readers, most people don’t think the veil is the biggest issue that needs to be constantly addressed. Faisal al Yafai is a Muslim writer who believes there are more important struggles for women than what they wear. He writes,“Feminists have grasped at small issues. That would explain why nothing – absolutely nothing, not forced marriage, not losing their sons and daughters to bombs from the air, not being denied an education - nothing seems as important as the veil.” Women around the world are denied basic human rights and are still treated like second-class citizens but the veil is not the biggest oppressor. In Aboulela’s Minaret, the veil is a source of comfort for Najwa and a way to escape from the suffering and heartbreak throughout her life, instead of being the burden that feminists such as Bindel believe it to be. As a result, the reason for wearing the veil is often misunderstood by people in society, as women wear it for their own personal reasons and not just because they are forced to. Banning the veil will not give women freedom- it’s just another form of oppression.





Teach English in China, summer internships, longtime teaching positions » » Fashion in China

My observations on fashion in China has been published on the website, Teach English in China. To view my article, click on the link above.

Skin Whitening in China

Instead of fake tan, there is a big demand for skin whitening products in China. During a trip to one of the local supermarkets, I noticed a huge L’oreal poster that was advertising skin whitening cream in the same glamorous way other cosmetic products were being marketed- with the message being that having lighter skin would add beauty to a person, just like lipstick or eyeliner supposedly does.

Despite the language barrier when watching TV, I still spotted adverts that were endorsing the use of whitening cream. These particular adverts consisted of both men and women rubbing some of this cream onto a part of their skin and then suddenly they became lighter. This advertising ploy clearly communicated the skin lightening message very effectively as even I managed to understand how to use the product and the results that it would apparently bring, without being able to understand what anybody in the advert was saying. Skin whitening was subtly advertised everywhere- especially on billboards. During my daily commute into Shangyu, I would walk past shopping complexes that sold clothes and other fashion accessories. On the outside of one of the fashion outlets, there were various billboards that featured Chinese models that looked considerably different to the girls who were out shopping because of one very noticeable factor- the colour of their skin. It was obvious how photo-shopped the posters were as the models wearing fashionable dressed and posing with expensive jewellery had skin almost as white as the paper they were printed on.

A lot of Chinese girls hid under umbrellas when the sun was out. I walked round with one too as my factor 50 sunscreen was not strong enough to protect my skin from burning and an umbrella provided some much needed shelter from the cloudless sky. All umbrellas got battered when the heavy winds and rainfall of the typhoon hit China but during the sunny weather, they were more than just for preventing the dangerous rays from the sun and were used by girls primarily to stop the dreaded tanning of the skin. A student also told me during a free talk lesson that makeup was a good way of stopping getting tanned in the sun and the other female students agreed with her. These students were only in their early teens but yet the message of lighter skin was deeply imprinted in their understanding of the Chinese beauty ideal. The health risks of using skin lighteners are obvious as the creams and lotions will ultimately alter and damage skin pigmentation but it’s a trend that is really difficult to escape from in China.  

Body Image in China

Skinniness is in fashion in China. Both boys and girls are not afraid to call somebody fat. However, they don’t do it to be deliberately cruel, it’s just the culture. Being thin is the preferred body type in China and anyone who isn’t does stand out. One student described her younger, pre-teen sister as ‘thick-skinned’ in a conversation but it was just an observation. The people there are very literal and will say what they see, rather than gossip. It’s not a bad thing though as it means they are generous with their compliments too.

Restaurants always revealed certain eating habits in China. It was common for girls to eat small portions no matter what they ordered. I was once sat at a table next to a girl who ordered a really nice seafood lasagne but only ate a tiny corner and left the rest. One evening, we also went out for a pizza hut meal with one of the teaching assistants that we had made friends with at the school called Echo. We shared a pizza between three of us and while Echo struggled through two slices, we were hungrily examining the menu for our next order.  

Takeaways and fast food are a rarity for Chinese people and the students in my class revealed they would eat unhealthy food such as burgers and chips only around once a month. School lunches consisted of rice and vegetables with meat or fish and these were the staple foods of the country. At breakfast people ate dumplings, noodles and rice and I think this sort of wholesome diet contributed to the reason why everyone stayed slim. It also meant that we saw a few people being sick on the bus during our daily commute to the school due to such a heavy meal at the start of the day.

Chinese girls tend to look a lot younger than they really are due to being tiny in size. Being short and skinny is reflected in the fashion industry of China as after visiting numerous clothes boutiques and wanting to buy nearly every dress and pair of shorts that they sold, I quickly discovered that a Chinese large size seems to be a UK small. As a result, I focused my attention on the jewellery and shoes instead. 

Fashion in China

There are many recognisable fashion brands in China. I spotted many European retailers like H&M, Zara and Mango scattered around the each of the cities I went to and also found it impossible to walk round Shanghai without passing the huge American corporations such as Gap and Forever 21. Makeup brands like Maybelline and L’oreal filled the counters of the department stores and local supermarkets, meaning that shopping often did not feel too different to a day out in Oxford Street in London. Although there is a lot of western influence, Chinese fashion is still unique and different in many ways to the styles we have over here in the UK. The fashion is far from the traditional style of silk blouses and long gowns with oriental prints, as the more common female style of clothing includes jeans, shorts, t-shirts and dresses in an array of bright colours and mixture of patterns. A lot of the t-shirts that both males and females wore had cartoon style pictures printed on them or random words in English like ‘Wanted’ or ‘Let’s go’ and would be paired with a pair of shorts or leg wear that often had checks, stripes or tie dye patterned on.

As well as western establishments, there are also little boutiques that sell Chinese style clothes. The fashion is to wear clothing that covers a girl’s chest and sometimes shoulders but it is fine to keep the legs bare. As a result, these little boutiques sell a lot of long sleeved blouses, t-shirts, short skirts, shorts or dresses. These sorts of shops are also often decorated in a more personal way than the bigger global stores and so are interesting to visit as each one is different to suit the owner’s taste. 

A cheaper alternative to high street shopping is to visit the markets that are usually open at night, as they sell the same style and quality of clothing at a price that can be haggled. Most shops are usually open until around  9pm and on an evening a worker of a shop will be stood outside shouting into a microphone and playing loud music in order to entice people into their shops. Shopping is therefore more exciting during evening, especially as the city is lit up at night.

I really loved the shoe styles over there. Crocs were weirdly quite popular amongst the males and my friend even found a pair of ‘Gangnam style’ shoes however, I was drawn to the flat shoes that the girls wore. I bought myself a pair of flip flops with thick wedge soles that were really cushioned and springy and one girl in my class even had her own panda themed pair of these shoes.

Teenage fashion is cute and innocent. My students told me that they are restricted with how they can experiment with their appearance as school rules are strict. Most girls aren’t allowed to wear jewellery or makeup and their hair has to be no longer than shoulder length, even though a lot of them would prefer a longer style. As a result, the teenage girls don’t particularly follow fashion trends too much and style themselves a lot younger than typical teenagers in the UK and America. Instead, they tend to wear pretty dresses and casual clothes like t-shirts and jeans or shorts and have little bows and clips styled in their fringes and short hairstyles.

Every day I saw something different. One day we went on a trip to Hangzhou and visited the picturesque West Lake. While we were there we noticed a few couples on their wedding day, having their picture taken by a photographer with the scenery of the West Lake in the background. The brides had white wedding dresses and held a bouquet of flowers, while the grooms wore a suit and tie. I had always thought brides in China wore red wedding dresses and so it was a real eye opener to see that western white dresses are also worn by brides all over the world. So much of the Chinese fashion blends with styles from all over the world but ultimately there is still a unique fusion that can only be fully appreciated when you are truly surrounded by the culture in China.