By Jessica Schwartz
The old saying “Yi bai zhe bai chou” (“A white complexion is powerful enough to hide several faults”) has been widely accepted in China – until recently, that is. Today, tanning salons are beginning to open and entice young men and women to spend 10 to 15 minutes a day darkening their skin at a cost of approximately 7.5 RMB ($1.15) per minute.
“People with very pale skin look weak,” said Lian Hoaran, the manager at a branch of Mega Sun, an international tanning salon chain, located in central Beijing. “A tan helps you to look healthy,” he added. “It is not widely accepted, but I think it is a growing trend like any other fashion statement.”
While approximately 70 percent of Mega Sun’s customers are male, women are also frequenting the salon to bronze their traditionally light skin. China’s booming economy has given the younger generation luxuries not previously available, or conceivable, to their elders. However, the newly expanding tanning industry has not yet drastically changed the common Chinese belief that pale skin is preferable.
White skin has been desired for centuries in Chinese culture and the efforts to stay pale have evolved from using white chalk on the skin to controversial and potentially harmful bleaching creams. In the past, the Chinese associated tan skin with the poorer farming class, and pale skin with a lifestyle of luxury and ample time spent indoors.
Just a few steps away from Mega Sun Tanning Salon on Dongdaqiao Road sits Duolan Beauty, a beauty salon with an abundance of skin-whitening creams in stock as well as machines to lighten the skin.
The Fu He Guang Mei Bai Yi treatment offered at Duolan Beauty whitens the entire body by machine in just one hour. In addition to its short time, the laser-based machine, according to Duolan employees, is also virtually painless. Each day an average of 10 women come in for the treatment, which is offered at 180 RMB ($28) for first time use and 300 RMB ($46) each additional session.
“It is inappropriate for women to be tan,” said Duolan Beauty employee Xiao Yan. “I believe that most people feel that skin should still be white.”
Added 60-year-old Beijing resident Wen Li Fen: “Tanning is disobeying Chinese tradition. The younger generation should not be doing this. I would never allow my daughter to tan.”
Despite the remaining prevalence of traditional sentiments, China’s youth is not hesitating to follow new Western trends.
“Some girls have parents that think poorly of tan skin,” said female Mega Sun employee Lina Wang. “It just depends on who is changing with times. Now, being tan can be associated with being wealthy and having the extra money to spend.”