Red China? Not quite

Wear red lipstick. If you do, men will want to have sex with you, possibly even propose marriage, and definitely rate you hotter than your pink or brown-lipped girlfriends.

Really? Well someone should, like, tell China.

Yes dear readers, I am back from the PRC. And boy did I learn a few things about love and sex and dating while in the world’s most populous country, including why some young women maintain hairy armpits: they symbolise virginal purity.

But perhaps what I found more striking – especially when compared to my journeys through Japan, Korea, and even Thailand – is just how poorly Western beauty culture has managed to penetrate the place. Life without lipstick is, for example, still overwhelmingly the status quo.

And there’s nothing especially wrong with this from where I’m sitting. How refreshing, I thought, to be a woman and not worry whether your makeup really was making you more attractive - attractive to men, and other women.

Though if the massive shopping ‘mansions’ of consumerist pleasure bedecked in posters of a very red-lipped Emma Watson are anything to go by, it could well be Beijing verges on vanity’s seductive, addictive edge. Seemingly time, not the Great Cultural Wall, is the only barrier before the multi-billion dollar industry and the very lucrative (read: big) Sino market.

And why is this good? Or, more specifically, why should Chinese women learn to love lipstick?

Well, there’s a new psychological study doing the rounds which basically confirms (again) men pay more attention to women who wear it. But not just any shade – it has to be red, bright, bold, flushed-labia memory-inducing red.

Because, according to the literature, “red lips are associated with an indication of oestrogen levels, sexual arousal and health which in turn led to increase the positive perception of the women's faces”. Or, as the authors of the study put it, “makeup increases women's attractiveness”.

Which is, y’know, totally important and stuff for women everywhere, especially women in China.

But pause, I hear you say. Don’t women in China have the odds in their favour? Hasn’t sex-selectivity has helped bred a men-heavy generation presumably desperate for wives? Why would these ladies need the same sort of ‘help’ offered to those poor, hopelessly competitive, single white females in the West?

Well, life for a lovelorn, single sister in the nation’s capital and other major centres is not really that simple.

Witness the rise of “Sheng nu” – China’s so-called ‘unwanted’ or ‘leftover ladies’. The term made the official dictionary while I was there, and I met more than a few definitive types in downtown Beijing. They are educated, financially independent women over the age of 27 who are unmarried, but want to be wed.

Tough love indeed. And clearly the problem runs deep below the surface. Probably even beyond the superficial remedy of any barbarian lip-schmear.

But it got me thinking about what makes women attractive to men, and whether, despite a vast array of profound cultural differences, there are commonalities between Aussie Bridget Joneses and the Chinese Sheng nus. Are educated, financially independent women really so undesirable for example? Do women here struggle with the same (totally offensive) ‘use-by date’ as women in China? And why are men not afflicted with the similar problems (or are they?).

On one hand, it may be a good story about liberation from the marriage ideal, which constrains human relationships to quite a narrow field. For surely while a Sheng nu technically desires marriage, some educated, financially independent women are the ones doing the rejecting – of matrimony specifically, or men in general.

On the other, however, it’s a sad story about gender stereotypes and the pervasive ideal of a submissive bride. Something I accept should exist to counter-balance aggressive Iron Wives, but perhaps not a role I’m interested in playing. And shouldn’t we all be free to decide for ourselves, independent of social expectation?

Of course we should. Of course I like to think I do. But then, I possess a full, feminine palette of lipsticks. And sometimes I wear red, so I can catch me a man and take him in, or under, my bed...

What do you think about make-up and success when it comes to love, sex and dating? Are you a man who is more attracted to painted ladies? Or do you prefer a natural face? Are you a woman who spends $45 on a lippie, because ‘you’re worth it', but can’t help but wonder which shade will make you most sexy?

And do you think women in the dating pool are advantaged by money and education? Or, was Gloria Steinem right: Women have become “the men we wanted to marry”?

**While I’ve got your attention, I’d just like to say a whopping Yippeecayaye to the wonderful blogging that went on in my absence. I hope you enjoyed reading the entries as much as I did. Certainly some excellent discussion ensued. A particular shout-out to our reader-entry winner – Mr Michael Durrand. I doff my cap to you, and your views, sir. 

Cheers all,

CK.

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kfeeney@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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