Care yourself more: What changes in self-esteem does feminism bring to young Chinese girls?

Chinese women, in particular, prioritise feminism thinking, are not easily influenced by other people’s judgements, and are more concerned with themselves. Why does this happen and benefit their own development?

In a fancy workshop, there is a pretty girl who is doing her colourful nails. After this, she would go to the lively shopping mall to buy the modern style clothes and cosmetics. Before 2021, Kexin Song had such beauty care routines every two weeks. She was willing to purse the aesthetics lifestyle.

However, after she is starting to know feminism, she stops doing them anymore.

My life changes a lot after I became a feminist. I realised these activities are stupid and totally wasting my cherish lifetime.

Kexin Song

“I should save this time to do more meaningful work for my own development,” said Kexin.

Kexin is a 23-year-old girl born in Shandong province. She is pursuing a master’s degree in communication at a prestigious university in northern China. She was like many young girls in China, used to pay a lot of attention to the appearance in their young and beautiful age.

“The beauty industry is booming in China,” said Jae-Hee Jung, a fashion and apparel studies professor at the University of Delaware.

“China has become the world’s second-largest market [after the United States] in the total consumption of cosmetic products,” Jung said. Women are subjected to more pressure to meet a higher standard of beauty according to Jung’s research.

Kexin and her friend Siqi Shi who is her classmate born in 1999, are under this kind of pressure before. After learning about feminism ideas, they think the main reason of the pressure is lost confidence and low self-esteem. They conclude that if girls are not self-conscious and cannot find themselves, they cannot recognise their own unique beauty, which causes them to live under other people’s judgement and over-care for their appearance.

A study reveals that young women in China undergoing cosmetic surgery have lower self-esteem and self-efficacy than the general population, according to an article published by JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.

One public hospital in Shanghai now performs up to 30,000 plastic surgery procedures per year — two-thirds of them cosmetic.

“My mom even wanted me to take plastic surgery procedures to become a beauty. Because from her traditional perceptions, pretty women’s life goes better than the normal looking girls’,” said Siqi.

Young girls are educated by their growing environment. An empirical study on Chinese women showed that Chinese women’s self-concept is heavily embedded in the family. Women pay more attention to their families’ interests than their own. That is the reason girls are easily influenced by their parents’ judgement.

Learning feminism ideas for the girls like Kexin and Siqi is a huge liberating experience of their mindset.

“Taking plastic surgery is insane. My mom’s aesthetics is totally obeying male’s world rule,” said Siqi.

“Comparing spend the time and money to become beautiful, I would rather take the time to read more books and do more work for improving professionalism in study. And I have more time to explore my inner world,” said Kexin.

Kexin now has daily routine to read books about feminism and finance. She is aiming to learn more to manage her finances. She earns the stable money to support her daily life during the postgraduate time.

Instead of spending money on the beauty things, she does some part time and internship to earn money every month. At the same time, she also applies for her dream school to study media and communication at university of Amsterdam.

Both Kexin and Siqi enjoy listening to the feminism podcast ‘After School,‘ which has over 100,000 followers on one of China’s podcast platforms. The podcast shares the comfort of a girl’s model narrative sharing, the power of progressing together with audiences, and encourages them to create different voices and enjoy the journey of creation. Followers are really inspired the hosts’ personal story. One of the hosts Mobugu, as a life-long learner. After five years of working, she decided to give up everything she owned. She moved aboard to study a new degree and start a new and free life.

“I’m so admire Mobugu’s courage. She is my personal role models. I want to study abroad like her. I’m so excited for experiencing a new study style in a different culture,” Kexin said, “I think I will have more life possibilities if I keep curious and brave.”

Every audience are inspired by this brave and vibrant lifestyle. The special point of the podcast is the host will read the comments and emails by the audience. Many girls shared their direct feelings and inspirations by the podcast with two hosts. They said that ‘After School’ really give a direction about feminism conscious for them. They are encouraged and have a desire to create their thinking and voices.

“The creative process can bring me a lot of positive feedback. Because when you talk more, you know what you really want to express. After this, you got more power to insist your own thinking,” Kexin said, “after listening to podcast, I am more willing to write articles to record my experience. I want to influence and encourage more girls by this. I want every girl to know how important to know feminism and pay attention to care about self-feelings.”

The other change for the young girls is that they are becoming more confident and not put more over emphasis on others.

One of the episodes in ‘After School’ is about the young girls’ views on love relationships. Many guests in this episode to join the discussion, talked about their different states of being relationship ad being single. They discovered that when they are single or less care about their partner, they are feeling better. Because they are more focus on themselves. They have more time and possibilities to explore their inner world.

Single women post images on social media to show they have glamorous lives.

From the discussion, they find the most important thing is keeping confident and independent. Many audiences comment that they resonate with the topic. Not rely on others and believe themselves are important for their confidence boosting. This can give them a lot of strength to choose the life they want.

“I have more time to explore my hobbies. I never find myself can do so many interesting things before I realise being single is so free. I spend too much time on others, and I have so limited time to care myself.” commented by one of the listeners.

When Siqi realised, she should pay more attention to herself instead of others. She never uses more time to quarrel with her boyfriend anymore.

“I have too many feminism books to read when I am in my free time. I prefer to learn more useful things instead of quarrelling with my boyfriends. I care my feelings and emotions more,” said Siqi.

Siqi and Kexin are now encouraging each other when they become the feminists. They truly believe their strength, focus on self-development and want to achieve more goals in the future.

“I want to discover myself through many changes and experiences. I want to learn more about the world. I couldn’t say such things a year ago, but now I believe I can.” Kexin said.