Cosmetic conundrums in China

Hello again folks! To start off today’s post, I want to give a bit more context to my current location because it has come to my attention that I haven’t fully explained exactly where I am in China. Yes I have given you the name “Nantong” but I’m sure, like I was before I applied to work as an ESL (English as a second language) teacher, you are thinking ‘Where the bloody hell is Nantong?’ So let me give you a clearer insight: China is a big place and there are many cities and these cities are separated into different categories, or tiers, if you will. Shanghai and Beijing are examples of 1st tier cities, they have advanced transportation systems, they are rich in culture, historical significance and have huge economic development. Nantong is an example of a 3rd tier city in Eastern China and the biggest difference that you will experience as a foreigner here is the lack of English speakers. However it is pivotal to remember that in this 3rd tier city there is still a higher population than the whole of Scotland (7 .28 million to be exact). One of the main reasons that we chose to come to Nantong was the push it would give us to really embrace a more traditionally Chinese way of living and we would need to learn Mandarin if we wanted to communicate outside of Web International (our place of work). So as I sip on my Starbucks coffee, watching the locals flock to KFC, I really feel that I am a world away from the UK and Western culture (I’m a Costa kinda girl).

Now, my previous quip about foreign franchises shouldn’t take away from the fact that I am without many of the home comforts I am used to, a fact I underestimated before I came to China. If this experience has taught me anything it’s to be adaptable. I acknowledge the fact that I can be a bit of a princess and being here has allowed me to embrace a new way of life, to make do, seek alternatives and appreciate that the Chinese way is sometimes better. I want to make this post as useful as I can for anyone who is thinking of a trip to this country so I will go on to offer some practical advice:


Ladies, if you are travelling to a 3rd tier city or somewhere more remote, you may struggle to find this particular sanitary product. If you do, they will most likely be much more expensive compared to those in the UK. A box of 15 will set you back roughly £5. I have enquired about the reason why and it’s a combination of cultural beliefs and hygiene. The solution I have found is to order them online where you can buy in bulk and they are much cheaper. So gals if you venture over here, remember to stock up on your tampax! (other brands are available).

Make up, Moisturizer & Lotions

Just so we are clear, I do not profess to be any kind of make up professional, expert or even a novice for the following reasons:

  • I have never and probably never will own a contouring kit. I applaud those who have that amount of patience.

  • I haven’t paid any real attention to my eyebrows in at least two months.

  • For the longest time I didn’t know who the heck this Sephora chick was that girls kept referring to! Possibly another Disney star turned ‘serious’ recording artist? Or another Kardashian/Jenner offspring, who had broken tradition and shunned a K name?

  • When I hear the word Mac, I tend to think of a really expensive computer rather than a pricey brand of slap.

Needless to say, I’m not your go to gal when it comes to make up advice unless you want recommendations for Rimmel blusher (I personally prefer pink blush.) However, even I need to think carefully about my cosmetic choices while living in China. Here and in many other Asian countries including South Korea and Japan, a woman is considered to be most beautiful if she has very white skin. Through out history darker skin was linked to a lower social status because outdoor work was reserved for farmers and other labourers. Basically the whiter your skin was, the richer people thought you were. In the summer time you will see many women walking around with umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun or if you go to the beach you will notice that many Chinese women wear long shorts and tops to protect their skin. Another element here is that they are often (not all) more conservative people. There is a whole market catered towards skin whitening products. You find these ingredients in make up remover, sun cream, body lotions, make up and cleanser. It can sometimes be difficult to decipher which products do and do not contain whitening components but there are many non-whitening options available so there’s no need to fret! There is a lot to be said for how Chinese women take care of their skin , I think it’s a much healthier alternative than the culture of sun bed junkies and oompa loompas that you can find roaming the streets of many Western countries. So take the leap and put away the fake tan and embrace the pale because it’s fabulous! As a Scottish red-head, it’s a bit of a stretch for me with my naturally olive skin but I believe that the rest of you can do it.

But hey if you think about it, what’s the difference between one girl using a product that will make her skin darker and another girl using a product that will do the opposite (other than 23 shades on a Dulux colour chart). The thing that being here has allowed me to do in terms of beauty ideals is to opt for a much more natural look which is something I had been leaning towards doing a year or two before I came here. The difference now is that I really am an unusual looking girl, heck I’m a ginger in China! We all know that there is a tremendous amount of pressure on people to look a certain way thanks to the 1001 forms of media we have at our disposal these days BUT there are also a huge number of campaigns aiming to thwart a society of airbrushing, Photoshop and just general body shaming. I like to think I have joined these ranks as an advocate of challenging the typical standards of beauty.

I believe that a woman is never more beautiful than when she feels comfortable in her own skin, accepting of the ‘imperfections’ that allow her to stand out from others and be uniquely her. There is a Chinese proverb that talks about thanking your parents for the body they have given you, it is yours to keep and cherish. So today, I ask you to give yourself a hug and give your a mum a ring/text/instant message/whatsapp and say thank you for your disproportionate boobs, that weird birthmark shaped like a country whose name you can’t even pronounce and your slightly wonky nose.

You are perfect as you are.

Photo credit: Duncan Errington

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