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On pictures of women in Hong Kong

  • 10th Jan, 2005 at 9:49 AM

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I was stunned by the lack of provocatively dressed women on billboards. Mind you, I come from Montréal, where this thing is rather prevalent; but at Hong Kong International Airport, the most provocative thing I saw was Nicole Kidman tossing her hair to advertise a watch.

As I've travelled the city, I've acquired a greater understanding of how women are portrayed here. There are three major categories of women protrayal: mother, model, and sex object.

The first is the easiest to place. It's used to push some domestic product, or a food of some sort. The good mother is always young, is dressed impeccably and has a spacious, clean kitchen. One that almost no family can afford in this kind of population density. She then uses the domestic product or food to make her children or her husband incredibly happy. You can almost imagine the dead hand of Confucius reaching through the ages. In America, there isn't such strong social pressures to raise a proper family while holding down a career, and it seems like there's a magnitude of difference.

The second is fairly similar to American roles. Here we have a fresh-faced digitally-enhanced Asian woman, who endorses a particular product. It seems to prey on body-image insecurities that teenaged girls typically experience; but also seems to target the adult woman audience as well. I'd like to note that almost all females I've seen pictured are asian, with European women rarely seen. This is the opposite for males, which are almost always European.

Body-image seems to be a really big deal here. There are countless images of women washing their faces, applying makeup, selling watches, putting on masks, taking off masks, and posing in clothing. Some even imply that if you use these comestic products, attractive European (or Asian) men will shower you with affection. Actually, that last one puzzles me a bit, since I rarely see that kind of advertising in North America. Perhaps unrequited love is popular among women in Hong Kong?

Then, in magazines, you can see ads for weight-loss products that show amateurish before and after photographs of women in swimsuits. Interestingly enough, almost none of these involve exercise, but rather pills, herbs, or electronics. Defined muscles don't seem to be popular here, just a slim build. And breast enlargement is quite the deal here. Ads for breast pumps and pills fill the backs of magazines, and surgery seems highly unpopular. As well, skin disorders such as spotting can be quickly and simply removed if you just visit one of the many spas and beauty clinics that offer these services.

One thing I've noticed about the standard of beauty here is that it's not a sin to be a little plump. By that, I mean that cuteness seems to be a prized attribute. So women here aren't idealised to be stick figures with hollow cheeks. Rather, they're supposed to look like 16 year-old faces with 19 year-old bodies.

Finally, the sex object image is one targetted not at women, but of course at men. It seems that the ads here don't have as much sexual repression as they do back home. For instance, skimpily dressed women are rarely seen, but rather nudity is implied. As well, women who are depicted as worshipping or draped over men seem to wear more clothes. I have yet to see a picture where a naked woman is hiding behind a man. Still, it is quite amusing to walk down the streets of Mong Kok and see advertisements for "saunas" and "karaoke bars" which are actually strip parlours. They have rather curvy looking asian women bearing bikinis, which look basically like normal magazine covers. Some even dare to show breasts that are strategically covered by a blanket, or even a price tag. Mens' magazines have naked women with strategically placed props. Porn video shops (there aren't really rental places) have posters and DVD covers with pictures of actual naked women. Except most of the time, the nipples and groin are pixellated or blurred. Or perhaps even reomved completely.

I suppose there's far too much detail and analysis here for someone who has just been here for a scant two weeks. I can't help but compare the differences between how women are seen here, and in Canada. Even though both places are first world and very Western in culture, it's still interesting to see what goes for acceptable, from the streets to the porn shops.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
11th Jan, 2005 01:57 (UTC)
HK is the most conversative city I have been
It is very much like US, seems to be open but conservative inside.

The poster your saw in Mongkok are mostly Japanese(adult video models), it is hard to find real chinese for nude pictures. Those in the porns(selling on street) are mostly from Thailand.

BTW, there is no 'legal' porn shop in HK so what you saw on the street(man megazine) is the limit, legally. This is in sharp contrast to other developed region where you seldom see the level you saw in HK on the street(espeically NA, Europe can be more open, hard porn mag on the street).
11th Jan, 2005 05:02 (UTC)
meeting with some HK Debian user?
We (http://www.debian.org.hk/) might have some gathering during Jan 22nd or 23rd in Hong Kong. Any time to come have key signing?
11th Jan, 2005 07:21 (UTC)
Re: meeting with some HK Debian user?
Sorry, I'll be gone by Jan 14. The only time I'm available is Jan 13, and I'm completely lost in this city by myself.

But if you want to meet somehow, and we can arrange a time, then I'd be happy to sign your keys.
13th Jan, 2005 21:51 (UTC)
Re: meeting with some HK Debian user?
Alas! I haven't check planetdebian for a while and didn't notice another Debian Developer visit Hong Kong. Anyway, if you have chance to visit HK again, free feel e-mail us (roy.chan(at)debian.org.hk or info(at)debian.org.hk) We might be able to take you around the city. :)

- Roy Chan
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )