How China debated whether dark or light skin ages better

Weibo users posted pictures comparing the skin tones of Western and Chinese celebrities after hearing of a Harvard study about ageing and genetics Image copyright Weibo
Image caption Weibo users posted pictures comparing the skin tones of Western and Chinese celebrities after hearing of a Harvard study about ageing and genetics

A Harvard study led some Chinese people to declare they were "black and proud."

The study made headlines all over the world. Researchers at Harvard, led by Dr Alexandra Kimball, found that a lucky few people have a genetic makeup which protects their skin and can make them look years younger than their actual age. Although the research went beyond skin colour, one interesting side note of the study, not yet published but just presented at the World Congress of Dermatology in Canada, is that black people are twice as likely as white people to have the genetic combination for youthful skin.

The study prompted discussion across social media. But, perhaps surprisingly to outsiders, it seemed to strike the strongest chord in China - because of the fact that pale skin has been traditionally associated with beauty.

The discussion online there was huge: more than four million more were reading about the study on popular accounts and thousands were discussing the study on China's Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo,

In a culture where darker skin has associations of inferiority, and people go as far as wearing face masks on the beach to avoid getting tanned, some darker skinned Chinese people felt emboldened by the study. One user, Jian Xian Ano said: "I am black and I'm proud."

Others said paler skin would still be valued more in China, even if there's more chance of looking older. "In China, however, white skin is still regarded as beautiful," said user Track-08, a comment that was liked more than 200 times.

Several made the point that the study didn't include a break down by racial groups, but merely a comparison between black and white Americans: "They're talking about black people, not dark skinned Asians," says Only Becca Muyou Re. A few commenters replied with crude racial stereotypes, but there was some push back against traditional idea that paleness equals beauty, and vice versa. Jasmine Jing said: "People who are born white are white, born black are black, born with beautiful features are beautiful. People born with beautiful features are not necessarily white."

The conversation didn't dwell too hard on the science - much of the chatter was about comparing the skin tone of Western and Chinese celebrities. Notions of beauty are subject to change, of course, and in some Chinese cities, tanning salons are already starting to take off.

Reporting by BBC Monitoring's Kerry Allen

Blog by Mike Wendling

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