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Feminine Ideal Shifts in China's Cultural Evolution
Supermodel Lu Yan and others redefine the image -- and value -- of beauty.
Her detractors dismiss her as a country bumpkin with rough features only Westerners could appreciate. Her admirers praise her as the essence of ancient Chinese beauty, with a touch of modern spunk.
Meet Lu Yan, a small-town ugly duckling turned 5-foot-10 trailblazer -- and, possibly, the new face of China.
"Some people say I'm changing the way Chinese people see beauty. I don't know," Lu, a fashion model now based in Paris, said on one of her Beijing stops. "There are certainly plenty of people who just don't like how I look."
Lu Yan is from a silver miner's family in De'an, Jiangxi Province. Lu began her modeling career in 1999, in which she was spotted by famous stylist Li Dongtian. Lu, with small eyes, a flat nose and a freckled face, is by no means pretty by the Chinese standards. However, the "ugly girl" grew up to become a supermodel on global catwalks. Lu went to Paris in 2000 when she was only 19 and rose to fame. Later the same year, Lu won second place at the International Supermodel Pageant, the highest-ever ranking for a Chinese model in an international contest.
Touted "half angel and half devil", Lu always captivates audiences with her unique face and ever-changing enchanting performance. Lu has appeared on the covers of top fashion magazines including Elle and Cosmopolitan. She is also the face of various luxury brands, including Hermes and Benetton
Love or hate her, Lu Yan’s notoriety coincided with a shift in attitudes toward beauty.
By the 1990s, modeling had started to establish itself as a career in China. Just as the world was surprised that China produced 7-foot-plus NBA star Yao Ming, few knew that it had become a breeding ground for supermodels scraping the 6-foot mark. In the past, tall women typically served the nation by becoming basketball or volleyball champions. Now, a batch of modeling schools has sprung up to offer them a more glamorous lifestyle.
"Every year, I see at least 200 candidates from all over the country dying to be models. Their only qualification is height," said Xiao Bin, a teacher at Beijing Fashion Institute, the alma mater of this year's Miss China.
Despite the rush to the catwalk, few Chinese models have broken onto the international stage. Lu is one of the exceptions. Although her success is controversial back home, it represents a turning point in setting the standards for a different kind of beauty. Read more about other Chinese supermodels: http://www.divaasia.com/article/7939
Sources: LA Times, author, Ching-Ching Ni; CNN Beijing news