I was back in China during the month of June, after nearly a year of being away. I noticed a lot more pudgy young women on the streets this time. Maybe it was just more noticeable, as it was very, very hot, and a lot of girls were sporting the new fashion of very, very short shorts.
Or maybe they were actually just getting fatter. This wouldn’t be surprising, as the young Chinese are packing into the western fast food eateries. Yum! brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers) operate more than 3000 restaurants in mainland China. I admit to succumbing to a McDonald’s near our apartment in Shanghai, when I couldn’t live without ice cream for another day.
There is another interesting phenomenon around becoming pang (pronounced "pahng"), which means fat in Mandarin. There is no value judgment attached to pang. One young woman might say to another “You’re looking fat today, ” just as easily – and inoffensively -- as a new acquaintance might ask “What is your salary?” or “How much rent do you pay?” Newcomers to China are always startled by questions like these, but they soon come to expect them.
Most of the fat girls didn’t carry themselves as though they felt conspicuous being fat. And there was still very little chatter I overheard about complaining about being fat. The models in ads were never fat, however, and I saw no “natural” shapes in models, as is becoming more common in the US.
As for nutrition campaigns, Chinese television runs some interesting public education programs about parenting, including guidelines on basic nutrition. The host would be suggesting healthy snacks to feed the kids. Sitting in a row of glass booths behind him, fielding incoming phone calls (presumably from parents) were young nurses, dressed in their starched uniforms. This is surely more in response to the surprising number of increasingly fat – ok obese – young boys, the only-child “little emperors” in the family.
Watch this space..
(image from Yum.com. 1000 general managers of Yum! restaurants on the Great Wall)