The most obnoxious comment you could give to a Hong Kong woman isn’t “you look terrible”, it’s “you gained weight”. Hence the opposite – the most pleasant comment they want to hear is “you lost weight”. You would hear them complaining they gained 2 pounds because of eating a piece of fried pork for lunch, or they forget to use skim milk for their coffee. Every woman seems to be utterly obsessed with controlling their weight and blocking calories intake from anything that involves oil and sugar. This weight-losing craze is becoming more and more prevalent over the decades. Women starve themselves to death to lose weight and bring down the average weight of Hong Kong. The slimming advertisements could be one of the most important things to blame.
Skinny bodies are everywhere
When you walk through the streets, the MTR platforms, or flick through the newspapers and magazines, you wouldn’t miss one thing – slimming ads featuring celebrities and models showing their bikini-worthy body. Those ads emphasize call-for-action slogans like “get your bikini figure ready” and “get away from fat belly”; or showing the “before” and “after” images of a lady magically turning from a fatty girl to a woman of every man’s dreams. The ads not only claim being skinny is beautiful, but also implying being fat is ugly. It’s not hard to imagine an average woman would subconsciously compare herself to those dolls on the ads, and immediately provoke an urge to lose weight.
Celebrity effect amplifies the craze
No matter the ads are selling slimming therapy, surgery, weight-losing pills or machine, the one thing in common is that most ads feature renowned celebrities, from models, singers to movie stars. Hong Kong is renowned for its “celebrity culture”. The fans would imitate whatever their idols do. When their idols are skinny and looking gorgeous, the female fans would set a lower weight as the standard weight. Unfortunately, different celebrities who become the spokesperson for different slimming products are competitors in nature. When one celebrity spokesperson loses weight and shows off her enviable figure, another will lose more weight, then new celebrities who join the game will only become skinnier and skinnier. Gradually, their fans and the general public also conceptualize a skinnier body figure as being just the “normal weight”.
Changing advertising concepts makes it worse
When you look at the slimming ads in the 90s, most ads were featuring women fully clothed with a proper outfit. The messages on those ads were mainly about the better health and increased confidence benefits of losing weight. Those weight-losing therapies normally took 8 weeks which involved physical exercise. However, ads in the recent decade are showing more celebrities wearing swimming suits with provocative postures. The advertising messages also changed from “increase your confidence” to “show your seductive S-shape curve”. And the therapies? Now it only takes 2 weeks and your fat will be gone without even doing any sports.
Losing weight is women’s every-day life
The combined effect of celebrity culture and the ubiquitous slimming ads has ingrained in every woman’s mind that, keeping slim is the primary goal of their day-to-day life. Being slim is normal, being slim is beautiful, and being beautiful exudes more confidence that attracts others’ attention. In a city where the number of women outweighs men, the slimming ads have been tainting the general public mind that whoever is fat is not acceptable by both men and women.
As a result, there were 40% of women aged 20-29 years old have a BMI lower than 18.5 (University of Hong Kong, 2012), which is deemed as underweight according to the BMI system. The Osteoporosis Centre at HKU also found that, between 1995 – 2010, Hong Kong women’s overall average weight had decreased from 53.47kg to 52.21kg, but the average height had increased from 152.9cm to 154.3cm. Ignore the men, the entire Hong Kong has become lighter.
Funny enough, you barely see them going to the gym to lose weight (or those who go to the gym aren’t for losing weight but for gaining energy). Women seem to believe that taking pills and most importantly, eating nothing, would make them more beautiful.
Nowadays, every body knows how important keeping thin is for a woman. If a female order iced lemon tea at a local tea restaurant (cha caan tang), the staff would automatically ask, “no sugar?”.