Young women in China are posting videos of themselves applying fake tattoos of belly buttons on the social media app Xiaohongshu. According to them, positioning the fake tattoo in a certain place can help their legs look longer.
One beauty blogger based in Lanzhou showed that the application process is similar to any temporary tattoo: She sprayed the cutout of a belly button with water and then applied it to where she wanted it on her torso.
“Everyone’s doubts about this are, ‘What if someone sees you have two belly buttons,'” she said. “You put a band-aid [on].”
“If you don’t care about this, just don’t look at this,” she added, explaining that this trick was only for people who wanted more control over their looks when wearing crop tops.
The sheets of the fake belly button tattoos are cheap; one of China’s largest online shopping platforms, Pinduoduo, is the top-selling source for navel tattoos and sells them in packs of two for less than 55 cents. The store’s online sales figures show that it’s received over 4,400 orders — although it’s not clear within what time frame.
Some influencers on Xiaohongshu, considered China’s version of Instagram, are also selling tattoos through their profiles. A few observers of the trend are wondering why belly buttons were even an issue in the first place.
“Almost every once in a while, a new beauty trend pops up on social platforms. There are so many tricks and strange ideas,” one WeChat blog says. WeChat, or Weixin, is another popular social media platform in China. “You really don’t have to be coerced by such a trend.”
“I’d use ‘smart’ to describe this trend because you don’t have to expose your belly button but still look cool wearing crop tops,” she said. “According to traditional Chinese medicine, exposing your belly button may result in a stomach ache because it exposes your uterus to chill and wetness.”
This is something that does pop up in a couple of beauty influencers’ Xiaohongshu posts — that wearing a fake belly button allows them to feel cool and fashionable without exposing their lower stomachs.
“I want to wear a crop top in the summer but mom is worried you will catch a cold,” Lin said in her video. “Then you can post a fake [belly button] so you can wear a crop top again, protect[ing] the body.”
Lin also pointed out that wanting longer legs is by no means an unheard-of beauty standard nor a “new” body concern that the women in the trend have invented. In fact, one study found that considering long legs attractive might be one of the few beauty standards that’s universal and grounded in multiple eras.
“If there’s a cheap and easy way to help girls feel more confident and beautiful about themselves, I’d say go for it,” Lin concluded.
From the U.S. to China, beauty standards for women worldwide continue to be ‘marginalizing.’
While Lin considers the tattoos to be harmless — and those participating even argue that it shouldn’t cause body anxiety — there is the perennial issue of unrealistic beauty standards women face worldwide.
“Women have long been objectified, but we are also consumers,” writer Elise Hu, author of Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture, said in an interview. “So we are having to spend money in order to look better for the eyes of other people. It is kind of this constant feedback loop of spending and then also being consumed.”
Hu argues that, with globalization, we’re reaching a point where beauty standards will be globalized too. Some beauty trends that are popular in the U.S. now — sheet masks, pimple patches and an increased interest in sunscreen — originated in South Korea. In Asian countries, procedures like double eyelid surgery and jawline reduction are credited as being influenced by Western beauty ideals.
“The more and more we are fed standards for what we’re supposed to look like, the more we’re marginalizing and creating inequality for folks who can never change their appearance to look a certain way,” Hu said in another interview. “It’s all tied into the pervasive problem, which is that we continue to be defined by our looks.”
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