Controversy sparked by weight reduction and body shaming
When actress Zhang Tian”ai first appeared in the Chinese reality show Sisters Who Make Waves, it was not her performance that made headlines, but her weight loss.
Some netizens praised Zhang on social media for her “stunning” and “slim” physique, while others speculated how much weight the 32-year-old had lost and how she did it.
To date, Zhang has remained silent on the topic.
In the first episode of the show’s third season, Zhang was asked by singer-actress Yu Wenwen: “You are so skinny. Do you eat?”
“Yes,” Zhang replied, with a shy smile.
Some social media platforms disclosed Zhang’s dietary plan, which she discussed in an earlier reality show.
“I only ate cucumbers and boiled eggs for nearly two years,” said Zhang, who now weighs 45 kilograms and is 1.68 meters tall. “You can lose about 5 kg to 7.5 kg in a week,” she added.
Zhang rose to fame in 2015 with her role in the online drama Go Princess Go. She has also appeared in television shows and movies such as The Captain, released in 2019.
Sisters Who Make Waves, produced by Mango TV, is now in its third season. Featuring 30 female celebrities over the age of 30 competing to win the opportunity to join a female group, the show became a success when its first season premiered in 2020.
Unlike most reality shows featuring young people forming celebrity groups, Sisters Who Make Waves has won a large fan base by breaking the stereotype of the traditional girl group. It showcases the diversity of women aged more than 30, some of them married, some with children, and others who are single.
When Zhang’s dietary plan was reported online, netizens started to follow it. They posted footage on the Bilibili short-video platform of themselves following her cucumber and boiled egg regimen, along with the outcome.
One young woman said in her video, “It takes determination and hard work to follow Zhang’s strict diet.”
She expressed her admiration for Zhang, giving her a thumbs-up for the weight loss. The netizen also released a video to announce her week-long plan to take on Zhang’s diet, with this footage being viewed about 100,000 times.
Another young woman said, “I lost 3.6 kg in five days by following Zhang’s diet.”
Hard to recognize
The dietary issue has triggered debate, with some people saying that celebrities such as Zhang are sending a wrong and irresponsible message about weight loss.
Wu Shuo, 24, a beauty influencer who runs his own short-video channel on the social media platform Red, where he has more than 210,000 followers, said: “I started following Zhang when she appeared in Go Princess Go. She is beautiful and cute in that online drama.
“But when I watched the new season of Sisters Who Make Waves, I was shocked when I saw just how thin she was. Her face is so small and she is all bones. I could barely recognize her.”
In many of his videos, Wu shares his makeup techniques and offers advice to those wearing it for the first time.
“No offense, but weight is not and will never be a determining factor for beauty－and I can’t believe that this still has to be said in 2022,” he said. “I was so wrong when I talked about going on a crash diet when I knew that millions of young people were listening to my every word.”
Wu also shares his experience of losing weight, which still haunts him.
“I used to weigh about 110 kg, and was really fat at high school. Kids who are overweight are frequently the targets for criticism at school. I was made fun of, and other kids didn’t want to hang out with me,” he said.
Wu recalls the day when his teacher discussed the word shuo, which has various meanings depending on the context in which it is used. One meaning in particular, “large”, was mentioned. When the teacher used the phrase fei shuo to refer to “fat and large”, Wu’s classmates looked at him and laughed.
“That day, I was nicknamed Fei Shuo,” Wu said. “I felt very sad and decided to lose weight.”
He only ate one meal a day－usually breakfast with boiled Chinese cabbage. In three months, he lost 35 kg, but the damage he did to his body still affects him.
“It’s been seven years, and the damage is irreversible,” Wu said, adding that he still experiences constipation and stomachache.
Meanwhile, when Jia Jia, who is now 21, weighed about 70 kg, she used to go shopping with her mother, who often looked for large-size pants for her.
“When my mother told the salesperson that I had big thighs, I felt ashamed and angry,” said Jia Jia, who declined to give her real name.
In November, she decided to follow a strict diet plan, and within six months, she lost 20 kg.
“I tried Zhang Tian’ai’s diet plan for a week－eating only cucumbers and boiled eggs. It worked. Then I tried a liquid diet,” said Jia Jia. “Now that I am getting used to following a strict diet. I generally feel fine, but I experience constipation and the eating disorder bulimia nervosa.”
Jia Jia, who is studying at a university in Beijing, said the first thing she does every morning is weigh herself. She also weighs herself before going to bed, comparing the figures the next morning.
“I know that many people might think that a harsh diet is unhealthy, but to me, it’s the most effective way to lose weight. My goal is to weigh 45 kg, and I still have about 5 kg to go,” she said.
“Many people, not just celebrities, who share their strict diet plans on social media platforms earn praise for their slim physiques.”
Celebrities, especially females, love to watch their weight. Women in the spotlight who are willing to share their experience of weight loss, which usually involves a strict diet and exercise, often attract public attention and trigger controversy, as passing judgment on stars who lose or gain weight is a popular pastime for some.
On Sina Weibo, where she has more than 10 million followers, model and actress Zhou Weitong told how she lost 12.5 kg in a month. She also posted details of her weight loss plans, her diet and exercise routine.
Women are not alone in tackling weight loss.
Actor Yin Zheng has posted details of his diet on his social media platform since March last year. He also posted photos of himself breaking a sweat in the gym.
Yin combines exercise with a balanced diet high in vegetables and fibrous foods. However, when he was photographed by paparazzi recently, netizens questioned the effectiveness of his diet, saying he looked fat.
On Sina Weibo, where he has nearly 10 million followers, Yin posted: “Don’t starve yourself to lose weight. … What is important is what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat.”
Nutritionist Gu Zhongyi said 139 volunteers were randomly recruited for a survey in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province.
The recruits were divided into two groups－one eating only between 8 am and 4 pm, and the other eating without any time restriction. The aim was a 25 percent reduction in calories each day. However, no significant weight changes were observed among the two groups during a 12-month assessment.
Gu said, “When a person goes without food, the body starts functioning differently to reduce the amount of energy it burns. The first 10 days of a strict diet may produce a weight loss of 2 kg a day, but in 30 days, the body loses not only fat but also muscle.
“For those who want to reduce their weight quickly, the loss of muscle mass and strength may cause heart failure. Rapid or extreme weight loss can also result in an electrolyte imbalance.”
When celebrities discuss their fitness in social media interviews, they are nearly always asked what the perfect body should look like.
But the issue of body shaming has also arisen.
Fretting about weight has become a common topic for discussion in many places－from high school classrooms to fitness studios, from beauty salons to department store fitting rooms.
May 6 marked the 30th anniversary of International No Diet Day. This special day was launched in 1992 by Mary Evans Young, an anorexic who became an author, to promote a positive body image and to combat diet culture.
More people are now reflecting on body shaming, which can result in self-doubt and low self-esteem.
On May 27, after graduating from Xi’an Fan Yi University’s Art and Design School, Zhou Conghui, 22, staged a photo exhibition, highlighting women’s body shame.
She took photos of her mother, showing her wrinkles, flabby stomach, freckles and hunched back.
“Many women feel unhappy and ashamed about their bodies. As a result of pressure－either peer, societal or personal－they elect to have cosmetic surgery. I’ve even seen some reports of people being hospitalized due to excessive weight loss,” Zhou said in an interview with ThePaper, an online media outlet.
When she decided to focus on body shame, Zhou planned to take photos of herself, as she experiences similar problems. “Looking in the mirror, I am dissatisfied with my flabby belly and big thighs,” she said.
One day, she accidentally took photos of her mother, who is more than 50 years old. This inspired Zhou to photograph older women, including her mother and aunts.
“I’ve seen my mother’s wedding photos. She weighed about 50 kg, and now she is 75 kg. She was young and went in search of beauty, just as young women do today,” Zhou said.
“My mother has a warm personality. She is optimistic and open-minded. However, as she grew older, her face and body inevitably changed, but she is very confident and feels comfortable about her body.
“Like my mother, I want to be confident and reach my full potential. I can’t help wondering about the beauty of women. What is beauty? What are the criteria for it? I hope that people who see my photos come to their own conclusions.”