Fellow Worn Through Contributor, Arianna, forwarded a link to me a few weeks ago on the latest fashion trend to hit beaches in China: the face-kini. It seems that while the beach-goers are as keen as playing in the sand and catching the waves as any other visitor to the seashore around the world, Chinese beach-goers have an aversion to one of the “usual” pursuits of seaside vacation: sunbathing. So, they have come up with the face-kini and long-sleeved swimsuits to protect their skin from the sun.
A tan in Chinese and most other East Asian cultures does not represent good health and leisure the way it does in Western culture. It instead represents a connection to outdoor work and the peasantry. I had noticed when living in Japan back when I was twenty, that an unusual amount of beauty products were geared towards “whitening” the complexion. The face-kini seems a somewhat extreme, but logical extension of those beauty regimens. Many of the beauty advice columns also cited sun damage as a cause of premature ageing, which is a major deterrent in any popular culture that values a youthful appearance.
The NPR piece mentions an unintended association that both Arianna and I saw as well, that the face-kini does have a resemblance to the balaclava. And while none of the Chinese beach-goers were wearing their face-kinis in support of the Russian punk band, it was an interesting coincidence that news of this new trend broke at the same time that the members of Pussy Riot were sentenced for their ant-putin protests at the beginning of the year. However, it does serve to highlight just how a single garment can take on intense socio-political meanings in one culture (balaclavas have now become a symbol of political protest in Russia thanks to Pussy Riot), while a similar garment in another culture will not be affected in the slightest.
The other point the NPR piece makes is that the photographs of Qingdao and other famous Chinese beach resorts, along with water parks and public pools show an incomprehensible level of crowding, with people filling every fraction of space available. So many people can lead to unsanitary conditions, of which there have been many complaints, apparently, but it also might increase the need for personal privacy. Since many face-kini wearers, like the woman to the left in the pink bathing suit in the photo above, do not wear anything to protect the rest of their skin, it does seem possible that the face-kini is the result of a desire to maintain your anonymity in a place where there seems to be no privacy at all.
What are your thoughts on the face-kini? Is it a logical way to avoid tanning or sun damage to the face? Or is it a ridiculous extreme? Do you think it is a way for Chinese tourists to preserve some privacy in over-crowded areas? Might it protect them from any unsanitary conditions they encounter while they are there? Is this entire article — and the many similar to it — an example of voyeurism, treating another culture with different ideals and standards of beauty as entertainment? What do you think of the conjunction of this news release with the news about Pussy Riot? Is the media noting the different meanings clothing and fashion can take on in different cultures and making an unintentional comparison, or is it merely coincidence? What is the purpose of wearing only the face-kini, but wearing a normal swimsuit? Are they more concerned about their faces, or is it possible they are merely conforming to a trend? Does this throw any extreme Western fashion trends into a different perspective, or offer alternative explanations for “odd” fashion trends in the past?
Please share your thoughts.