We’re still sifting through the mountain of lady-centric research that floods the Chinese internet post-Women’s Day. Short video-sharing platform Douyin published something a little different this year — a report exploring women’s self-expression, and the characteristics of female-produced short videos.
There’s a weird section in the report where the authors segment female users by age and list the top 8 stickers that each age group prefers to use on the app (30- to 40-year-old women really like swords and mermaids, who knew?).But possibly the most interesting bit of the write up is a breakdown of top female influencers, the topics they cover, and their approach to personal style.
Influencers were separated into three tiers by number of fans: from 100,000 to 1 million, from 1 million to 4 million, and from 4 million to 10 million. Topics are wide-ranging, so there’s little uniformity in terms of subject matter, and popular women’s channels covering everything from art, dance, and fashion to anime, motherhood, and pets. Age is also all over the place, as both young women and older women have found voices on the platform. But there is a common thread running through most of the top channels, and that thread is perceived authenticity.
Authenticity: the X-factor
In 2016, mega-influencer and comedian Papi Jiang first began publishing content, winning audiences with her quick wit and sharp sarcasm. Though she commanded attention, she seemed to stand apart from the rampant look-at-me culture. She wasn’t pinched, primped, edited, or botoxed, at least not that anyone could tell. Her videos were heavily scripted, but not overly staged; she shot many of them in her own house. And it was her fearless sense of self that helped drive her meteoric rise.
The focus on authenticity may seem counter-intuitive, given that most people chasing the influencer lifestyle are going about it via plastic surgery and heavy photo-editing. Indeed, open any one of China’s live streaming or short-video apps, and you’ll be inundated with filter-smoothed skin, artificially enlarged eyes, digitally-applied makeup, and Photoshopped waistlines. In the New Yorker piece “China’s Selfie Obsession,” Jia Yangfan writes:
[It] is considered a solecism to share a photo of yourself that you haven’t doctored. ‘Selfies are part of Chinese culture now, and so is … editing selfies,’ she said. … There’s a name for this new kind of face, perfected by the [self-editing] apps, which you now see everywhere: wang hong lian (‘Internet-celebrity face’).
But if you look closely at the real chart-topping KOLs, most of them can point to at least a veneer of genuine character. Either they focus on their personal skills and charisma and less on their makeup, or they take care to intersperse photos and videos that show them in faux-dishevelment:
[Influencer] HoneyCC understands the charm that comes from undercutting perfection. Romantic walks with wholesome-looking young men are upended by pratfalls. Behind-the-scenes takes, in which she talks to the camera with her mouth full, foster a sense of casual intimacy. In a sketch at a go-kart track, she struggles to remove her helmet; when her head emerges, makeup is smeared all over her face.
This is particularly true in a Confucian-based culture like China, where humility is historically lauded and self-promotion (even the humble kind) is looked down upon as vulgar.
The women influencers profiled by Douyin all seem to take this to heart.
The women influencers profiled by Douyin all seem to take this to heart. Here’s a list of their usernames, if you care to explore:
|Scan to view on Douyin||Username||Fans|
|张萌||100,000 to 1 million|
|比鲁斯 。雯||1 million to 4 million|
|育儿女神蜜丝懂||1 million to 4 million|
|人生要有反弹力||1 million to 4 million|
|年糕妈妈||4 million to 10 million|
|小霸王||4 million to 10 million|
|蓝心羽||100,000 to 1 million|
If we listen to the philosophers, it’s impossible to be completely true to oneself on a social media platform. Rousseau believed that personal authenticity is unachievable when we look to others for validation. But inevitably, when styles get too artificial and glossy (I’m looking at you, 1980’s), there’s a backlash in attitudes. People get sick of the varnish, and they want to see some wood grain. China’s social media pendulum will eventually swing even further that way.