14/07/2024 1:36 PM


Piece of That Fashion

A new online skinny trend has emerged on Chinese social media and it is promoting unhealthy body image, experts say

A new fad in China that sees social media influencers trying on children’s clothes for selfies and to show off their physique has engulfed the Chinese internet, with many women expressing outrage in the country.

Warning: This article discusses disordered eating and body image.

Photos have been shared on Chinese social media Xiaohongshu and Weibo, showing adults squeezing themselves into children’s clothes at a fast fashion brand’s outlet and posing for photo opportunities.

Workers from several Uniqlo stores in China reportedly expressed frustration that despite warnings that they are too small for adults, female shoppers have been trying T-shirts made for children in the fitting rooms.

They then leave the shop without purchasing what they tried on, damaging goods and leaving makeup stains on the collars.

An image posted on Chinese social media shows a brown mark across the collar of a light grey top.
Some garments have had to be thrown out after being damaged while being tried on for social media posts.(

Supplied: Xiaohongshu


Some sales representatives at Uniqlo also admitted they would have to discard the garments afterwards, according to Chinese media.

Uniqlo China told the ABC they haven’t banned adults from trying on children’s clothes.

“At Uniqlo, we respect the customer’s need to try on clothing. Uniqlo does not stipulate that adults must dress in a certain way,” a spokesperson said.

“We advise customers to shop according to their own needs and requirements, but to also maintain the hygienic integrity and the quality of any item of clothing they try on.”

Earlier this month, Xiaohongshu posted a message on its app, calling on people to appropriately use the fitting room and try on products in a civilised manner, Chinese media reported.

Why try on children’s clothes?

A composite image shows pictures of young women in crop tops posing in children's clothes.
A fashion blogged who is critical of the trend said she thinks it is more about women chasing instant online fame than being “hot”.(

Supplied: Xiaohongshu


It appears that the new trend, dubbed as “BM style”, was partially inspired by Italian fashion brand Brandy Melville, a brand that’s known for small sizes in China.

A typical “BM Style” would include crop tops, skinny jeans and short skirts, which started to become a trend last year in China.

It’s the recent media coverage about damaged and stained clothes left in fitting rooms that sparked a national discussion around beauty standards and body-image issues.

It quickly drew concerns and criticism from the public and even from those within the beauty community.

A young woman closes the collar of her top near her neck as she looks into a camera and speaks.
Wan Yang criticises the fad asking: “Adults who try on kidwear becomes hotties? Who’s responsible for damaged clothes?”(

Supplied: Xiaohongshu


“Many times, I’ve actually seen Vloggers in the changing room taking pictures, taking up all the rooms,” beauty blogger Wan Yang said in a video post.

“This has led to many other girls wanting to go to the children’s clothing section to try on children’s tops … when a little kid comes along to try on the top, the residue of the makeup will rub onto their skin without them knowing and could really harm them.

“It’s not about girls trying to be hot and chase a particular style, it’s more about everyone wanting to be famous overnight; you put morality and ethics to one side so you can have some quick success.”

What do they get out of it?

Dr Pan Wang, a senior lecturer in Chinese and Asian Studies from the University of New South Wales, said the fad is a product of today’s “hormone economy” in China.

A woman holds a book open as she stands in an aisle of a library.
Dr Pan Wang, Senior Lecturer in Chinese/Asian studies at the University of New South Wales.(

Supplied: Dr Pan Wang


“In this hormone economy, women can objectify themselves, and they make money out of it,” she told the ABC.

“For example, we know many ‘wanghong’ or web celebrities; they actually look very similar. They look skinny, feminine and very curvy, and the majority of them are very thin basically in that prescribed standard because people want to watch that.

“There’s a distorted form of beauty standards imposed on women [in China], and you can even liken that to foot binding, because both are made to cater to the male’s perspective.”

The traditional Chinese beauty standards for women largely focuses on females having a fair skin, a petite and skinny body and looking youthful.

Dr Wang said the online skinny fad wasn’t new, citing the “A4 waist challenge” and “belly button challenge”, but social media that portrays unhealthy obsession can have a negative impact on everyday women in China.

“It provided this space for people to share their images, videos and bodies online and created a community that will influence [and] shape people’s perceptions about feminine beauty,” she said.

“[Women] are trying to follow what the celebrities or the elites are doing to make themselves ‘pretty’ in the society they live in, and to increase certain life opportunities.”

‘Promoting eating disorders’

Dr Gemma Sharp, a clinical psychologist and a senior researcher in body image and eating disorders from Monash University, said it’s “distressing” to see posts that contain unrealistic beauty or body ideals that can promote eating disorders among young people.

“I mean, goodness me, these are adult women fitting into children’s clothes,” she told the ABC.

“That is not normal, and it shows that they have very petite frames, they’re probably underweight, and it is promoting eating disorder development.

“Photo-based imagery on social media is particularly influential because young people will compare themselves to the people in the photos … and they’ll go, ‘I need to starve myself, I need to engage in disordered eating in order to look like that and fit into those children’s clothes.'”

Dr Sharp said China wasn’t the only country that has body image concerns — Australia does too.

A bespectacled woman smiles as she poses for a portrait photograph in the sunshine.
Dr Gemma Sharp said celebrating body diversity was important to countering some of the content being shared on social media.(

Supplied: Dr Gemman Sharp


“In Australia, we’re not so much about petite. It’s more slim and toned,” she said.

“You don’t have to be necessarily short stature, but you have to have a slim body that is well defined in terms of its muscularity, you have to look fit.

“That seems to be the difference here between cultures.”

In her research, Dr Sharp has found unhelpful social media posts can impact people of all ages, genders and backgrounds.

“Social media can be a really triggering environment for people experiencing body image issues, and that is a global phenomenon, anyone on social media can feel like this,” she said.

“I think we sort of need to match this unhelpful content with helpful content.

“So celebrating body diversity, shapes and sizes, and our appearance is not the only thing that matters about us, what our bodies can do for us is really important.”

Dr Sharp said if young people felt distressed by those images, they can clean up their social media feed or ask for professional help.

Despite the latest Chinese craze of trying on children’s clothes, there have been positive shifts in the public debate about body image and beauty standards in China.

In 2020, a grassroots movement about body acceptance has gone mainstream.

Women in China have been calling out fat-shaming behaviours, including high-profile pianist Lang Lang, who was criticised for showing off his pregnant wife’s small waist.

Dr Wang said Chinese netizens were also posting and sharing their own unique beauty to oppose body-shaming or glamorising unhealthy depictions of beauty.

“Different voices on social media are also observable,” she said.

“Internet has created a space where people can discuss these topics — women, femininity, beauty, body — a positive sign as it helps to debunk the stereotypes and prompt the public, especially young women, to rethink about gender, gender differences and gender relations.”

Anyone who needs support or advice about eating disorders or body image should contact the Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline on 1800 33 4673.