The Truth Behind This "Shocking" Asian Beauty Trend

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Untitled-2Photo: Via Instagram.
From thigh gaps to "hot or not," social media is full of evidence that we are all narcissistic monsters who are obsessed with incredibly bizarre ideas of what physical beauty means. Today brings yet another example: The internet is buzzing about the "finger-trap test," the latest "shocking" (according to American media) beauty trend that's making waves among both men and women on China's Weibo social media service.

Also known as the "Beauty And Ugliness Identification Method," this trend has shown up in over 200,000 Weibo discussions, according to Vocativ. It's a pretty simple concept: Touch your index finger to the tip of your nose and rest your hand against your chin. If your lips don't touch your finger, congrats — you're pretty! If they do, well, hopefully you at least have a good sense of humor.

Ridiculous, no? Of course, almost every Western media outlet couldn't even get the gesture right. In a story from this morning, E! explained the test as "If your lips don't make contact with your finger, you are ugly."

The media has been pretty quick to call the movement "the new thigh gap," saying it's a "ludicrous" trend that "needs to stop." Vocativ put it this way: "It’s no surprise that China, that hotbed of modern materialism, is getting in on the fun with a beauty-standard trend of its own."

But, here's the thing: Most of us in the West are missing the point. The finger-trap trend began with a Japanese meme, which was replicated in a selfie by famous Chinese actress Xinyi Zhang, who made a big deal about the fact that she "didn't pass the test." This prompted her fans to respond with finger-trap selfies of their own, sparking what is now a full-grown fad that includes everyone from ancient Chinese generals to K-Pop stars. Weibo users have noted that Victoria Beckham, who is well-regarded in China as embodying widely-held ideals of beauty, doesn't pass the finger-trap test.
20140421170309bdd6cPhoto: Via 163.com.
Still, there's a big difference between the truly alarming bikini-bridge and thigh-gap trends and the finger trap. Jason Chen, an active Weibo user, says, "It's a joke. They don't really mean, 'This is how you can tell who's pretty.'" He adds, "Honestly, everything people do on Weibo is just for fun."

R29 fashion intern and Weibo user Venus Wong agrees. "I think this is just a harmless fad. People in China aren't taking it as seriously as the Western media outlets are trying to make it seem." She points out that internet users have tested the finger-trap theory on Pinocchio and on the witch from Snow White — both of whom would pass.

So, while the thigh-gap trend has had a demonstrative effect on our collective body image in this country, the finger-trap movement seems to be a less-serious affair. As Wong points out, "We're not getting any reports of people putting on lip restrainers or getting plastic surgery so that their lips don't touch their finger."

When we talk about beauty and body image — especially when other cultures are involved — it's natural, maybe almost inevitable, to look at things through the lens of the culture in which we grew up. The thing is, though, if we're not careful, our perspectives can blind us to the nuances of what we're seeing. Sometimes, at least, we see what we want to see — a "ludicrous," shocking trend that must be outrageous and offensive. No matter our intentions, it's important to realize that things aren't always as they appear. If we don't start to question our assumptions, the "finger-trap test" won't be the last thing we get very, very wrong.