When a nation’s favoured celebrities comprise young men made to look like girls, it is no wonder that many have come to view such “Fresh Meat” (小鲜肉), referring to those young male idols with heavy make up and Korean hair styles, as not an appreciation of beauty, but a threat to the DNA of China’s character.
If wondering over today’s most popular superstars, one will frequently hear the names Chris Wu and Lu Han, who both represent that which has become today’s common standard for male celebrities in China, namely to be feminine and good-looking.
In an era very much focused on appearance, the raison d’etre of this Fresh Meat is of course something that girls have been used to for many a long time, the pressure to be pretty on the outside. Now so it is for the boys. Led by the fragmenting of information online, many now blindly swipe for anything good-looking, male or female, for they have not the time for deeper thoughts.
With their long black eyeliner, pale skin and skinny figures, the Fresh Meat has learned how to appeal to its audience by winking and flattery, instead of perhaps actual skill.
Such a convergence in the appreciation of beauty is now considered a societal problem. Wang Hailin, one of the most famous screenwriters in China, commented, “In aesthetics, I think advanced countries, especially European countries and the United States, they must have a strong sense of masculinity. Their actors are very important, even embody their national will. If our country’s main actors are too feminine, it will pose a threat to our country’s aesthetic security”. He also stressed his view that, in this pluralistic society, such kinds of Fresh Meat can exist, but should not be awarded.
However, Li Yinhe, China’s first female research sociologist, made profound remarks on gender stereotype, from theory to practice, in Tencent’s “Star Speech”, whereby she said that we are stuck by the stereotype of gender. In a modern society, the social and economic structure that supports traditional gender division has changed, but the stereotype of social consciousness has not. She cities our concerns over losing masculinity as “neutralisation anxiety”, saying that in this developed era, people with different personality characteristics should be permitted to exist, even if such are neutral or masculine or feminine.
Li also stressed, “The problem of Fresh Meat is a manifestation of social progress and the necessity of social diversification. In a free and tolerant society, different people should be allowed to live out their own attributes, rather than changing themselves for the sake of catering to others”.
Aesthetic pluralism is the embodiment of social progress. Fresh Meat may well be the need of the market, but an embracing of people’s different identities and characteristics is the diversification that many in society may do well to learn.