Tag Archives: China Doll

“Quintessentially Chinese”?: “China Doll” Edition

by Guest Contributor Jha, originally published at Rebellious Jezebel Blogging

So my dad said the other day, “you could do better than the stereotypical China Doll makeup, but I know that’s not your usual style.”

This was in reference to a shoot I did a while back. (Yes, I model, but that’s neither here nor there.) The theme of the shoot was “light fetish / pinup” and I was made up according to a reference picture of a retro pinup – plenty of blush, fake lashes, dark eyebrows, and red lipstick.

So, think about that combination for a moment. They’re not exactly typical “China doll” makeup things, not in my mind. When I hear “China doll”, I personally think “porcelain skin, large eyes”.

So I had a look at the pictures, and I went, “huh. I guess I kinda do look China doll-like, especially from certain people’s perspective.”

It’s the red lips, I figured. The red lips and red cheeks are reminiscent of Chinese opera.

My friend, the excellent Katherine o’Kelly, said that it had to do with my pose and expressions – the first set I posted were demure, avoiding the camera, shy. (And here, again, I differ in opinion – looking away from the camera does not necessarily mean demure and shy.) But she noted, with the next set of pictures, that with more spunkily-posed shots, despite the makeup I was wearing, the “China doll” look and feel was gone.

The term “China doll” unsettles me. It unsettles me because I’ve met people who coo and squee over Asian girls because “they are so cute”. I have trouble with the term because it ties into the whole “submissive Asian” trope. It bothers me because I am Chinese, and the term “China doll”, which could characterize all Chinese women who fit a certain physical look, effectively strips us of our agency in the eyes of others, rendering us, well, dolls.

I took a hard look at that set of pictures. I also thought back to other times I wore similar makeup. I generally avoid heavy makeup for this reason: looking like a China doll. But even as I was avoiding the “China Doll” look, I neglected to ask what the hell, exactly, a “China doll” looks like.

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