Beach Essentials in China: Flip-Flops, a Towel and a Ski Mask
It was enough to make a trio of heavily tattooed young men stop their playful splashing and to prompt a small boy to run to his mother in alarm: a woman rising out of the choppy waves of the sea, her head wrapped in a neon-orange ski mask.
As she made her way toward the shore, more people stared. A man floating in a yellow inner tube nudged his female companion, who muttered the question many others must have been asking themselves: “Why is she wearing that?”
“I’m afraid of getting dark,” said the mask-wearer, Yao Wenhua, 58, upon emerging from the seaweed-choked waters of this seaside city in China’s eastern Shandong Province. Eager to show why she sacrificed fashion for function, Ms. Yao, a retired bus driver, peeled the nylon over her forehead to reveal a pale, unwrinkled face.
“A woman should always have fair skin,” she said proudly. “Otherwise people will think you’re a peasant.”
For legions of middle-class Chinese women — and for those who aspire to their ranks — solar protection is practically a fetish, complete with its own gear. This booming industry caters to a culture that prizes a pallid complexion as a traditional sign of feminine beauty unscathed by the indignities of manual labor. There is even an idiom, which women young and old know by heart: “Fair skin conceals a thousand flaws.”
With the pursuit of that age-old aesthetic ideal at odds with the fast-growing interest in beachgoing and other outdoor activities, Chinese women have come up with a variety of ways to reconcile the two. Face masks like Ms. Yao’s have taken this popular beach town by storm. In cities, the summertime parasol is a more familiar accouterment, many adorned with rhinestones, lace or sequins (and sometimes all three). Those who need both hands free are fond of the tinted face shield, the perfect accessory for riding a bike — or welding. The fashion-conscious favor a chiffon scarf draped over the face.
What about arms exposed to the sun’s tanning rays? A search on China’s equivalent of Amazon yielded 20,000 results for “sun protection gloves.” These varied from form-fitting leopard-print sleeves that end at the wrist to arm-length gloves made of black lace.
Meanwhile, drugstore shelves across China bulge with rows of creams and cosmetic masks with names like White Swan and Snow White, promising a natural-looking aristocratic hue.