Around the World is an occasional series celebrating the female bodybuilders of a particular country, and examining any issues peculiar to muscle women there.
Today, we visit China, hardly - despite the numbers - a hot bed of female muscle so far. Unless you are an Asian FBB nut, it's unlikely that you could come up with more than a few Chinese FBBs, if any. Those that have made something of an international name for themselves - Zhang Ping, Xinli Cao, and Liang Yueyun, for example - have had to overcome considerable cultural (and/or economic) obstacles to do so. Women in China have long associated being beautiful with being skinny, says CNN correspondent Nanlin Fang, a situation not unique to China by any means, but also noted by Beijing gym owner Hou Shiyao. Most of the women who come to our studio aim to lose weight, she says. They want to be like a skeleton, or a piece of paper!
However, that may be changing. The skeletal body may still be the ideal for the majority of Chinese women, but an increasing number are, according to Hou Shiyao, coming with a slightly different, slightly more muscular goal - majiaxian.
Literally, this translates as "vest lines", but in fact it's how you say "six-pack" in Chinese, and claims Nanlin Fang, China's "increasing exposure to Western lifestyles has made a desire for a more muscular physique, especially visible abdominal muscles, trendy." Chinese women, besides the usual summer essentials, have found another accessory, confirms the (newspaper) People's Daily - six-pack abs have become the latest fashion.
On Chinese social media #majiaxian has been at or near the top of the trending topics list ever since Chinese New Year, with women proudly flaunting their new flat/muscular midriffs all ready for summer. I bought a gym membership as a birthday gift for myself, says fashion designer Liang Yuan - one such woman charting her journey to majiaxian via WeChat, the country's most popular social media app. I wanted to challenge myself. Now friends and family members have started to call me a "fitness monster" because I workout twice a day, seven days a week.
A capital B Bodybuilder Liang (and the vast majority of the #majiaxian WeChatters) may not be, but she (and they) are indicative of a change in attitude which is backed up by the stats. A 2017 Gym Data Report stated that females now account for 51.3% of members in China's gyms, with chest and back exercises almost as popular among them as those focusing on abs. Moreover, an impressive number (almost 20%) of those female gymgoers stated that they used fitness equipment "in the same way as men".
Pioneering Chinese IFBB pro Mou Cong is hardly the most defined in the Figure division in which she competes, and few of the random women from pan-China contests in 2017 and so far in 2018 that we came across while researching this piece are very six-packy. However, when you consider there are around 650m women in China, all this adds up to potentially the biggest explosion in female muscle ever.
Liu Zhichang, a 25-year-old working in a marketing team at a Beijing tech company claims workouts posted on WeChat have spread among her friends "like a virus". Every woman I know wants to have majiaxian, she says. Especially if they have seen a friend's toned abs. At first, I just secretly admired them, but then I decided to dedicate myself to working out, to make it a habit. I want to have majiaxian, and I will.