Susie Rushton: Beauty queen

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Last week a 23-year-old business administration graduate named Zhang Zilin had her coronation in Sanya, a beach resort on China's south coast. The natural-looking "leggy lovely" (I believe a technical term) beat 105 contestants to become the first Chinese winner of Miss World. Just five years ago, beauty contests were banned by the Communist Party. (Apparently they promote bourgeois decadence, not to mention Swarovski crystals and Elnett-frosted hair.) To the other hyperbolic factoids one can find relating to China, we can add that it is set to be the world's biggest beauty market. Just a few years ago, few Chinese women over 45 wore mascara or used lipstick.

Over the past decade Avon, Procter & Gamble and L'Oral have all moved in. Domestic brands have also sprung up. According to recent statistics, there are 3,700 cosmetics companies in China. Spa services and treatments that incorporate hot-stone techniques and traditional herbal medicine are also increasingly popular. Chinese women have embraced skincare products more eagerly than they have colour cosmetics and fragrance, but at some point soon the cultural imports will switch direction and become exports: the Chinese homegrown brand Yue-Sai, since purchased by L'Oral, is poised for a roll-out worldwide.

We can also expect more skincare products with formulations based on the principles of Chinese medicine. Could there even be a Chinese supermodel who succeeds in the West? Last year the former ballerina Du Juan, a covergirl of early editions of Vogue China, looked like a contender. So far, neither she nor any of her compatriots have been a match for any of the blue-eyed 14-year-olds from the Ukraine that the American and European glossies currently prefer. But it is only a matter of time. Even if you dismiss Miss World as irrelevant campery (as well you might), in the long term expect to see much more of those Chinese beauty ideals of flawless skin and natural colours.

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