The A4 Challenge

If you’re heavy into fitness and/or beauty blogs, you’ve probably heard about the A4 challenge.

Like many disturbing selfie trends, it started in China – land of the once bound feet!

Marie Clare calls it a “disturbing new fitness trend pressurising girls worldwide into extreme weight loss.” I call it inevitable. I also admire Marie Clare’s use of the word “pressurising.”

Of course, the challenge has a hashtag: #A4Waist

“The tiny waist has a long tradition in China, going back at least to King Ling of Chu, who ruled from 540 to 529 B.C. Many in China know the passage from the Book of Han, the history of the Western Han dynasty: “The King of Chu loved a narrow waist. Many people at court starved to death.” – The New York Times

The premise is this:

Step one: Take a selfie standing behind a single sheet of A4 sized paper, held vertically.
Step two: If the paper is bigger than your waist, you win. If not, shame on you!

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Yikes! this means my worth = zero cents

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But wait! I almost make it sideways! 

What I Find Interesting

Most of the articles/bloggers covering this topic seem to have a derisive tone, as if to:

  • blame the girls who are doing this challenge; or
  • express loathing and hatred towards the challenge itself

“Whatever,” I say! “Don’t blame the messengers. Or at least don’t be too harsh on them.”

Humans are only humans. They do what they can for attention. This goes double for young girls who KNOW (based on the sad reality) that a foolproof way to get power is to physically embody the ideal woman.

Challenges like these only reflect what’s already there. And sure, they amplify it too.

There are all sorts of reasons why we value thinness, especially when it comes to the waist.  The reasons are rooted in biology, and then (like many traits) are fetishized in culture. What is “culture” anyway if not the fetishization of all things?

Instead of blaming the messengers, or suppressing the message, let’s try to understand it. And then let’s try to modify it, gently.

Why We Value a Thin Waist

Blah blah blah. I’m so sick of hearing about all the reasons why the patriarchy is destroying the world.

Blame biology!  A preference for a thin waist is rooted in our DNA.

  • It connotes youth and virginity.
  • It might also indicate child-bearing hips.

Things that indicate youth, virginity, and a sizable birth canal are attractive. Sorry, it’s just true. If your goal is to impregnate someone with your man seed, it’s kind of a drag if they’re already pregnant or if they die during childbirth. So we look to cues. We’re just human.

But there’s more! Blame the fashion industry. Ok, but a thin waist is not necessarily an A4 waist. So what’s going on?

Enter the FETISH aspect. If a little bit of a good thing is a good thing, then a lot of a good thing must be a great thing. Right? …Well – probably not as far as health outcomes are concerned. But certainly as far as sales are concerned. 

Think about it. Your job is to hire a model. Good looking people have power. Insanely great looking people have more power. And insanely great looking people are just good looking people whose good features are exaggerated. Often beyond the point of a healthy balance.

So, are you going to hire the good looking person? Or the insanely great looking person?

I suppose the real question is – how many purses/lipsticks/panties do you want to sell?

“Fetishization” describes this race to the bottom. Everyone wants to get closer to the ideal, but no one is alone in this world. As you get closer, someone else gets even closer. There is always someone with a smaller waist than you.

If you want to sell the most things, have the most boyfriends, or get the most IG likes – then you need to have the smallest waist of all.

..At some point, the year 2016 comes around. Inevitably, some random person in China decides your waist needs to be the size of a sheet of paper. Awesome China, thanks a lot. But why couldn’t you have thought of this BEFORE inventing lo mein?

In any event – all of this because we like to take biological shortcuts. Even when it comes to strangers from the internet.

The strangers who follow your Instagram? They are JUST DYING for more information about your fertility than they can possibly know just by seeing your photo. Aren’t people the weirdest? 

A Compromise

Maybe the A4 challenge reflects a compromise. Perhaps a spontaneous social compact?

Maybe what the A4 challenge really says is “I’m hungry!! So let’s all agree – A4 is small enough. Can we please stop competing now?”

But I doubt that. Some other crazy challenge is coming soon. It’s only human nature.

…Perhaps the “Post-It Note Challenge?”

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18 thoughts on “The A4 Challenge”

  1. Eckhart Tolle would say: That’s our collective egos talking – wanting to be better, have more, be the best… and a sure way to an unfulfilling life. Our true identities are not tied up in our body image – the TRUE you lives inside of whatever shape we happen to be! (Sorry – I’m in the middle of reading his book right now and am really enjoying it 🙂 ) = “Awakening to your Life’s Purpose” 2011.

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    1. No apologies needed! I love Eckhardt Tolle and I’ve read everything he’s written. I think he’s one of the wisest people around. And it’s all very true what you’re saying.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is right up there with the waist trainers that celebrities are wearing in the states. It puts your long term health at risk for unrealistic and unnaturalistic proportion

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