Vietnam 100 years ago: beauty standards

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Before describing to me the general characteristics of beauty peculiar to this country, a mandarin was very careful to explain that “moral qualities and virtues are of far greater importance than physical beauty when it becomes a question of choosing a wife.”

These were his own words. ” Besides,” he added, “it is not the young man who has the most to say in the matter.”

All the same, the poets and lovers of this country have evolved an ideal somewhat as follows: The size of waist must not be conspicuous, for if it is too large or too small there will be a lack of harmony. The blackest and the longest hair is the most beautiful.

The face should be a long oval, and must have complete regularity of feature. The Chinese prefer a round face. For masculine beauty the Annamese demand angular features and projecting cheek-bones.

To quote, or rather paraphrase, a native poet, “The eyes of the beloved one are as brilliant as those of an eagle, her eyelashes with their beautiful fine curves spring forth like a silkworm’s. Her heel is as red as ink.”

This has become a popular proverb, perhaps one of the best known among the Annamese. No great imagination is needed to gauge the beauty of a deep dominating glance, powerful as the eagle’s; but Asiatics alone thoroughly appreciate the ideal curve of an eyelash!

And what shall we say of the pink heel, the carmine heel, the little foot red-tinted by the light brush of a fairy! This admiration, so typically Annamese, is somewhat surprising to us.

Such a point in aesthetics would have escaped a European, whereas to this whole race it is a characteristic of first-rate importance. This is the reason why the Annamese woman who can afford shoes goes barefoot, or wears so tiny a sandal that it only just covers the tips of her toes.

Can there possibly be any connection between this peculiar taste of the Annamese and that which has urged the Chinese to deform the feet of their women? But it is noteworthy that in China women are extremely particular as to the foot. It would be considered indelicate for the women of the Celestial Empire to show their feet, and artists always represent them as hidden beneath the dress. The Annamese do not possess this particular kind of modesty, and, as I said before, frankly admire the red heel.

The hand should be small, the fingers thin and long. A round and white wrist is essential. The Annamese are critical, too, as to the voice they admire soft and harmonious tones.

The walk and bearing of the Annamese woman is most graceful. From an early age she practises walking, head up, chest out, without stiffness or ostentation, and the arms swinging freely with a rhythmic motion.

The smiles which bring dimples into play are as attractive to these people as they are to us.

Read more:
Vietnam 100 years ago: table manners
Vietnam 100 years ago: chewing the betel-nut
Vietnam 100 years ago: how to become a mandarin
Vietnam 100 years ago: religion and superstitions
Vietnam 100 years ago: worshiping ancestors

Vietnam 100 years ago: practice of polygamy
Vietnam 100 years ago: chief wives of the mandarins
Vietnam 100 years ago: numerous wives of the Emperor
Vietnam 100 years ago: emperor and aristocracy

Text: Gabrielle Vassal
On & off duty in Annam, London 1910
Photo: old photo from internet

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