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What to Watch: China Femme Men Fueling Beauty Sector

The rise of effeminate men in China is fueling the beauty industry in the country.

There was an immediate online backlash to China’s annual back-to-school gala in September. The show featured members of new boy band F4, who were seen by some in the country as being overly effeminate and sparked outrage that Chinese men had become “sissy.” Online, parents voiced their concerns that these effeminate men made poor male role models for their children and media platforms debated the topic at length.

For brands, these effeminate men, also referred to in China as “Little Fresh Meat” as they are young and handsome, can help generate sales, particularly in the male skin-care and cosmetic industry. Chinese pop star and actor, Lu Han, has worked as a brand ambassador for L’Occitane in China and Yves Saint Laurent featured Chinese rapper Huang Zitao in its “makeup makes me free” advertising campaign, which was gender neutral.

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Chinese actor and singer William Chan has been a brand ambassador for Maybelline New York, promoting the brand’s color sensational lipstick range, with a marketing campaign featuring the star, targeted at his fan base of young Chinese women.

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Chan’s lipstick campaign shows that effeminate men can also generate sales in the female cosmetic market, despite some backlash in the country to the Little Fresh Meat trend. “If companies continue to see female consumers responding positively to male brand ambassadors who represent this ideal, they will continue to use them,” said Benjamin Cavender, principal at China Market Research Group.

“This is not only a China trend, as androgynous idols are everywhere now — it’s seen as normal to Gen Z,” said Charmaine Lin, general manager at Reuter Communications, a luxury intelligence, digital, communications and marketing agency. “What this does show is that China’s youth is not ‘behind’ those in the West in terms of new trends and concepts, and can in fact amplify a global issue, what with its youth being lightning quick to adapt to new trends and even be ‘freer’ to adapt to evolving culture than in other regions,” Lin said.

Chinese men now share skin-care tips online and the male grooming market is booming in the country. This is perhaps not surprising as male skin care and cosmetics have been popular in South Korea for years, a country that has often inspired the youth of China, combined with the fact that disposable incomes in China are continuing to rise. Male grooming category sales in China was expected to post year-on-year growth of 6.8 percent for 2018, and reach 14,220 million renminbi, or $2.084 billion, according to estimates by Euromonitor International.

“Male grooming has been moving in this direction in China for several years and I don’t think we will see this trend stopping any time soon. The market is also big enough that there is room for multiple ideal forms of appearance and fashion. I think even the official state media is kind of split on if this trend is bad or not, so I don’t think we are going to all of a sudden see an about fact toward greasy men working on motorcycles or whatever,” Cavender said.