Deemed the Chinese version of Pinterest, Xiao Hong Shu combines content sharing and e-commerce
What first connected me to the world of beauty was the media. I didn’t have a mother’s vanity to raid, nor did I have an older sister to look up to. My mother was never one of those kikay girls; she was simple and neat. Meanwhile, I was the eldest daughter and the eldest female grandchild in my family.
I indulged my interests in the beauty sections of People Magazine and American Girl books passed on to us by relatives living abroad. Then media transitioned online, and I followed along as an audience, keeping up with sites like The Beauty Department (now defunct) and Teen Vogue. Together with my high school barkada, we stocked up on Maybelline makeup products and KJM lip tints, and dreamed of getting cult favorite makeup products like the Too Faced Sweet Peach Eyeshadow Palette and Kylie Lip Kits.
The media was my figurative older sister. I looked up to YouTubers—they taught me how to deal with my hormonal adolescent skin, put on makeup, and discover which products were good and what were not.
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My Instagram feed is filled with (mostly unwanted) viral content because apparently, people dancing to words on a screen is the most effective way to communicate these days. That, or trending audios that sometimes require a Google search for me to understand (what is a mouse moment???). Can’t people recommend makeup products the way they used to back in the day? By that, I mean…the 2010s, LOL.
I have reluctantly adapted to these recent changes in media. More than I’d like to admit, I doomscroll myself into a black hole of Instagram Reels, TikToks and YouTube Shorts. Every now and then, I come across a gem, and one of them is the Chinese social media platform Xiao Hong Shu (小红书), which translates to “Little Red Book” after the communist-written material widely distributed during China’s Cultural Revolution.
|Xiao Hong Shu’s logo||Xiao Hong Shu’s interface||Xiao Hong Shu’s shopping section|
In the global media space, Xiao Hong Shu goes hand in hand with the term Douyin (or Douyin makeup) though less popular.
Often described as a Chinese version of Pinterest or Instagram, the app is a community-based e-commerce platform. To visualize its functionalities, Xiao Hong Shu acts like any other content-sharing website. The layout is similar to Pinterest, except the content is user-generated and not just clippings that you can nab from anywhere on the internet. You can save posts into “boards” and engage by liking and commenting.
|What a post looks like on Xiao Hong Shu|
The content is largely product-oriented, since it is an e-commerce platform at the end of the day. Xiao Hong Shu’s users, who are primarily middle to upper-class women, post product reviews, makeup tutorials, beauty and styling tips, and more. The comment feature allows the users to share their knowledge freely. Commenters can vouch for the products they love, ask questions and get specific answers from the post author or the community.
|In the comments section, users vouch for the products they love or ask for more specific recommendations|
It’s become a “product search engine” of sorts. In ways, I was reminded of myself resorting to the internet to navigate the world of beauty. The platform connects users to figurative kikay mothers and sisters to learn from. After all, what better budol is there than having someone personally vouch for a product? At the end of the day, the product is king. Compelling marketing doesn’t stand a chance against shared customer experiences.
Though the platform promotes authenticity and has achieved it to some extent, it has gained criticism for the recent influx of overly filtered and stylized photos, a far cry from the platform’s intentions. While the platform has responded by removing fraudulent content, brands, merchants and users, I personally think that authenticity will never be perfectly achieved. People naturally strive to show their *best* sides, albeit unconsciously (sometimes).
As I scrolled through my feed, I was shown a mix of product shots, makeup swatches, TikTok/Douyin-esqe makeup videos, and the Chinese equivalent of the Korean ulzzang. Unfortunately, you would have to be fluent in Chinese (which I am not despite my Chinese ethnicity) to be able to fully experience the platform. I was able to scrape by with the help of my translation app, but the photos alone were telling of East Asian beauty standards, which are personally arguably worse than Western standards. The beautiful Chinese woman has long dark hair, a tall and slender body, a beautiful smile and fair skin. I would have started feeling bad about myself if not for my stable self-worth, but more so the realization that all of them…look pretty much the same.
|If there are Tumblr girls in the 2010s, now there are Xiao Hong Shu girls|
As much as I’m a self-professed fan of East Asian makeup (I am East Asian, after all), I’ll probably seek makeup tips from my comfort spaces of Instagram and YouTube still, mostly for the convenience of language.
I often felt frustrated following tutorials from the people I looked up to. I couldn’t look the same way as they did, mostly because we didn’t look the same. It was a relief to learn how to do makeup that actually suited me. Turns out, my face wasn’t the problem. Despite the rigidity of Eastern beauty standards, the influence of Douyin and Xiao Hong Shu in the beauty world has made me feel more comfortable with myself, my features and my identity.
It’s been five years since I bought my first foundation and forayed into makeup, and I’ve been into skincare for much longer. I wouldn’t have gotten this far into this little interest of mine if not for the media. Heck, the tables have even turned. Here I am, working in the media and writing about beauty.
Words Gwyneth King
Photos Xiao Hong Shu
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver