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The #A4 waist trend has seen a major backlash - here's why

We take a look at how it all happened.

weibo zhang Chinese actress Xhang Li shared this image on her blog. Weibo Weibo

ONLINE, TRENDS COME and trends go.

Something can trend on Twitter for a day before disappearing into thin air – and some trends that appear disturbing can be turned into a message of positivity.

Such is the case with the ‘#A4 waist’ trend in China, which emerged in recent weeks and involves women holding up an A4 piece of paper vertically – measuring just over 8 inches in width – to see if it will cover their waist.

Trends that pop up on social media don’t necessarily need thousands of participants. What they do need is a willing – and to a large degree disbelieving or outraged – audience, and that’s what this challenge has gotten.

As some people shared the initial tweets, it encouraged others to take part (it is a challenge after all, and the internet loves challenges), but also many to respond in disbelief.

We’ve seen this before: other challenges involved women putting coins in the hollows of their collarbones or tucking a pen beneath their breasts.

In addition, there is a certain fascination with trends that emerge online, and the weirder the better. Something that isn’t actually that big of a deal in ‘real life’ can look like it’s extremely popular when it goes viral, even if it’s the backlash or reaction to it that is actually the viral aspect.

The backlash

Generally, there is a touch of silliness to such challenges. But they sometimes, like the A4 challenge, tap into the intersecting ideas of body image, public shaming, scrutiny of women’s bodies online, and perhaps narcissism to a degree.

Due to this, the A4 waist has understandably seen quite a bit of backlash.

What it has also seen, however, is its message – that there is value in having a waist smaller than a ruler – being turned into a message of acceptance.

That judging your beauty based on this challenge literally isn’t worth the scrap of paper your hopes are pinned to.

AFP reports that Xiao Meili, a women’s rights activist who once walked 2,000 kilometres to raise awareness about sexual violence, and who started an unshaven armpit hair challenge last year in her own backlash against online body trends, called the fad “utterly boring”.

“Everyone’s very superstitious, talking about what angle cheekbones should be at, how high a nose should be, or how many centimetres there should be between people’s eyes,” she told AFP. “People think that beauty can be measured.”

What the #A4waist trend has shown is that yes, sometimes people believe ‘beauty’ can be measured – and sometimes those measurements are not one-size-fits-all. What it also shows is how quickly a trend can take off, especially when it’s one that seems designed to provoke outrage.

This won’t be the last such trend we’ll see, but it’s a perfect example of how the cycle of body challenges – from participation, to backlash, to think pieces – tends to play out on social media.

Read: Boaty McBoatface is leading the public vote to name Britain’s new polar research ship>

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