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November 11, 2010

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Skinny Supermen & beastly fat girl

ON China's national Single's Day, skinny guys complain they can't get dates or respect - girls like big guys with muscles. So caped crusaders, "Skinny Supermen," are making their case. Fei Lai checks out the action.

Skinny young guys don blue pajamas emblazoned with "Z," red plastic capes, red shorts and red boots in a Superhero parody aimed to attract girlfriends and show that skinny guys can be tough.

The Skinny Supermen, as they are called, are also trying to make an Internet stir, or chaozuo as it's called in Chinese - a popular phenomenon of promotion, either self-promotion or through a company.

Today, China's national "Single's Day" (or guanggun jie), a few Skinny Supermen are heading for big Shanghai Metro stations and the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall, looking for dates. They're holding signs that say "If you want to date me, please give me your business card."

These guys look as if a breeze could blow them away. Some are tall and gangly, some are short and spindly - not the type of Alpha male likely to attract young women looking for a "strong" man which the implied security goes with physical build.

These young men say they are misunderstood: people think they are cowards, weaklings, non-achievers and generally inept in life.

"Young people, mostly girls, are obsessed with weight loss, so Skinny Supermen want a little respect and support," says Lu Fei, the organizer and originator of this "performance art." He's 25, owner of a website design company, single and skinny.

Since the debut of around 15 Skinny Supermen at Metro lines around Shanghai in late October, their group image as shoushou chaoren (literally meaning Skinny Supermen) has drawn considerable attention on the Internet.

Unlike flesh and blood celebrities such as Sister Lotus in sexy poses, Sister Feng known for her arrogance and wanting a rich man, and Brother Sharp popular for his shabby yet stylish attire, shoushou chaoren is a comic image representing a group known as shouzi, or the skinnies, the opposite of pangzi, or the fatties.

The virtual prototype of the group has Lu's own profile: He's an English major who graduated from a Shanghai university and got the nickname "Skinny Superman" when he acted in a school play and was ridiculed for being small and weak in comparison to a "monster" cast.

Lu has even created a comic strips depicting how Skinny Superman is humiliated by his peers and threatened when he objects to a big guy trying to jump a queue.

The whole promotion has generated some sympathy for skinny guys, while many people think it's just another chaozuo, or media hype for commercial purposes.

Zhou Menghao, a 24-year-old "Skinny Superman," says Chinese people are more tolerant than Westerners of the skinny look, since the body type is different; Asian men tend to be slender than Westerners. Zhou owns an advertising company, proving that shouzi can be successful.

"Girls in south China care more about men's height rather than their weight, while women in north China prefer muscular guys," he says.

"I'd be embarrassed if I were in the United States where obesity is common. But in China, I have no regrets about being thin. Most important, I can dress stylishly and look good."

Standing 174 centimeters and weighing 57.5 kilograms, Zhou has been considered as shouzi since childhood.

"I'm not tall and being thin makes me look even shorter," Zhou says. "As long as I can remember, my parents and relatives were telling me to eat more and get stronger. I'm grateful I'm not a manual laborer but a designer."

For a girlfriend, he says he wants "a lovable little woman no taller than 165 centimeters."

Fame at fingertips

Nowadays everyone, it seems, wants to get famous somehow and parlay Internet renown into successful business. They use performance art, cosplay, and various promotions, all uploaded to hundreds of millions of viewers who want to be amused.

"Anyone with a webcam, iPhone, video recorder or any recording device, and access to a computer, can give rise to an Internet sensation. While there is audience, there is market," says Liu Hong, a netizen in her 30s.

"Today news and gossip are at our fingertips. It seems everyone can get famous if they are courageous enough to expose themselves, especially their extraordinary defects."

In addition to the sympathetic Skinny Supermen caricature, there's an enormous and obnoxious short and fat girl whose cartoon adventures are posted online - she became a hit over the National Day holiday of last month.

Xiao Yueyue, claiming to be 150 centimeters tall and weighing 80 kilograms, is the leading character in a series of Internet posts by "Rong Rong."

She's obese, big-mouthed and offensive. Together with her "boyfriend" Little W, she spent two days and a night in Shanghai, hosted by her high school classmate Rong Rong. The trip was filled with misadventures and misery caused by Xiao Yueyue.

Netizens were quick to carry out a "human flesh search" (ruthless online search for personal details) to determine if there's a real-life fat girl.

They came up with a few candidates, however, the best information is that Xiao Yueyue was just a publicity stunt - the real person behind it is Xu Jiayi, a fit and attractive senior studying drama at Shanghai Normal University.

She is also a writer and has published an online novel. Pictures show her as a volunteer at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

This stunt unraveled too soon. The idea was to carry on with the stories of the grotesque fat girl, and then reveal that the "real" person Xu is polite, talented and kind-hearted.

Internet observers say the biggest winner in the fat girl saga was Tianya, the popular online community forum where Xiao Yueyue made her debut.

Tianya has had business plans to become a listed company and the Xiao Yueyue affair has generated a lot of clicks.

In light of all this hoopla, media outlets have been warning Internet users not to be taken in by professional Internet publicity agents seeking to manipulate public attention to make money.

Xi Fan (Internet Name) is an expert in the publicity stunt industry. He says Internet celebrities are not all exaggerating their defects to grab attention and cites the case of "Jiuzhaigou Little Loli," a 5 1/2-year-old girl who created Internet buzz because she was very cute.

"Curious netizens are probably the real behind-the-scenes promoters of publicity stunt in today's information-dominated society," says Xi. "They prefer simple and pure characters that amuse them."

Stir-fried celebrities

Over the years many Internet celebrities have come and gone. Some are like shooting stars. Some have staying power. Here are a few who still get clicks.

Sexy Sister Lotus

Born in 1977, Sister Lotus is not attractive or exceptional, but she got famous fast by posting provocative pictures of herself in sexy poses. She was among the first to shamelessly promote herself online. Since 2004, she has started to upload photos to the campus online forums of Tsinghua and Peking universities. She introduced herself as a talented singer, dancer, actress and writer. Brimming with overconfidence, she became a hit and an Internet legend.

Sister Feng aims high

Luo Yufeng, also known as SisterFeng, is a supermarket cashier famous for sending out thousands of leaflets seeking marriage partners in Shanghai's Lujiazui financial area. Her standards are high, "the more handsome, the better ... rich ... economics major from either Tsinghua or Peking university ... great job ...173-180cm in height."

She says she has been reading since she was 9 years old, reaching a peak at 20 years of age and boasting of "an IQ that no one could exceed in 300 years."

She became famous overnight, but she's still single. Undaunted, standing at 148cm, she continues to show up in crowded places and frequently turned up at the World Expo in Shanghai. She's a topic of conversation.

Brother Sharp dresser

Brother Sharp, a stunningly handsome former homeless man, is one of the few "real" cases not created by an agency and he has been widely reported in China and even overseas.

He used to be a homeless man, wandering day and night in the streets of Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.

He was so cool, wearing stylish discarded clothes and smoking discarded cigarette butts. A passerby took photos of him and posted them online.

Due to his good looks and "sharp" dress sense, Internet users tracked him and his fans nicknamed him Brother Sharp, also known as Xi Li Ge. He was compared with a Japanese movie star.

Clearly, he had emotional "issues," but he became a celebrity and fashion icon. Eventually, through all the publicity, he was identified by his brother and reunited with his rural family. Now he has cleaned up, shaved and dressed in ordinary clothes like a farmer - Brother Sharp has lost his edge and appeal.


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