Wearing cheongsam motivates women to maintain flat stomachs? Forum letter stirs debate online

Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung wearing a cheongsam in the movie In The Mood For Love.
PHOTO: Handout

While the cheongsam may not be a mainstay in the modern woman's wardrobe, the body-hugging gown still enjoys some popularity whenever Chinese New Year rolls around.

It has also emerged as a recent hot topic online after a Straits Times Forum letter published on Jan 12 proposed an unconventional use for the dress — as motivation for women to maintain a flat stomach.

Titled "Can the cheongsam also motivate one to keep healthy?", the letter, penned by Liu I-Chun, waxed lyrical on the allure of the traditional cheongsam, citing Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung, writer Catherine Lim and businesswoman Chew Gek Khim as style inspiration.

In fact, Liu was so enamoured with the cheongsam that she bought three pieces on a trip to Shanghai 18 years ago, she shared.

"I have tried to maintain my weight over the years through healthy eating and regular exercise so that I can continue to wear them.

"I wonder if having more women wear the cheongsam regularly might help them to curb any weight gain."

Confused about the link between wearing a cheongsam and curbing weight gain?

Well, according to Liu, it's because flat stomachs are "aesthetically appealing" when wearing the tight-fitting dress.

It's not just purely for the sake of vanity though. She added that maintaining a flat stomach could improve health — a flatter stomach ostensibly indicates lower central obesity and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, as well as certain cancers.

Reposted on several social media sites, Liu's take quickly drew flak, as some netizens felt that it verged on fat-shaming.

The cheongsam's efficacy as a weight-loss method was also called into question when netizens pointed out that cheongsams come in a variety of sizes and aren't just for the slim.

PHOTO: Screengrab/ Internet

The letter also drew the notice of gender equality advocacy group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

Calling the letter's message "rather ludicrous", Aware wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Jan 13):

"Conditioning women and girls to spend time, energy and money on 'maintaining' a perceived ideal weight is an insidious way to thwart their efforts towards independence and self-actualisation (and a way to foster eating disorders, which are worryingly common in Singapore and can be life-threatening).

"So it's disappointing to see regressive ideas like the ones in this letter — pushing women (not men! Just women) to curb weight gain for primarily aesthetic reasons — being disseminated by The Straits Times."

However, some felt that Liu made some valid points and opined that losing weight to improve one's health should not be frowned upon.

PHOTO: Screengrab/ Facebook

kimberlylim@asiaone.com