Betel nut beauty
The term betel nut beauty (also betel nut girl – Chinese: 檳榔西施; pinyin: bīnláng xīshī; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: pin-nn̂g se-si) refers to a common sight along roadsides in Taiwan: a young woman selling betel nuts and cigarettes from a brightly lit glass enclosure while wearing revealing clothing. The Mandarin term names the women after Xi Shi, the legendary beauty of imperial China's Spring and Autumn Period. Though betel nuts are chewed in many regions of the Asia-Pacific, the betel nut beauty phenomenon is distinctly Taiwanese.
The original betel nut beauties were the "Shuangdong Girls" who, in the 1960s, brought glamour to the opening of the Shuangdong Betel Nut Stand in Guoxing Township (國姓鄉), Nantou County. The success of the marketing strategy led competitors to follow suit, and by the end of the century betel nut beauties and their neon-topped kiosks were a trademark feature of Taiwan's cities and countryside.[original research?] The kiosks appear in urban, suburban and rural settings alike.
As icons of Taiwanese culture, betel nut beauties appear frequently in art and film. Betelnut Beauty is the English title of the 2001 film Ai ni ai wo (愛你愛我, literally "Love you, love me"), and betel nut beauties figure prominently in the 2007 art film Bangbang wo aishen (English title: Help Me, Eros).
Controversy surrounding betel nut beauties generally centers on two questions:
- the propriety of their revealing dress in public places and
- whether their dress marks them as victims of exploitation.
Betel nut beauties often hail from agricultural and working-class sectors of Taiwanese society. This has led some critics to regard their revealing dress as a sign of exploitation. Other observers, such as Josephene Ho, coordinator of the Center for the Study of Sexuality at National Central University, see betel nut beauties as self-empowering: young women with few resources who better their economic situation by employing a marketing technique that requires confidence.
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