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Summer of the Balaclava-Wearing Women

Summer of the Balaclava-Wearing Women
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You’d think summer would be the last time anyone would be thinking about balaclavas — but not this summer.

China: Balaclava as Beachwear

To make sure they do not acquire a tan associated with peasants, some middle-class Chinese women have been sporting balaclavas at the beach. A New York Times article describes what must be a surreal sight, women with pink, white and variously colored ski masks made of swimsuit material in the surf in Qingdao, in China’s eastern Shandong province.

58-year-old Yao Wenhua, a retired bus driver, simply says that she is “scared of getting dark.” She and other beach-going females in balaclavas clearly attest to a traditional Chinese saying, “Fair skin conceals a thousand flaws.”

While a gynecologist, Sun Li, describes the face masks as “over the top,” she seems equally wary of the sun as she wears “a sun hat, sunglasses, a polka-dot surgical mask, a long-sleeve shirt and lace gloves” while on the beach, sits under an umbrella and has a shirt covering her legs. Other women sit under camping tents (though these are illegal on the beach) and wear wet suits.

While all this may seem very odd to Westerners who worship the sun (at the expense of sunburns and skin cancer, admittedly), I wasn’t surprised to read about the beach balaclavas or that women in cities wield parasols, cover their faces with tinted visors or scarves and sheath their arms and hands in sleeves and gloves. Years ago, I spent a summer in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, and saw women wearing the sleeves, gloves, half-face-masks (the kind surgeons wear) and more outside. As a third-generation Chinese American raised in northern California, I stood out wearing tank tops and shorts and not minding getting a deep tan.

Russia: Pussy Riot, Balaclavas and a Powerful Idea

Balaclavas on beach-going Chinese women can be seen as symbols of women’s oppression. In a very different context and in a different (though equally authoritarian) country, balaclava-wearing women represent something quite the opposite, a potent example of women in protest against oppression. I’ve been fascinated by the fearlessness of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, three of whose members are now on trial for performing in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on February 21 after an anti-Putin protest.

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Photo by Igor Mukhin via Wikimedia Commons

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63 comments

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11:26AM PDT on Aug 10, 2012

Perhaps the Muslim women were once encouraged to avoid skin cancer in a harsh desert environment, and these balaclava wearers are also following common health precautions if their skin genes are cancer prone and the climate harsh.

I adopted the use of an umbrella for a parasol that New Orleanians use under the harsh summer sun. It spared me from heat exhaustion. I tan easily, but fairer complected women probably suffered from the sun's effect on their skin.

6:40PM PDT on Aug 8, 2012

Russian middle-class women are showing enormous courage. Hope you win this 2nd Battle of Balaklava!

6:18AM PDT on Aug 8, 2012

Good comments Walter!!!

6:12AM PDT on Aug 8, 2012

i think that if a woman wants to completely cover up in whatever thats fine, and if a woman doesn't want to that is also fine, as long as the woman isn't being force to do so by an outside force, nor doing so for some kind of beauty that is seen as socially acceptable, that is a cultural brainwashing. Woman should have the choice and not be afraid to wear, or not wear what they want

12:40PM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

Good deal! About time someone brought color and style to suicide bombers' wardrobes!

12:28PM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

Thanks.

1:04AM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

pussy riiiiiooot!!

7:03PM PDT on Aug 6, 2012

Ay , ay , ay, we still have a long road to walk.

4:40PM PDT on Aug 6, 2012

hmmm

4:40PM PDT on Aug 6, 2012

hmmm

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