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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