terrifying viral hashtag challenges women to be thinner than a sheet of paper

The #A4Challenge —a social media trend gaining traction in China— celebrates literal paper thinness.

by Emily Manning
17 March 2016, 4:05pm

Image via @azu_kirara

On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, there's a dangerous new trending topic: the #A4Challenge. Here's how it works: take a piece of 8 ½ by 11 inch printer paper, position it in front of your body, and take a mirror selfie. If it completely blocks your waist congratulations! You've found a horrifying new way to valorize toxically narrow definitions of beauty. The Cut summed it up pretty spot-on: "It's like the Ice Bucket Challenge, but for propagating impossible body standards."

Of course, there are people for whom this weight and waist size are perfectly natural and healthy. But like the thigh gap selfies that came before them, the barrage of images collected under the #A4Challenge banner -- which, according to Mashable, began emerging in February -- create a highly visible movement of stark comparison. A "challenge" of any kind implies winners and losers, and in no uncertain terms, #A4 positions those who are able to literally hide behind pieces of paper as victors of the beauty game.

Image via @elzawan

Challenges of this nature seem to be something of a regular occurrence on Chinese social media, from where they, sadly inevitably, migrate westward. Last summer, reports of the #BellyButtonChallenge -- in which women around the world contorted their arms to try and touch their belly buttons from behind their stomachs -- was followed by the truly bizarre #CollarboneChallenge. That one encouraged women to measure the prominence of their collarbones by sticking quarters in them. Yup, we're living in a world where change in your clavicle has become an enviable display of beauty.

Mashable also reports that there has been backlash to the #A4Challenge. One Weibo user mocked it by posting a selfie with his face covered by paper; another plopped a piece on their cat's #bikinibody.

Image via @liiisteppphanie

Recently, the world has taken some seriously seriously positive steps in order to explode the tired notion that thin is a win. Body positivity has come alive on social media through hashtags like plus-size model Tess Munster's celebratory #effyourbeautystandards. This populism has been matched by institutional paradigm shifts in the fashion industry and wider culture -- from Barbie's new diverse array of body types to women of all shapes and sizes appearing on runways and in campaigns. The movement is even getting more gender equal: just yesterday, major modeling agency IMG launched its first plus-size men's division. Let's not allow a piece of A4 paper to eclipse that. 


Text Emily Manning

Social Media
Body Positive