Betel Nut Beauty in Taiwan

The term Betel nut beauty (also betel nut girl - 檳榔西施: bÄ«nláng xÄ«shÄ«) 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 (Openshaw). The Mandarin term names the women after Xi Shi, the legendary beauty of imperial China's Spring & 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 (Huang Wan-tran, Taipei Times, 2007 March). 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. The kiosks appear in urban, suburban and rural settings alike. They are most characteristically encountered along major highways where truck drivers—famously enthusiastic consumers of betel nuts -- can easily find them.As icons of Taiwanese culture, betel nut beauties appear frequently in art and film. Betelnut Beauty is the English title of the 2000 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).


Social Questions:
Controversy surrounding betel nut beauties generally centers on two questions:

  1. the propriety of their revealing dress in public places and
  2. 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 take a more benign view. If most betel nut beauties come from agricultural and working-class backgrounds, so do their customers and employers. Betel nuts are, after all, an agricultural product. These observers are more inclined to see these betel nut vendors as self-empowering: young women with few resources who better their economic situation by employing a marketing technique that requires confidence. The same approach is evident, they say, wherever trade show and fashionmodels do their work. Ordinances that target betel nut beauties exclusively, say these observers, smack of hypocrisy and class discrimination.

The Center for the Study of Sexualities in National Central Uuniversity has been promoting the self-empowerment of betel nut beauties. Citing other occupations that also involve female nudity, for example, show girls, female liquor promoters, nude models for artistic purposes, pole dancers, or even popular Taiwanese singer Jplin Tsai. The underlying question is whether there are differences in degrees of female nudity

(Source: 2010)

TTV interviews with betelnut girls

Betelnut girls (Binlang Xi Shi/檳榔西施) are a unique part of Taiwan culture. They sit in brightly-decorated glass booths wearing skimpy outfits, and sell cigarettes, drinks and betelnut to passing drivers. It’s a controversial trade but not actually illegal. The question of whether the girls are exploited is open to debate – certainly their own perception is mostly that they are doing a job like any other, and the less they choose to wear, the more they sell.


 

 


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