Sheng Nu: Removing the Stigma of an Unmarried Woman

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In China, there is a term used to refer to women over 25 who are not married - Sheng Nu. What is particularly notable about this term which was made popular by the All-China Women's Federation in 2007, is that it literally translates to "leftover woman". It denounces women who choose to wait with marriage, regardless of the reason, including those who choose to marry for love. International Prestige Skincare Brand SK-ll, recently launched #changedestiny – an ongoing global campaign to inspire and empower women to shape their own destiny. 

Marriage Market

Marriage markets are a common sight in many Chinese cities. This is where parents post, compare and match personal ads, listing the height, weight, salary, values and personality of their sons and daughters. It is not uncommon however for many daughters not to know of their parents' actions towards marrying them off. The markets are a symbol of the different views on marriage between two generations which lead to the pressure put on women by their families. This is the subject of the film "Marriage Market" which puts a spotlight on the real-life issue of Chinese women being pressured to get married before they turn 27. In this film, several women labeled as "Sheng Nu" bravely speak out their minds about this controversial topic.

Parents' Expectations VS Personal Choices

In the traditional family setting in China, marrying for love is easier said than done. Many women at this age group experience extreme anxiety due to social and family pressure brought about by the stigma associated with remaining single after a particular number in age is reached. This is especially true for women of the growing middle class, whose focus on education, career and independence makes them more inclined to wait and marry for love instead of necessity.

Single, professional women are often depicted as miserable and lonely. This is often far from the real picture. Women in China are advancing like never before: educating themselves, becoming financially independent and carving out a bigger role in society than being only someone’s wife or mother, by choice. 

The pressure to get married is real. Many of these successful women fail to convince even their own parents and friends that they are happy and fulfilled with their lives sans husband or boyfriend. Some parents go as far as saying that their daughters are not pretty enough. These are women who are capable, smart, talented and independent, and they are more than their marriage status. They continue to advance and achieve in spite of the pressure.

Taking a Stand

These same women are now taking a stand for the right to marry in their own time. They seek to reconstruct the mutual respect between generations while increasing society’s understanding of women’s right to choose their paths in life freely and take control of their destinies. They take pride in their success and independence and refuse to conform to age-old traditions that label them as "left-overs", "rejects",  "unwanted" or "not pretty enough in a man's eyes". 

Sending the Message

It is the very message they wish to send to their respective families. The women who participated in the film say it quite clearly: 

– Even if I’m alone, I will be happy, confident and have a good life, says Hu Ting.

– Being independent is a great lifestyle and it’s the life I want, says Wang Xiao Qi.

– I don’t want to get married just for the sake of marriage. I won’t live happily that way, says Li Yu Xuan.

These are words that challenges the meaning of Sheng Nu. Know the stories of women who overcame challenges and barriers that were preventing them from achieving their dreams and goals. The #changedestiny campaign highlights the success stories of these women who have become a source of inspiration to women around the world

Helping Women Change Their Destiny

Through the #changedestiny campaign, SK-II has taken a positive approach in helping these women face the pressure. The film shows the marriage market in Shanghai’s People’s Park being taken over. A huge and beautiful installation was made with SK-II’s own ”marriage ads” that were in fact not ads but messages from hundreds of independent women, stating that they want to be in control of their own destiny. 

By doing so, a platform was created from where the women could voice their thoughts. On this platform, the women are shown to be happy, independent and confident – the opposite of the desperate image of Sheng Nus often being portrayed. They are telling the world how they see themselves and ask for better understanding.

Watch this video to fully understand what these women are going through:

My Say

In many parts of the world, women are going through the same challenge of proving that they are more than their marital status. The perception that women who remain single or unattached are leftover women should change. It is every human being's choice to get married or not, in her own terms and time, without being labeled negatively.

That said, let us support the #changedestiny campaign and help women take charge of their own destiny.

Behind the Scene

The brave women who participated in this project revealed how the experience helped changed the outlook of their parents. Realizing how their daughters were really feeling, traditional parents stepped back to allow these women to decide for themselves. With this film, these women even got their parents' change of heart on record.

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