Colloquium with Christina Firpo (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM (Pacific Time)
6275 Bunche Hall
UCLA Campus

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This talk investigates the eye-catching evolution of the ideal women’s physique in interwar Vietnam. In 1920, the “willow branch” figure—weak, thin, and small breasted—predominated media, literature, and other forms of popular culture. Slouching was considered attractive, exercise was shunned, and body parts were not to be revealed. By the early 1930s, Vietnamese urban culture and media became enamored of a very different physique: curvy, athletic, with an ample bust and bottom. Trendy clothing revealed women's curves, thighs, arms, or décolletage. Urban women rushed to department stores to purchase uplifting Western bras or rubber "falsies" to fill their dresses. At home, women diligently followed exercise routines intended to tone or round out specific parts of the body. These dramatic changes arose out of the activities and agendas of a wide range of actors. The colonial government launched a hygiene campaign to teach about germ theory and bodily hygiene, and Vietnamese intellectuals—many of them proponents of eugenics—endorsed these kinds of measures as a means of improving the Vietnamese race. A new generation of feminists called upon young women and girls to engage in more athletic activities than they had heretofore, such as bicycle races, tennis matches, and long-distance “walking trips.” The urban middle-class lifestyle drew young women into leisure activities that revealed more skin and allowed men and women to touch one another. Meanwhile, self-interested fashion designers encouraged women to cultivate the shapely, athletic figures best suited to the latest style of clothing.  

Christina Firpo is professor of Southeast Asian History at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. She is a proud Bruin (PhD, History) and the author of The Uprooted: Race, Childhood, and Imperialism in Vietnam, 1890-1980 (University of Hawaii Press, 2016) and Black Market Business: Selling Sex in Northern Vietnam, 1920-1945 (Cornell University Press, 2020). She is currently finishing her third book, Beauty and the Nation: Race, Capitalism, and Modernity in Vietnam, 1920-1945 (Columbia University Press, forthcoming).

NOTE ON IN-PERSON EVENTS: Attendees must comply with all applicable UCLA COVID-19 protocols. These include, but are not limited to, wearing a face mask during the event and completing the daily UCLA COVID-19 Symptom Monitoring Survey (a screenshot will count as proof). You can access and fill out the clearance survey at this site. Please complete the UCLA COVID-19 Symptom Monitoring Survey before arriving at UCLA. We will check the clearance status of every attendee at the door before allowing entry into the event venue.


Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Department of History