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In the U.S., A&F has been criticized for the lack of Asian representation among its topless models, but for the opening of its Asian stores, the company has had to include Asian models. Talent scouts scoured Hong Kong for suitable Asian models for the store’s opening here. By the time of the opening in August, they had recruited six Asian models. Among them were 24-year-old Karl Cheung Ka-wai and 22 year-old Eric Ng Ngo-fung.

Standing next to the bigger, taller, broader-chested Caucasian and African-American models, the pair said they felt “inferior”.

“Actually, there’s a huge difference in physiques; in a comparison, we would totally lose out to them,” says Cheung who is 1.8 metres tall, weighs 75 kg and whose chest measures 99 cm. Cheung says there was an obvious difference between the way young women would respond to the western models and to the Asian models.  “They would choose to take their photos with the westerners rather than me,” says Cheung. “I was upset in the beginning, but then I understood it is hard for us Asians to be like the [foreign models].”

Randa Leung Ka-tik, a third-year university student, who has had her photo taken with several models at A&F made her preference very clear. “If you could choose to take photos with either three Asian models or one Caucasian model, you would definitely go for the latter, unconditionally.” Leung says this is because she finds Caucasians more appealing and it is rare enough to see them, let alone have physical contact with them.

Leung is not alone in her thinking, as Cheung’s experiences show. Song Geng, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong who has written about Chinese masculinity, says the preference for white men is rooted in cultural stereotypes and Hong Kong’s colonial history.

He says Hong Kong’s colonial past gave the impression that westerners are more powerful. There was a tendency to look up to everything foreign, including the ideal type of men. Whereas, in the past, the ideal Chinese men were considered synonymous with members of the literati, scholars with wit and artistry, such men would be perceived as feminine by modern standards.