Photographer Peng Yangjun’s photographs of beach goers visiting the seaside of Qingdao, China appear like any other family snapshot of a cheerful retiree posing beside the placid water, with one obvious anomaly: all the women sport colorful ski masks.
Known as the facekini, these garments are popular amongst middle-aged female swimmers, who prefer to protect their faces from UV rays, as tanned skin in much of China is associated with manual labor and is considered unattractive. In the past five years, the facekini has become a regular sight on the beaches of Qingdao, as they also guard against jellyfish stings and mosquitoes. For many of these women, long-sleeved body suits are also popular.
No longer used merely for practicality’s sake, the facekini has become an avenue for older women to express themselves through fashion. Many feel self-conscious about exposing their bodies, and the anonymity afforded by the colorful mask, which extends to their collarbones, makes them feel more comfortable. Most of the women photographed by Peng have handmade their facial coverings from old underwear, bathing suits, or clothing to suit their personal style. While retailers have capitalized on the craze, selling facekinis on the shores of the city beaches, a good portion of the garments are one-of-a-kind, unique to the woman who wears them. In the context of these conventional beach portraits, the facekinis appear irresistibly strange, standing at the intersection of self-expression and an enigmatic sense of personal anxiety. Peng is part of photographic duo Peng & Chen.