Based on 20 semi-structured interviews, this qualitative study explores young Chinese women’s understandings of female beauty. It reveals that participants’ understandings of female beauty are not limited to outer beauty (waizaimei, 外在美), but rather foreground the importance of ‘inner beauty’ (neizaimei, 内在美). The data found that these concepts have a symbiotic relationship whereby each affects the other. According to the findings, the concepts of inner and outer beauty are not oppositional but are both important for participants to gain ‘empowerment’. Yet participants placed a higher value on inner beauty which was seen as enabling them to resist the pressures of outer beauty standards. The article argues, however, that discourses of inner beauty are not value free and are influenced by a variety of dominant discourses such as state interest and the beauty industry. In this regard, inner beauty needs interrogation and cannot simply be perceived as a tool for women’s empowerment. The discussion sheds light on the young Chinese women’s understanding of beauty in relation to gender and feminism in a Chinese context. The article provides a culturally grounded approach to beauty in China and adds to feminist understandings about beauty.