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Plastic Surgery in China

中国的整容手术

Medical mistake

One site specializing in information about plastic surgery addressed the people preparing for job interviews. It gave few tips regarding the writing of resume, then moved to importance of first impression and concluded it with the following passage:

If you’re not completely confident in your appearance, and your figure isn’t what it used to be, plastic surgery or cosmetic enhancement might give you the fresh, youthful edge you need to seal the deal.

As surrealistic as it could sound at first, this message (of going under surgeon’s knife for better employment prospects) resonates well with Chinese audience. In Western countries the number of patients for plastic cosmetic surgery reduced during the economic recession, but in China the trend was quite opposite. And as surveys showed, about 50% of the plastic surgery cases were job-related.

Well, if you don’t have the so needed “guanxi” (i.e. – knowing people who can help), then you have to use any opportunity and any little advantage that can give you an edge in competition with other job-seekers. Especially if the employers are not hiding their  preferences for “appropriate appearance”. And while any discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or religion is illegal in China, laws don’t mention anything about discrimination by appearance relying on the common sense of headhunting companies. But reading the ads it seems that some of the companies simply lack it:

Shanghai Jibei Electronics Co. has a height requirement for its assistant manager position, and it also wants someone who likes to smoke and drink wine – apparently so the new hire will be able to get along better at business gatherings.

Even for government jobs, applicants are graded for appearance. In one extreme example, Hunan province in central China required that its civil servants have “symmetrical breasts.”

So what are the most popular procedures that Chinese girls choose to look prettier? First place belongs to blepharoplasty – operation on eyelids. Actually, it is also the most common plastic surgery in U.S. – but there it is usually performed to remove sacs under eyes, while in China it is done to create a crease in upper eyelids to make the eyes look bigger and more Caucasian… Yes, Western looks (white skin, big eyes) are very desirable in China. Just take a look at the homepage of Shanghai Hospital for Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery – the models don’t really look Asian, do they?

If girl opts for a full makeover, it will include slimed jaw, double-lid eyes, sculpted nose and enlarged/lifted breast. The first procedure can be considered as specific for China where thin face is in fashion. It requires few treatments during which surgeon literally shaves the lower jawbone. Some other procedures – while aiming for the same outcome – are done differently for Asian women than for Western women. For example, in order to reshape the calves Westerners will usually use liposuction. But in most cases it won’t work for Asian girls whose bulks consist mainly of muscular tissue and not fat. Thus, different approach is needed – like the one used by Korean surgeon Dr. Suh In Seock who cuts a nerve below the knee which leads to reduction of muscle’s volume.
Another regional difference worth to mention is the lesser demand for surgical face lift procedure among Asians.

If you doubt that surgical procedures would help to get a better job – let’s refer to report of Helsinki University indicating that overweight women earn up to 30 percent less than their slender colleagues. And another finding was a “height premium” for men, with a “1.8 percent increase in wages for every additional inch of height over the national median”.

One of possible explanations is the well-known phenomenon in social psychology called “what is beautiful is good stereotype”. Attractiveness is a desirable feature immediately noticeable during initial contact with a person. As such it creates the first impression and lays the “working foundation” for further interpretations of personal traits in positive light. The classical experiment (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972) concludes that “not only are physically attractive persons assumed to possess more socially desirable personalities than those of lesser attractiveness, but it is presumed that their lives will be happier and more successful”.

Besides career and dating there are other areas in which attractive appearance gives its owner a big advantage. Multiple researches showed that they get higher grades from teachers, thought to be more persuasive and have higher chances to be helped in emergencies. Even criminals who are handsome get lighter sentences. For illustration from the past read this Wikipedia article about the trial of the ancient Greek courtesan Phryne.

Foot Binding

"Beautiful" little feet

The power of beauty was known not only to ancient Greeks. Everybody heard about the cruel tradition of foot binding for Chinese women. It incorporated various mechanical procedures deforming girls’ bones – all to achieve the “beautiful little feet” (preferably no longer than 10 centimeters from toe to heel).

Yes, indeed beauty requires sacrifice. But would you believe that nowadays some Chinese girls who want to be taller agree to both of their legs be broken in order to insert special bone-lengthening devices. Actually, I am talking about a conventional medical procedure known as Ilizarov technique which is used to treat complex fractures. And it wasn’t until 2006 that China banned these operations for cosmetic reasons restricting them for the cases with medical grounds only.


If you are interested in the topic of plastic surgery and beauty, you might like the following posts:

- Perfectly Beautiful Chinese Face (attempt of Korean plastic surgeon to create a standard of Chinese beautiful face)

-Ten Beautiful Chinese Minority Girls (pictures of famous beauties belonging to Chinese ethnic minorities)


I will conclude this post with the popular ad of Dove called “Evolution”.

Lucky to be employed, Crystal Tao

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38 comments to Plastic Surgery in China
  • ~a

    Western looks (white skin, big eyes) are very desirable

    I’ve always Chinese girls saying they want white skin because western girls have white skin was weird. Yes caucasians have whitER skin but most caucasians don’t have the pale white skin that Chinese girls want. Caucasian girls tan regularly (atleast the US girls, never been to Canada, Europe) and many go way to far and end up with a pumpkins or yam like color

    • TLB

      Yeah, I wish Chinese girls knew how hard American girls work to darken their skin and that many American girls would love to trade skin color with the average Chinese girl. American men love Chinese skin color too! Enough of this whitening nonsense… :cry:

    • Teacher in China

      I can vouch for Canada (my city at least). Most girls and guys here prefer the tanned look, as it looks more sporty and less like you spend all your time inside hunched over a computer. In the winter, I think it came from the fact that, in older times, people who were rich were able to get away for the winter to warmer climates and the dark skin was a way for them to show off. Personally speaking, I’ve always felt that the fake tans looked too orange and nasty. Natural all the way, whether it’s dark or not, is the way to go.

  • Cheung Wai Lan

    Specifically in response to “what is beautiful is good stereotype”
    I’ve seen several articles which suggest that there is a big difference between the definition of ‘beauty’ in China from the West. I recall reading an article which suggested that actress Zhang Ziyi was considered ‘average’ by the Chinese public even though she was considered of the top 100 beautiful women in the world by an American magazine.
    A quick Google search brought up this feature which seems to suggest the same.

    In 2001, Zhang was voted one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, but many Chinese would disagree.
    Peng Bo, president of Shanghai Time Cosmetic Surgery Hospital, refused to give a direct answer to the question whether Zhang was beautiful, “I would only say her face is up to the standard of beauty. Zhang’s job requires that she has to be assertive,” said Peng.
    On the other hand, Tomio Geron, a 30-year-old American, said Zhang Ziyi was the most beautiful Chinese woman.
    “Zhang is tough, elegant, tall and thin,” said Geron. But he also agreed that Zhang might be more similar to the American ideal of beauty.”
    Source: http://www.newsgd.com/culture/culturenews/200509150065.htm

    • Teacher in China

      You know what’s interesting and telling in that quote you used? “Zhang’s job requires that she has to be assertive”. I’ve heard from lotf of Chinese people that they don’t like her attitude, although I’ve never seen specific examples given. Besides, for it to affect her beauty, she’d have to be a Level 1 bitch.

      • Cheung Wai Lan

        …refused to give a direct answer to the question whether Zhang was beautiful, “Zhang’s job requires that she has to be assertive”

        Well I interpreted that line as a way to avoid saying that she was ‘unattractive’.

        I’m still wondering beauty is really dependent on culture. Does anyone really find the ‘Chinese supermodel’ attractive? (The girl on the right of this link)

        • Teacher in China

          In that pic, Zhang Ziyi is easily the hottest. I’ve seen some Chinese models that are super hot though, and if they’re being hired to work in China, then someone in China must also think they’re pretty hot. Check out “Moko Top Girls”, or even “Beauty Leg” for some super sexy models, no matter what part of the earth you come from.

    • ~a

      okay…

      Chinese think westerners are more attractive
      This guy thinks Ziyi “might be more similar to the American ideal of beauty”
      Wouldn’t this make Ziyi more attractive then?

      I think the real problem is people think shes sleeping her way to the top and is currently dating a foreign billionaire

  • korean_guy

    sounds like Korea back in 90′s.

  • A “white” Chinese girl looks unnatural and somewhat sickly and isn’t as pretty as if she had her natural skin tone.

  • korean_guy

    It’s evident China will soon be the country that most go under the knife, not only in the pacific rim but probably in the world. And as much as Koreans are obsessed with image I suspect China will out do Koreans in that area. It will be a relief when we Koreans won’t be accused by the Chinese of being plastic anymore.

    • Japan and Singapore would make strong contenders in the plastic beauty competition ;-)

      • korean_guy

        Japan’s obsession with plastic surgery is old news (I don’t know anything about Singapore so I won’t comment on them). This image obsession manifesting in China is nothing new. It happened in Japan, is happening in Korea now and it’s starting in China.

        This image obsession seems to follow affluence: once poverty on a greater scale is eradicated and basic needs met it seems people start paying attention to matters of vanity, and China is no exception. It also happened in the US but in a different way. There is a sense of extreme in Asian culture, and this can be seen in Japanese, Korean and Chinese culture.

        Ironically they, China – HK, Mainland & Taiwan, were the most vocal accusing Korea of being extremely plastic all the while coming in droves to Korea to get surgery done on them.

        Well, it’s still not to late for China, she can look at what this obsession has done to Japan and Korea’s society and decide for themselves if that’s what they want as well.

  • Seriously a friend went to China to get her nose done, the price discrepancy is surprising.

  • Felix292

    White skin being desirable in China is much the same it being popular in the middle east. It is about looking western as much as tanned skin is what poorer labourers would get after toiling in the fields all day. While the wealthier woman would be indoors, and have the pale skin. It is more from the socio economic traditions of when the majority of people were rural farm workers.

  • Polarcircle

    In my opinion Chinese girls wanting white skin is not only about looking western. I don’t want to totally reject the idea that Chinese girls want to look western, and I acknowlege the socio ecomonic traditions Felix mentioned as it is closely related to what I think it’s about.

    Since the beginning of times man has looked for ways to distinguish him/herself from his fellow mates. By clothes, by hair color, jewelry and so on. Westerners want a skin color they don’t have just like the Chinese want to be white. In the north, some of us find black hair very exotic just because is pretty rare in here. In southern countries people think blonde hair is beautiful, but that’s just because no one has blonde hair. Why do people buy ultra expensive designer clothes? Not because they look so much better than “ordinary clothes”, it’s because no one else will be wearing the same dress as you! People are just trying to find ways to stand out, changing your skin color is not a bad option since whatever you wear, your skin is going to make you different from the rest.

    By the way, while i like the white skin color on a caucasian, I think 95% of the time i’ve seen an asian with somewhat similar color it just doesn’t look good at all. Does the majority of chinese really view white skin on an asian as beautiful or is it just because it’s different? And are white asian guys also regarded as good looking?

  • korean_guy

    About having light skin, i agree it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the desire to look Caucasian. It stems from being seen as lower social class. Even among Africans & Indians they discriminate the darker skinned within their groups. In modern times, we unfortunately associate dark skin with lower or working class. Koreans when encountering small percentage of “darker” Koreans will joke that they are southeast Asian.

  • Ziccawei

    I know a girl in Shanghai and I swear she has had fake boobies attached to herself. When I meet her now I can’t help but notice how big and round they are, whereas before she had this tiny little things. Her new ones are kind of fat. They look great although I haven’t ever approached the subject with her (I don’t know her that well).
    I think plastic surgery will be huge in China. China is such an ageist society that everyone will want to have facelifts, liposuction and everything else.
    What would be a great piece of surgery would be something that removes that annoying baby-voice that Shanghainese girls like to use all the time.

    • Teacher in China

      “Best” part of that article:
      “One man divorced his wife and received a $120,000 settlement for “lost opportunities” after his wife gave birth to an “amazingly ugly” baby and it was revealed the wife had hidden her own ugliness with cosmetic surgery.”

  • James

    Trying to look more western is false imo and signals a western mindset. If you asked a girl why they were going to have these operations they would mostly say I want to be prettier rather than I want to look more western. It’s the same as if an Asian person was to look at western culture and say western people want to look more like black people because they want tanned skinned, clearly this is wrong. Just because someone wants features normally associated with another race doesn’t mean they want to be that race.

  • Ziccawei

    But I think the mindset of the average Chinese person is that a western face is an ideal of beauty. If you ask a Chinese person for an example of a beautiful woman many of them will say ‘Angelina Jolie’ not a Chinese female movie star.

    It’s the ‘foreign adulation’ that makes Chinese people have this kind of surgery. I mean, many western people think that ‘Chinese eyes’ are attractive but how many have plastic surgery to look like that?

    • James

      It’s not foreign adulation, it’s the pursuit of being prettier. The whitest people i know are Asian and it has been a sign of beauty long being either of us were on this earth it has nothing to do with being western. The eye surgery is about having bigger eyes. Bigger eyes is again considered an attractive trait in Chinese females long before we were born.

      I don’t know what kind of people you hang around with in China but they are not representative of the Chinese population. Female attractiveness is judged by males not females. Chinese males/media like white skin and big eyes so that’s what you see on TV and in magazines and that is what girls aspire to be like in China.

      To be honest anyone who thinks it’s about looking western has some kind of superiority complex.

      • Ziccawei

        I agree with you about the pursuit of white skin.
        But not everything else in your argument.

      • TLB

        I think both points being made in this discussion are valid: there is certainly good evidence that the Chinese preference for whiter skin predates contact with the West. However, isn’t it also possible that, in this historical moment, this ideal is fulfilled in the Chinese imagination by the lighter-skinned Westerners? Is it possibly more than coincidence that this, along with the preference for different eye and nose shape, matches current Western features?

        And finally, I think I we should all be able to discuss this without insulting those with whom we disagree.

  • CaseyOrourke

    I love my wife just the way she is. When she first got here her skin was very light, but she learned very quickly that inder the intense Texas sun it was not going to stay that way. She also noticed that most of the women here did as much as possible, wearing short shorts, halter tops or wearing the skimpiest bikinis in order to tan as much of their body as they could. So she did the same. Eventually her tan was so dark she was on more than one occasion mistaken as a Native American(Indian). However since she has gotten her job she has less time to work in her tan and it is beginning to fade, but she still is the most beautiful woman in the world to me.

  • Bill

    I was talking to a buddy of mine (we’re both white Americans, he married to an Indian, me Chinese) and I told him that if you lined up 100 random Asian women and 100 random American white women that I would find maybe 70 of the Asians attractive and 10 of the Americans attractive. His numbers were 75 and 5. Call it yellow fever or whatever, but those are the numbers.

    The asian face – generally wider, flatter, low bridge, non-white eyes – IS attractive to me. And I did notice the longer, narrower faces in the television commercials when I was in China recently – and they are not the faces that turn my head.

    Some 30 years ago I worked with a lady recently immigrated from Taiwan. She was very pretty. I remember we were talking and she was kind of touching the bridge of her nose. I asked her why she was doing that and she responded that she felt self-conscious about her almost non-existent bridge. I don’t remember what I did or said, but I’m sure she got the idea that I thought she was nuts. But I doubt that changed her self-image.

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