xi's moments

Need to reassess plastic surgery obsession

By Faisal Kidwai | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-12-07 13:58

Doctors perform plastic surgery at the Huamei Medical Cosmetology Hospital in Shanghai. [Provided to China Daily]

A woman from Henan province first went under a plastic surgeon's knife at the age of 17 and in less than five years she had 12 more surgeries. A 9-year-old girl underwent an operation for double eyelids as her mother wanted her to have bigger eyes before they moved abroad. A business woman in her 30s spent more than $120,000 on 20 procedures to look like an actress.

These are not isolated or extreme cases. The plastic surgery market in China, already the world's third largest, is growing at 25 percent per year and is projected to be worth 300 billion yuan ($44 billion) in the next two years. And this demand, unlike in the West, is not driven by those over the age of 45, but by those under 35.

The government, instead of an outright ban on the procedures, has correctly chosen to ensure the safest services for patients by clamping down on illegal clinics and counterfeit products. However, problems remain. According to a medical body, more than half of Botox injections in the country are either fake or smuggled in illegally.

While medical risks are obviously an issue, the bigger problem is this need to look "perfect". Doctors in China have been performing plastic surgery since the 1930s. Until the '30s, Chinese women were depicted, such as in calendars, with Chinese characteristics. But then Western beauty concepts began seeping into society, especially in Shanghai, and double-fold eyelids and buxom figures became aspirations. This desire to have a voluptuous body was the complete opposite of what was considered beautiful in the country. As late as the Qing Dynasty period (1644-1911) and the early days of the Republic of China, traditional Chinese women used to wrap their breasts tightly to make them smaller. The arrival of Western movies, fashion and cosmetics changed all that.

The initial plastic surgery operations were crude compared to procedures available now and they were limited to a small section of society. Now the demand cuts across age, class and region. And it's not just women who want a "perfect" nose or eyes, but men too. But is nip and tuck the right cut?

It goes without saying people have the right to do whatever they want with their body. But at the same time, it's not wrong to pause for a minute and ask whether what they are doing is worth it.

As per reports, half of all people who undergo plastic surgery in the nation are college students, with some of them taking out loans for operations, as they think getting the "right" nose or eyes will help them in the job market. I don't know about today's kids, but when I was in college, looking the "right" way meant dressing up to get the girl, not some eight-to-five job.

This shows how the priorities of some of today's youngsters have gone off the rails. Instead of focusing on their studies and enjoying their college life, they are thinking about surgeries and silicone implants. There is an urgent need for both colleges and parents to come together and make students aware of all the potential risks. The focus should be on enhancing the skills and self-confidence of students and dissuading them from operations and bank loans.

But it's not just students who need to be made aware — it's also society at large. Do we want to live in a world where everybody has same nose, eyes and chest? If you think this is some science fiction, then have a look at adult movie stars and notice how they all have similar physical attributes. Differences are what make us stand out and attract us to each other. Anyway, having my own face, however flawed, is much better than a plastic one. At least I can smile.

The author is a journalist with more than 18 years experience in media.

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