Cosmetic surgery is now the fourth most popular discretionary spending expense in China, the New York Times reports. As Ma Xiaowei, China’s vice health minister, says only houses, cars and travel are ranked higher. While face-lifts and wrinkle treatments are “in vogue,” what’s most popular is epicanthoplasty, eye surgery that removes the epicanthic fold in the eye and appears to make the eye larger by adding an extra crease or “double eyelid.”
I first heard about such surgery from a Korean American friend in the early 1990s. She called the result “Thumper eyes,” after the big-eyed bunny pal of Bambi’s in the Disney movie. I’m Chinese American and my friend and I, and other Asian Americans, have seen such surgery as a sign that Asian women are trying, at whatever cost, to conform to Western ideals of beauty.
The second most popular type of cosmetic surgery among women in China is, says Zhao Zhenmin, secretary general of the government-run Chinese Association of Plastics and Aesthetics in the New York Times, surgery that “raises the bridge of the nose to make it more prominent — the opposite of the typical nose job in the West.” The third most popular type reshapes the jaw to make it narrower and longer.
Such surgeries suggest that Chinese women are seeking to make themselves look “less Chinese or Asian,” by reshaping their eyes, noses and jaws. The New York Times says that the women who have been drawn to undertake such permanent restructuring of their faces are predominantly young, with many in their 20s and some even teenagers. They hope to enhance their job prospects and, as one young woman who asked to be identified as “Devil” said, to look “‘more sophisticated and exquisite.’”
Costs for the procedures start at $1,500 and $3,000, though one clinic says that it can perform epicanthic surgery in 20 minutes for about $180. One 23-year-old back employee from the northeastern city of Harbin paid $15,000 to reshape her jawline and cheekbones. Further, the plastic surgery industry in China is large unregulated. Inspections of 11 clinics and hospitals that practice plastic surgery found that only half met national standards, with employees lacking credentials, standards and equipment being “subpar,” and beauty salons “flagrant violators, illegally administering Botox injections and performing eyelid surgery.”
If the young women such as “Devil” are any indication, most Chinese seem to see the eye, nose and jaw surgery as practically on a par with changing the color of their hair. With the funds to pay for it, and so many practitioners (credentialed or not), it’s no surprise that so many are having the procedures performed. But is plastic surgery the new version of bound feet for Chinese women?
Photo by otisarchives3