SHANGHAI – He Zen’s path to cosmetic surgery was fast and simple.
Her mother saw an ad in a Shanghai newspaper and figured that more Caucasian-looking eyes would make it easier for her unmarried 28-year-old daughter to find a husband. She made an appointment for her daughter the next Saturday morning. When He Zen went to the clinic and saw some examples of the doctor’s work, she agreed to have the $290 operation that afternoon.
Shortly after enduring the two-week recovery period, she got what she’d been after: not an offer of marriage, but the offer of a coveted internship with the Shanghai office of the British banking giant HSBC, which later led to a full-time job.
“A lot of people think it’s not very good politics – a kind of scandal – to have these kinds of small procedures,” said He Zen, a petite, confident woman who’s now an HSBC manager. “I wouldn’t tell anybody. Nobody knows.”
She’s one of thousands of young Chinese women, and an increasing number of men, who are choosing to have eyelid reconstruction, nasal bridge augmentation or breast enlargements in hopes of improving their chances of finding mates, getting better jobs or both.
Young adults in cosmopolitan cities such as Shanghai have grown up surrounded by images of beautiful women with Western features. Rail passengers are surrounded by posters of wide-eyed supermodels, and larger-than-life billboards for the Zara and H&M clothing stores line the streets of Shanghai’s upscale Pudong district. In the Shanghai shop that sells Barbie dolls, workers acknowledge that Caucasian Barbies sell well, but dolls with Asian features “just sit on the shelves.”
It’s no wonder, then, that by the time women in China reach their 20s, many are seriously considering cosmetic surgery, and the explosion of wealth in China has put it within reach of many of them.
Shanghai Generation cosmetic surgery hospital, whose website advertises procedures such as “abdominal liposuction to end your beer belly” and “mandible angle plastic: farewell to square face malformation,” made headlines in February for agreeing to perform cosmetic surgery on a 21-year-old woman who hoped to get back together with her boyfriend by looking more like American actress Jessica Alba.
Dr. Yang Yunxia, the director of New Generation’s cosmetic surgery unit and a cosmetic surgeon for 20 years, said that she and her team performed about 40,000 procedures a year, often for women who complained about “disfigurations” such as the inability to open their eyes wide or the lack of a nasal bridge.
“Big eyes and a straight bridge are signs of beauty,” Yang said. “Ladies don’t like their face to be big and fat, so they want to change their face into a more beautiful shape.”
The cost of going under Yang’s knife ranges from $290 for eyelid reconstruction to $7,300 for breast implants, and the operations aren’t without risk. Industry reports say that over the last decade, at least 200,000 lawsuits have been filed in China for disfiguration after faulty cosmetic procedures, many of which take place in small clinics similar to the one He Zen visited.
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