The Competitive Spirit Driving China's Love Affair With Plastic Surgery
More and more Chinese are going under the knife for cosmetic reasons, and many admit that they do it for a very specific quest for a spouse or job.
BEIJING — The Xinhua News Agency recently reported that the country spends $2.5 billion a year on cosmetic surgery, and the industry is growing at a staggering 20% annually.
The demand has led to a new wave of cosmetic surgery clinics opening up across the country. In the waiting room of one — Evercare, a private hospital in downtown Beijing — 23-year-old Dong Xin Yi is awaiting a post-surgery follow-up.
"I came here because my friend told me about it," Dong says. "I had my eyes done. Before they really didn't look good. I had to come several times for the operation, and today I'm here for a checkup, but I'm very satisfied.”
Evercare is experiencing a growing demand from young, wealthy professionals keen to look good. The procedure Dong had, to create double eyelids, is popular here, and the look is considered a hallmark of modern Chinese female beauty. It can cost up to $1,500. There's a similar fee for nose reconstructions.
Dong's doctor is Lin You Qun, one of China's leading cosmetic surgeons who sees dozens of patients every week. "Evercare is seeing exceptional growth," Lin says. "We have 16 clinics around China and see about 300,000 women every year. We're now the biggest cosmetic surgery clinic in China, and our business is growing at 130% a year."
The patients here range from ambitious students and young professionals like Dong to older female executives and a small but growing number of men.
"We see the younger women who come for eyelid and nose surgery mostly," Lin says. "Another category of client is the professional women over 35. They want to enhance their overall youth and slow the aging process. We work on the forehead, nose and mouth. They come back regularly for procedures.”
No. 3 globally for plastic surgery
According to an international group of plastic surgeons, China ranks behind only the U.S. and Brazil for the number of plastic surgery operations performed each year. The practice in China has grown parallel with the country's economic growth, as a better educated workforce competes for jobs.
Anthropologist Wen Hua, who recently published a book called Buying Beauty: Cosmetic Surgery in China, says women increasingly consider cosmetic surgery an investment to improve their chances of social and career success.
"In the past, few people would admit they had undergone cosmetic surgery, but nowadays they are more and more are willing to, and it depends on what kind of surgery you received," Wen says. "Like for facial surgery, nose job and double eyelid, they are OK. And in interviews it's OK to say, "Yes, I did. So what? It's no big deal.""
But she's worried that the growing demand has led to a wave of unqualified surgeons cashing in — at a huge risk to patient health.
"Government do have regulations to specify what kinds of surgery and which level of hospital, but unfortunately in practice there's still a lot of unqualified surgeons," Wen says. "They still offer this illegal service, but they charge a cheap price and attract a lot of women."
At Evercare, Lin stresses the importance of service and safety. And he's expecting a very busy year ahead with a growing number of male clients too.
"More and more men are embracing cosmetic surgery as a modern way of life," Lin says. "They usually come for nose and eyelid reconstruction."
For people like Dong Xin Yi, appearance matters, and she has been showing off her new eyelids to her friends. "I told all my friends, and several of them have come here to have operations too."