Ride the subways in Asia and you’ll see ads not for studies, stores or schools, but for clinics like “Small Face,” “Magic Nose” and “Cinderella.” In countries like South Korea, the most popular graduation presents for teen girls are nose jobs and jaw-slimming surgeries, among other cosmetic procedures – leading some to call it the Plastic Surgery Capital of the World.
Even in Western countries like the United States, plastic surgery remains prevalent among Asian populations. A combination of racism and societal pressure to conform to beauty standards has led as many as 760,000 Asian-Americans to resort to cosmetic surgery.
“It was as easy as getting a new haircut,” said Sharon Lu, a 23-year-old college graduate living in Beijing of her decision to undergo a double-eyelid surgery in May 2017.
Clearly, more and more Asian patients are seeking cosmetic surgery around the world, due to a combination of economic and cultural factors. But how did these once-uncommon procedures quickly become the norm in Asia?
This blog post explores how cosmetic surgery rose to such popularity in Asia, and how reputable plastic surgeons like Dr. Ellis Choy are being led to perform more and more cosmetic procedures in their Asian patients. Read on for our assessment of cosmetic surgery in Asia and how it became the societal norm.
Western beauty standards are infiltrating the East
“You’ve got some nice Caucasian features…you inherited a Caucasian nose.”
This is what one plastic surgeon told half-Asian writer Maureen O’Connor, before recommending she get an Asian blepharoplasty to look more like her American father.
Blepharoplasty, a popular procedure designed to enlarge monolid eyes, is just one example of how Asian patients are going under the knife to become “whiter” in appearance. Plastic surgeons in Asia are performing as many as 100 eyelid operations every month, averaging out to five eyelid surgeries per day for doctors in the field.
Granted, some plastic surgeons – such as Chinese surgeon Dr. Li Jian – refuse to perform surgeries to give Asians a more Westernized appearance. Still, that does not change the fact that many patients seek out these surgeries to conform to what they see as societal standards of beauty that no longer accept their Asian nationalities.
Surgery helps Asian patients stay young and improve job prospects
“We Chinese think that after you’ve married, given birth to a kid and you’re past 30, they call you a middle-aged woman…I don’t want to be a middle-aged woman that early.”
For Chen Yan, a 35-year-old cosmetic surgery patient living in China, the solution to avoiding middle-age was not anti-aging skincare or a midlife crisis, but a new nose. Many Asian patients face similar pressures to look young and beautiful, leading many to seek cosmetic surgery as a simple solution.
Clearly, appearances matter in Asian culture – and not just for avoiding neighborly judgements and odd looks on the street. In fact, in South Korea, many jobs require applicants to attach a headshot with their applications.
Given all of these factors, it’s little wonder that Asian women are jumping at the chance to change their faces. When your looks are a matter of life or death – or at least, life and friends, job prospects and beauty standards – there is more pressure to take matters into your own hands….or, in these cases, the hands of a plastic surgeon.