Trad­ing Faces

With China’s in­ter­net celebrity econ­omy bur­geon­ing, more women are un­der­go­ing cos­metic pro­ce­dures to achieve an ap­pear­ance they hope will yield con­sid­er­able prof­its

NewsChina - - COVER STORY - By Fu Yao

I'd rather be iden­ti­cally beau­ti­ful than dis­tinc­tively ugly.” It's a com­mon re­frain for many of China's young women.

A pair of wide dou­ble-eye­lids, an arched nose, a round fore­head, a pointy chin, straight brows and fair skin make up the prized in­ter­net celebrity face.

The ubiq­ui­tous look has crept into every inch of so­ci­ety: on livestream­ing web­sites, count­less pretty and nearly iden­ti­cal women sing, dance or just eat in front of their fans; on e-com­merce plat­forms, prod­ucts may vary but the mod­els look like they were cast in the same mold; and the pub­lic is in­creas­ingly in­un­dated by bil­lion­aires and film stars and reg­u­lar women with uni­form faces.

With the in­ter­net celebrity econ­omy thriv­ing amid the rapid growth of livestream­ing web­sites and ap­pli­ca­tions since 2014, more young Chi­nese are plac­ing their ap­pear­ance above all else as the key to suc­cess. Un­like other plas­tic-surgery-ob­sessed cul­tures such as Ja­pan and South Korea, in China, plas­tic surgery has not been sim­ply seen as a way to gain self-es­teem or in­crease one's ro­man­tic prospects – it's an in­vest­ment that can di­rectly yield mon­e­tary ben­e­fits and but­tress a ca­reer.

Wanghong Econ­omy

Like their western coun­ter­parts, Chi­nese in­ter­net celebri­ties, known as wanghong, achieve fame on so­cial me­dia and in on­line com­mu­ni­ties. They share their life­style, ex­pe­ri­ence, and opin­ions on their plat­forms, in­ter­act with fol­low­ers and guide them to shops, prod­ucts and other ser­vices. In the West they are re­ferred to as in­flu­encers.

Livestream­ing has ex­panded at a break­neck pace in China since 2014, and hav­ing a pretty face is an as­set that can earn one huge prof­its. Good-look­ing peo­ple, whether male or fe­male, can gen­er­ate con­sid­er­able traf­fic just by singing or danc­ing in a real-time video, or

sim­ply in­ter­act­ing with the au­di­ence. These celebri­ties – most are not pro­fes­sion­als – use livestream­ing as an ef­fec­tive tool to mar­ket their shops or prod­ucts and con­vert fans into real cash.

This in­ter­net celebrity econ­omy has in­cu­bated a stan­dard fe­male face of pret­ti­ness with fea­ture­less fea­tures: a pair of large oval eyes, con­spic­u­ous dou­ble eye­lids, a V-shaped jaw, a high nose and fair skin.

The quest for this dis­tinc­tive look has lined the pock­ets of plas­tic sur­geons around the na­tion. China has the world's fastest-grow­ing plas­tic surgery mar­ket, with a growth rate six times faster than the global av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to Soy­oung, an app fo­cused on the in­dus­try. In 2017, an es­ti­mated 14 mil­lion Chi­nese peo­ple had some form of cos­metic surgery, up 42 per­cent year-on-year, ac­cord­ing to China Money Net­work. And that's not count­ing Chi­nese med­i­cal tourists who go abroad for surgery.

In China, the de­mo­graph­ics of those seek­ing cos­metic pro­ce­dures skew young mas­sively. Ac­cord­ing to Soy­oung, pa­tients un­der the age of 35 ac­count for 96 per­cent of the to­tal. Half are un­der 25, in marked con­trast to US fig­ures that sug­gest three-quar­ters of con­sumers are over 35.

Ob­tain­ing an in­ter­net celebrity face is quite sim­ple, ac­cord­ing to pop­u­lar cos­metic surgery blog­ger Pink Bear, who lays out the stan­dard pro­ce­dures on Twit­ter equiv­a­lent Weibo: “Cre­ate a pair of dou­ble-eye­lid creases, arch the brows and open up the eye cor­ners, sculpt a high nose bridge, grind down the jaw­bone into a pointed V-shape, plump the fore­head and in­ject it with hyaluronic acid and fat so that it looks round and soft.”

Some clin­ics of­fer an in­ter­net celebrity pack­age, con­sist­ing of dou­ble-eye­lid cre­ation, eye-cor­ner-open­ing, a nose job, a chin im­plant, lip in­jec­tions to cre­ate a parted flower petals shape, jaw­bone grind­ing and Bo­tox in­jec­tions. One can have a to­tally new face for the price of around 100,000 yuan (US$15,600).

Bought and Paid For

Teng Lu's plas­tic surgery jour­ney be­gan in 2013 when she was just 18. Teng was moon­light­ing as a model for on­line shops on Taobao, China's big­gest e-com­merce plat­form. Shortly af­ter she started, she re­al­ized the women in the in­dus­try all looked beau­ti­ful – and that this beauty was bought and paid for. This fu­eled Teng's de­sire to per­fect her own.

Teng is an at­trac­tive woman with a pair of big bright eyes and nat­u­ral dou­ble eye­lids. But she prefers Cau­casian-look­ing eye­lids with a con­spic­u­ous crease, and feels her own lids are not dra­mat­i­cally dou­ble enough.

To have a sat­is­fy­ing in­ter­net celebrity face, Teng chose a plas­tic surgery stu­dio over a cer­tifi­cated hos­pi­tal be­cause she be­lieved the lat­ter would be too con­cerned about safety and stop short of giv­ing her the dra­matic ef­fect she de­sired.

She came across an on­line ad for a plas­tic surgery stu­dio that of­fered cheap pro­ce­dures and de­cided to try it. The op­er­a­tion, con­sist­ing of dou­ble-eye­lid cre­ation and eye-cor­ner-open­ing, was priced at only 10,000 yuan (US$1,500).

But the stu­dio turned out to be a pri­vate bed­room in a shabby apart­ment, with a reg­u­lar bed for an oper­at­ing ta­ble and an or­di­nary house­hold lamp to light the pro­ce­dure. Teng had no idea whether the sur­gi­cal in­stru­ments had even been ster­il­ized.

“I was so reck­less. It was a gam­ble. I kept telling my­self that so many other pa­tients had suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tions so I would not be the one who had bad luck,” Teng re­called.

One week af­ter the op­er­a­tion, the Cau­casian-look­ing eyes she had hoped for had not ma­te­ri­al­ized. But the ef­fect was nonethe­less

dra­matic – a pair of red, swollen eye­lids and a scar in the cor­ner of her left eye. The surgery had been a com­plete fail­ure.

“I broke down. I wasn't ugly be­fore, but the op­er­a­tion ru­ined my looks. It was like a sharp knife cut­ting deep in my heart,” Teng re­called bit­terly. De­pressed, she hid at home for three months. She would later dis­cover the ex­am­ples of suc­cess on the ad were achieved through Pho­to­shop – a com­mon prac­tice among il­le­gal plas­tic surgery clin­ics and stu­dios.

In re­cent years, more and more women who have been dis­fig­ured by botched op­er­a­tions car­ried out in unlicensed beauty sa­lons or cos­metic surgery clin­ics have rushed to hos­pi­tals for restora­tive work. And the cost of re­pair­ing their botched faces are typ­i­cally far higher than the price of their ini­tial pro­ce­dure.

The price for a nose re­pair pro­ce­dure ranges from 60,000 yuan (US$9,370) to 120,000 yuan (US$18,740), Tina, a sur­geon at a Shang­hai-based plas­tic surgery hos­pi­tal, told Newschina.

Shi Lei, a max­illo­fa­cial surgery ex­pert at the Plas­tic Surgery Hos­pi­tal of the Chi­nese Academy of Med­i­cal Sciences, is known for her skill in cre­at­ing dou­ble eye­lids. Nev­er­the­less, she told our reporter that last year alone, one-third of her work was “re­pair­ing the fail­ures of oth­ers.”

“You can't imag­ine how hard the restora­tion work is! Those un­skilled in­ter­net celebrity face-mak­ers only know how to open up the eye cor­ner – they don't know how to re­pair it if they fail,” Shi said.

“Bar­bie eyes,” a new term used in the in­dus­try, has be­come a trend among beauty seek­ers. It refers to ex­tremely large oval eyes, and usu­ally in­volves a con­tro­ver­sial pro­ce­dure called low­er­ing the lower eye­lid (LLL) or lower eye­lid short­en­ing.

Im­ported from Ja­pan, the novel pro­ce­dure is de­signed specif­i­cally for Asian women who de­sire large Cau­casian-look­ing oval eyes. It re­quires re­mov­ing ap­prox­i­mately four to six mil­lime­ters of the sub­cil­iary skin (one-third to two-thirds of the lower eye­lids) and short­en­ing the lower eye­lid re­trac­tors.

“This is a risky pro­ce­dure which can eas­ily have com­pli­ca­tions. The crux of the prob­lem does not lie in the op­er­a­tion it­self but the tech­niques of the sur­geons,” Shi ex­plained.

The pro­ce­dure is not scary as it sounds, Shi claimed, but com­pli­ca­tions are largely due to the mal­prac­tice of the quack sur­geons in unlicensed cos­metic surgery clin­ics. Many pa­tients who un­dergo the pro­ce­dure wind up with swollen and in­flamed eyes, dou­ble vi­sion, scar­ring or an asym­met­ric ap­pear­ance.

Not all pa­tients are suit­able sub­jects for the pro­ce­dure – only those with a nar­row, long, up­ward eye shape, Shi ex­plained. But un­scrupu­lous sur­geons are un­likely to pass on that in­for­ma­tion be­fore they've cashed their check.

Dis­torted Vi­sion

“Bar­bie eyes, petal lips – cos­metic surgery clin­ics cre­ate plenty of mar­ket­ing terms, cre­at­ing false hopes that you will be a god­dess af­ter you un­dergo their pro­ce­dures,” Pink Bear told Newschina.

“Livestream­ers who found suc­cess early on gave their fol­low­ers an il­lu­sion that the [in­ter­net celebrity] in­dus­try is all about beauty. So many im­ma­ture girls got ob­sessed with this il­lu­sion and thought they could make a for­tune by chang­ing their face,” Pink Bear said.

This is used by the plas­tic surgery clin­ics in ad­ver­tis­ing that em­ploys provoca­tive lan­guage: “If you hes­i­tate to spend money on your own face, what makes you think that men will be will­ing to spend money on you? The more beau­ti­ful you are, the more your chance of be­ing loved.”

Pink Bear has writ­ten a num­ber of posts about the risks of un­nec­es­sary pro­ce­dures. She hopes her fol­low­ers can have a health­ier

sense of beauty. To her dis­ap­point­ment, many in­ter­net users still ask her how they can get an in­ter­net celebrity face.

Shi Lei says China's plas­tic surgery era has just be­gun. At an in­ter­na­tional aca­demic sem­i­nar Shi dis­cussed with Ja­panese cos­metic surgery experts the cur­rent in­ter­net celebrity face ma­nia in China. The Ja­panese doc­tors told her a sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­non oc­curred in Ja­pan thirty years ago.

In the 1980s, the most pop­u­lar face in the Ja­panese beauty in­dus­try was the Hol­ly­wood celebrity look. Ja­panese women longed for faces with dou­ble eye­lids and an arched nose bridge. Al­most ev­ery­one wanted to look like Au­drey Hep­burn. This ob­ses­sion with Cau­casian fa­cial struc­tures lasted a decade un­til the Ja­panese sense of beauty re­turned to the Asian norm, along­side ris­ing na­tional pride.

“In the past 20 years, Ja­panese cos­metic surgery pa­tients have be­come more rea­son­able. Many know ex­actly what they want when they come to a clinic. They don't seek a sig­nif­i­cant change but just some tiny ad­just­ments which make their face look bet­ter with­out be­ing no­ticed,” Shi said, claim­ing that this is a healthy at­ti­tude to­ward plas­tic surgery – mak­ing im­prove­ments based on one's own in­di­vid­ual fea­tures.

But this nat­u­ral-style surgery faces re­sis­tance in China. “Can we call it med­i­cal neg­li­gence if one's face looks so nat­u­ral af­ter the pro­ce­dure that it's like they never had one?” one plas­tic surgery re­cip­i­ent wrote on­line.

“The in­ter­net celebrity face ma­nia is chaos which comes from a so­cially-dis­torted sense of beauty in the era of livestream­ing. It is fur­ther fu­eled by il­le­gal plas­tic surgery clin­ics,” said Li Bin, the pres­i­dent of Beau­care Clin­ics, a Bei­jing-based cos­metic surgery cor­po­ra­tion. “Those in­ter­net-celebrity-face-mak­ing clin­ics are vi­o­lat­ing the ba­sic prin­ci­ple of plas­tic surgery – it is ba­si­cally an act of med­i­cal treat­ment.”

A vet­eran in­dus­try player who en­tered the sec­tor in the 1990s, Li told Newschina that the in­dus­try has been slow to ma­ture over the past two decades.

“Com­pared with the past, to­day's prod­ucts have im­proved and tech­niques been re­fined, but the ethics of the in­dus­try have not – in some cases they've de­gen­er­ated. Due to many cor­po­rate play­ers' longterm pur­suit of short-term in­ter­ests, our so­ci­ety's sense of beauty has made lit­tle progress in the past two decades,” Li said.

Teng Lu, who had suf­fered a failed eye pro­ce­dure, later had a suc­cess­ful cor­rec­tion pro­ce­dure in hos­pi­tal. Now she has the pair of Cau­casian-look­ing big, bright eyes she so longed for. The ex­pe­ri­ence did not scare her away. In­stead, she has be­come a plas­tic surgery ad­dict, un­der­go­ing reg­u­lar in­jec­tions of the fa­cial filler hyaluronic acid as well as Bo­tox, she has come to re­sem­ble a kind of Eurasian Bar­bie doll.

Her new look has brought suc­cess in her mod­el­ing ca­reer, more job op­por­tu­ni­ties, and, she says, 10 times as much money as she used to earn.

“If I didn't do this job, I wouldn't have had the nose job or in­jected my chin with filler. But ev­ery­body [in the in­ter­net celebrity in­dus­try] does it. You can't avoid the in­flu­ence,” Teng said.

Some of her old friends be­lieve her face looks un­nat­u­rally pointy but she ig­nores them. To Teng, though her face might seem ar­ti­fi­cial in real life, it looks great in front of the cam­era.

“I have to make money in this in­dus­try. Most of the time I do my work in front of the cam­era,” Teng said. “It's a price I have to pay.”

At an in­ter­net celebrity in­cu­ba­tor com­pany in Ji­ax­ing, Zhe­jiang Prov­ince, the man­ager helps a cam­girl fix her makeup be­fore she does a livestream

Teng Lu

A cos­metic physi­cian tat­toos a cus­tomer’s eye­brows

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