In places like China mostly, but South Korea and Japan, too, social media and cosmetic surgery are enabling women to change their face and lives. In such societies, “there are no ugly women, only lazy ones”. Cosmetic surgery has increased exponentially in China: the medical procedure has been transformed into a consumer product no thanks to the plethora of ads that show what beauty is or should be. Women feel empowered when they can change their face, body and life. Of the more than 140 million potential cosmetic surgery customers in 2014, 1 out of every 1000 faces has undergone either major or minor surgical treatment and 2 out of every 1000 have considered going under the knife (see Oiwan lam in New Times 21 Oct 2015 “How Social Media Fuels China’s Growing Love of Cosmetic Surgery”).
We might ask how such outer or outward changes can change the inner life or self in a culture which prizes Confucius’ teachings that spiritual upbringing is more important than looks. But the young Chinese feel that looks can determine their fate, and therefore they tweak their looks to have a more beautiful life.
The reigning obsession among the young in China is a younger, more beautiful self. Chinese do not care whether it is artificial or natural so as long as they are happy. Soyoung.com is a website, established in 2013, that is dedicated to selling services to enhance beauty. Soyoung Jin Xing, the founder of Soyoung.com boasts: Young people have an open mind for plastic surgery, especially the post 90s generation who account for more than half of the users who have shared their experiences on the site. Soyoung is an online diary which allows people to upload their photos and share their surgical experience. It connects both domestic and international doctors and hospitals directly with their clients and enables users to have online dialog and make appointments. In just two years, Soyoung has accumulated more than 600,000 registered users and facilitated 2000 cosmetic surgery facilities in reaching out to clients. There are at least a dozen other platforms that help the industry promote their medical services.
No longer is beauty in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is rather in the person beholden (one’s reflection). She who desires white skin, double eyelids, tall and straight nose, oval shaped face, big breasts, long and slim legs. Mobile apps give young Chinese and Japanese girls the immediate gratification to see themselves transform into their desired looks. The beauty industry is creating desire and demand by pushing women to make surgical changes to be ‘beautiful’.
The drive to surgically transform into a ‘beautiful’ person is so strong that botched up surgeries are suppressed: the cosmetic surgery industry aggressively uses social media to suppress complaints on botched up procedures and creates a herd mentality among potential clients. In the USA, we shy away from buying or using services without reviews, but in China, the client participates in a social media Q & A and is flooded with lots of positive comments geared to making her excited and ready to embrace the surgery. In an era and world where reviews are everything, from Yelp to Google to Amazon to WebMD to doctors in America, it is easier for us to see how the Chinese beauty industry has managed to convince clients who had surgical errors to forget the potential risks and instead these companies announce that such stories are malicious rumors spread by competitors. China allows limited access to necessary information and Soyoung is able to fill the void easily and provide answers to prospective clients by making women feel empowered by giving them choices: to choose a doctor they like, a hospital they like, at prices they like and even operation items they like.
China’s current internet governing policies encourage the growth of online businesses while suppressing the development of virtual communities and especially those dedicated to feminist consumer and individual rights issues. Thus, the suppression of various platforms affects women’s ability to know and to speak out, and what’s worse is that the women who have botched-up errors aren’t willing to share their botched-up story, because Chinese society has no sympathy for them.
One blogger’s comment shows the prevailing mentality of women:
“I don’t have sympathy for people who fall for these ‘super cheap’ schemes. Ok plastic surgeons aren’t as qualified as real surgeons, but it still takes a lot of hard work and training to do it, if people are being cheapskates about it and trying to save money by using dodgy surgeons then they are hurting the honest ones who learn how to do it properly and are good at it.”
This writer isn’t ‘against’ cosmetic surgery, but only against ‘bad’ cosmetic surgery. Sadly, Chinese women all want to fit in, and not stand out.
But, this problem of ‘beauty’ is not unique to China. Women everywhere fall victim to myths about beauty. Americans invest in beauty to get enhance their breasts, to get Angelina Jolie or Kim Kardashian-type lips, tummy tucks and wrinkles removals. Brazilian women prefer bigger bottoms and tummy tucks. European women do nose jobs as well as Iranian women, who actually stand #1 now in surgery, and they even leave the bandage on their nose for months to make sure that everybody knows they’ve done a nose job. Dark-skinned women like Jamaicans and Indian – and many others – strive to whiten and lighten their skin, and some even bleach their skin, thereby endangering their health. An Argentine friend told me many years ago that every young person in Argentina – her home country – does rhinoplasty and have a ‘shrink’, even though the country has been, and still is, in dire economic straits. Beauty centers there on the nose.
In the articles and YouTube videos and blogs that I sourced for this article, I noticed that that it is mostly women who comment. Men are sadly missing. It would be nice if men would comment on these procedures because their comments could save women time, effort, health and money since such enhancements are done usually to please men. The women who can transform only their outer selves are setting up their future children for major disappointments, especially their girls. These women are creating illusions that have the capacity to disillusion their children for many generations to come.