The popularity of China’s plastic surgery aficionados has been on the steady rise over the past two years. Especially those bold and beautiful kiddos who dream of livestreaming fame, get in some regular facial “updates” to gain more likes and followers. Temper Magazine contributor Jessica Laiter goes beyond skin-deep and gets raw and real. Beauty as a currency… How deep does it run?
The livestreaming entertainment hub in 2016 generated some 30 billion RMB (give or take 4 million USD) and, if all goes well, will triple this number by 2020.
Care to make a long, lush life for yourself in China? Get streaming… LIVEstreaming! Though the “long” aspect might turn out to be a slightly shorter version due to yet-to-be-solved environmental issues, livestreaming is one lucrative China business. This particular entertainment hub in 2016 generated some 30 billion RMB (give or take 4 billion USD) and, if all goes well, will triple this number by 2020. One of China’s forefront webcammers, Zhang Dayi, in 2016 alone made a sloppy 40 million EUR. That’s more than China’s biggest-earning actress, Fan Bingbing, who in 2016 made “only” 18 million. Many a by no means-ugly duckling can barely wait to waddle in their footsteps and swimmingly hatch their own eggs filled with some golden online yolk.
Watch this quick Vice intro to some China livestreamer panache — courtesy of the Vice International YouTube Channel):Superstar streamer Zhang Xiuxian dicusses his plastic “investments” on Dutch television. Copyright@Frank Verburg for NOS.[/caption]
The Hot Girl Diet
Aka living the high life of cigarettes, Diet Coke and much room left for solids. The beauty industry has dictated the “standards of beauty” since its inception. What does that beauty look like? I’ll tell you. In the United States and Europe, this beauty calls for tall and thin, cigarette-skinny legs, milky clear skin, voluminous hair, Kylie Jenner lips, a Barbie-sized waist and large assets. The crime of it all is that along with globalization, comes the imperialistic injection of these narrow visions into the developing minds of women in emerging markets and countries. It’s the “just forget their perceptions of beauty; they’re wrong; just do as we say, look how we tell you to look” mantra.
The effects of Westernized beauty have certainly surfaced in China, where the women strive to look like “us.” Don’t get me wrong, beauty standards have always been a prerequisite in Chinese culture, ranging anywhere from determining marriage arrangements and forecasting wealth, to having a successful career. During one of my trips to China, I had dinner with a well renowned calligrapher and after several rounds of ganbei (cheers!) and multiple munchings of hotpot, the man proceeded to tell me that my facial features implied I would never find love nor be successful in my career… All this based solely on the shape of my nose and the size of my forehead — and he truly believed what he said. BTW: Thanks a lot, dude. Appreciate the confidence.
Those observations were based on traditional Chinese standards of beauty, but today’s judgments are reserved for those who do not fulfill the western or mixed race requirements. Racial diversity is supposed to expose variations of beauty, not to be hindered by the desire for conformity. The fact of the matter is that Chinese women do not resemble European and American women and that should be a positive thing! Their features are distinct, exotic, and should be embraced. However, the inability to do so cannot be resolved with a stroke of blusher or a slashing of lipstick. No. It requires plastic surgery, a phenomenon sweeping across China and seeping into the crevices of their society.
China ranks behind the United States and Brazil with the highest number of total plastic surgery procedures and this number continues to grow. In fact, often times getting something done is highly encouraged by family and friends. The industry by 2019 is expected to reach a size of 800 billion RMB (USD122 billion) — up from its 2014 value of 400 billion RMB. “Insane” is the very factual and relevant word that springs to mind here.
Hot To Trot?
Clearly, the women of China have issues with their natural appearances. To them, the looks of European, American, Japanese and Korean women are ideal. They commonly chase after the double-eyelid and the larger sized baby doll eyes (rather than the single-eyelid with a slightly more slanted shape). They’re after the bigger eyes, smaller nose bridge, and a smoother jaw line. The goal, essentially, is too look like anything other than the authentically Chinese. The story is honestly tragic.
The industry of cosmetic surgery in China has surged over the past number of years, and charges quite the hefty fee –for the elite and upper class, money is of no concern. Plastic surgery is a given, however many opt for the non-invasive “lunchbreak procedures” such as injections. Those who find the services un-affordable, seek underground cosmetic surgery (yes, you may take that to the Chinese characters: 地下美容) facilities, putting themselves at serious risk for a botched experience. At these undisclosed facilities, the technicians and doctors are non-certified, lack experience and, in general, have no right putting a knife to any human being.
According to HSBC, regulators have approved only 20 percent of China’s hyaluronic acid injections, while 60 percent are made up of either fake or smuggled ingredients. Some 50,000 to 100,000 unqualified beauty salons are performing cosmetic surgeries in China, hence many people travel to South Korea for the purpose of booking the better clinics (unfortunately those are now being exposed for mal-practice as well). What does a gal gotta do to get a little pick me up here? Is a doctor with some experience too much to ask for?
The most popular and largest of all photoshop-apps goes by the name of MEITU, well known for its uncanny ability to transform Chinese women into the western “beauties” they desire — before or after plastic surgery.
Due to these gaps in the system and a grave lack of accountability, women have been subjected to brutal treatments, resulting in loss of eyesight, waking up with lopsided faces and coping with illness from poisonous injections and fillers. Once more, I ask… Why? In China, not only is the goal to emulate western women for the simple sake of vanity, but also a means for landing that perfect job. When applying for a job, men and women are required to submit personal photos as well. Job discrimination based on looks is real in China. Can you even imagine?
The biggest culprit of them all is…drum roll, please…social media! Surprise. Social media stardom, a phenomenon sweeping the world right now, has laid the pressure on thick. You want to be famous? Look like her…or her…or her…or her. Being Insta- or Weibo-famous is the ultimate modern day version of fame and it seems oh-so achievable for the average woman. With a little bit of help from the “trustworthy” photo-shopping apps, celebrity status is at arm’s length for the everyday beauty aficionado or fashionista. Who wouldn’t want a piece? The most popular and largest of them all goes by the name of MEITU, well known for its uncanny ability to transform Chinese women into the western “beauties” they desire. Before or after plastic surgery — yep, that’s right, your eyesight isn’t blurred.
The Bare-Faced Truth
Those who have already risen to ultimate stardom or are well on their way may upload outfits, beauty routines, and daily interactions to their public profiles on platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and Instagram, multiple times a day. They micro-blog and create glamorous online photo albums and homemade videos of themselves socializing at private events, staying in exclusive hotels and dining at high-end restaurants, always in outfits tailored perfectly to the occasion. And smiling behind a perfectly airbrushed face.
The women who are idolized for their performances have inspired and perpetuated the trend of airbrushing and plastic surgery in young women. Most frequently they can be found posting selfies smiling into a camera angled downward at the girl who stares seductively with doe-wide eyes upwards into the faces of her audience. Teetering on the border of adorable and seduction, these young women are craving to “fit in.” “Plastic influencers” are the reality, and although they perpetuate the very real and very scary reformation of women across the country, they are the ones making money, the ones reaching larger audiences, and the ones exemplifying the beauty standard. These starlets can make anywhere from 300 million RMB (£35 million or about USD 46 million a year). Although beauty was always a moneymaker, it is hard to believe sometimes that these men and women are making more than many people holding college degrees.
Janet Chen, founder of Tophot, an incubator company that provides training for emerging internet celebrities, stated in her 2016 interview with BBC that “internet celebrities have already outperformed showbiz A-listers and she attributes this to the fact that they are more down-to-earth and approachable.” She also pointed out that an attractive appearance has turned into an indispensable quality for Internet celebrities. Sporting a so-called “internet celebrity face,” referring to the combination of doe eyes, a pointy chin, a high nose and fair skin, is a commonly used shorthand in China.
Why is it ok for the everyday women of China to have plastic surgery in an attempt to look like these social media influencers and celebrities, but the celebrities themselves must possess have 100 percent authentic beauty? Sounds like double standards to me.
Fame, The Ultimate Toxic Peel
Actress and Model Angelababy, aka the Kim Kardashian of China, is one of these women. Meitu, the aforementioned photo-editing app, alters selfies so that ordinary women can look like her: Sshiny hair, white teeth” and a narrow jawline. Her past endorsement deals have included Coach, Coca-Cola, Gap and Samsonite. She was also recently named Christian Dior’s very first Chinese ambassador. Pretty incredible, right? Think again.
Despite the Chinese obsession with what I feel can be best described as “artificial beauty,” upon Angelababy’s announcement as the newest Dior ambassador, an immediate outcry against the decision flooded both China’s major Weibo and WeChat social platforms. “Why did Dior decide to destroy its high-end public image?” people questioned. The issue at hand stemmed from rampant rumors accusing her angelic beauty as having been plastic surgery-manufactured. But wait a minute. Didn’t we just spend the last 5 minutes talking about the glorification of plastic surgery? Although she was eventually found innocent of such claims, we have to wonder why she was held to such a different standard? Why is it ok for the everyday women of China to have plastic surgery in attempt to look like these social media influencers and celebrities, but the celebrities themselves must possess have 100 percent authentic beauty? Sounds like a double standard to me. Well actually it’s plain hypocrisy… Down with hypocrisy!
Angelababy endured hours of screenings to prove her innocence and claims that her good looks come from a healthy regimen and a German grandfather. Problem solved, right? Not quite. The issue here is that she is validating her good looks with European genetics. This only further perpetuates the yearning for Chinese women to look more Westernized! You’re not exactly helping the cause there, Angela, baby.
A Famine Of/For Beauty
The Chinese market is hungry. Hungry for success, hungry for beauty and hungry for acceptance. These hunger pains, well, they can be satiated, but never 100 percent satisfied. The older generation lived during a time of simplicity and interdependence. Born into a whirlwind of change, the younger generation now seeks individuality, fame and independence. Ironically however, these three goals have been exploited by the market, and somehow turned into nourishment for conformity. It’s possible the country wasn’t allotted enough time to develop its domestic market before opening its gates to the western industry. Having too many options at once can cause irrational decision-making. Skincare, bags, shoes galore! Which one offers the best quality? Which one makes for the optimal choice?
Women and men suffer from these conundrums across the globe and it is painful to watch. Plastic influencers, coming in from far and wide, are believed by too many to be naturally perfect, further encouraging and feeding our insecurities and resulting in the destruction of who we are as individuals. Gone be the natural mosaics that distinguish our histories, our ethnicities and our true beings.
Sometimes the people and places we idolize and use as role models are in fact the most toxic ones out there. China’s idolization of Western beauty and fashion appears to be causing more harm than good in some ways. What’s wrong with Asian beauty? What’s wrong with being yourself? What’s wrong with being Made In China? Nothing is. It should be beautifully okay.
It seems that no matter what the rhetoric, beauty standards, as they are known today, continue to make the rich and famous, while simultaneously damaging the mind and bodies of many a fan. Thankfully, the perception and definition of beauty has begun to shift for women in the western world and day-by-day their diversity and imperfections are being normalized. China, in many ways, is still developing and making up for lost time, but developing in the 21st century is much different than it was in the 20th century. Beauty is, after all, only skin-deep and as a currency, unlike cold hard cash, tends to fade. Will China’s latest wave of plastic influencers catch up before it’s too late? Or have they counted their chickens before they hatched? Time will unveil its ultimate selfie portrait eventually — with no app able to photoshop that.
Written by Jessica Laiter of Chinese Graffiti for Temper Magazine
Intro and editing by Elsbeth van Paridon
Featured Image: Copyright@Frank Verburg for NOS
Images: Copyright@Frank Verburg for NOS
Copyright@Temper Magazine 2017 All Rights Reserved
Laiter went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Chinese Studies and Communications Rhetoric at The University of Pittsburgh and a Master's Degree in Translation at NYU. Immediately after college, she moved to New York City and since then has worked in a number of different industries such as branding, manufacturing, fashion, public relations and real estate. China always acting as the common denominator.
Inspired by her career, Laiter launched a website called Chinese Graffiti, on which she features emerging Chinese designers, talks about the intersection of tradition and modernity in China, as well as the evolution of society and business culture. As time went on, she sought out like-minded businesses individuals who were interested in a similar market, which is how she became involved with Temper Magazine.
The China market is creating a whirlwind around the glob and it’s only just getting started.
The world can be a small place with a dash of mutual understanding and Laiter loves to be the storyteller who helps to bridge that gap.
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- A Fast And Furious 360 Turn: How Technology Fuels The Fashion Industry - August 19, 2019