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More Chinese go under the knife

By Liu Zhihua | | Updated: 2013-08-25 09:13

A growing Chinese willingness to go under the knife for cosmetic purposes cuts to core questions about the changing national psyche. Many are facing the ugly side of beauty's pursuit - addiction, disfigurement and self-esteem problems. Liu Zhihua reports.

The public hasn't seen the face of the woman who's perhaps China's most famous cosmetic surgery recipient. That's because Pink Baby wears a surgical mask when she appears on TV - not only to protect her identity but also because she claims to have been disfigured by more than 200 plastic surgeries since age 16. The 31-year-old Jiangsu province native has become the public (although unseen) face of an increase in botched cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery addiction in China, as modernity is reshaping the body of traditional beliefs opposing plastic surgery. More people are going under the knife for cosmetic purposes, as entertainment and celebrity obsession have carved a new national psyche, slicing through long-held conceptions against modifying one's body because it's a shrine to one's parents.

The country ranks first in Asia and third in the world, after the United States and Brazil, in the number of cosmetic procedures - more than 1 million in 2011, the US-based International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports.

More Chinese go under the knife
Pink Baby, who has had more than 200 cosmetic operations, discovers the ugly side of beauty's pursuit. Provided to China Daily

But the figures include only operations performed by certified professionals. Many Chinese undergo procedures at illegal cosmetology hospitals, clinics and beauty salons.

Some are discovering the ugly side of beauty's pursuit.

While many are concerned about failed procedures, few fathom the possibility of becoming addicted to plastic surgery.

"I can't stop," Pink Baby explains.

"It's irresistible. I feel compelled to keep getting operations."

Whenever the surgeries went awry, she'd rush to undertake corrective procedures - plus entirely new surgeries.

She has undergone virtually every procedure available, she claims. Her body has been altered from head to toe but in negative ways, she says.

She can't lift her eyebrows. Her eyes are so scarred they can't close.

Pink Baby also says she suffers memory loss from so much anesthesia and heel pain from operations that damaged her foot bones. Some of her implants and fillers pose cancer risks, she says.

This year, she published a book entitled Pink Baby: She Has Received Every Plastic Surgery You've Heard Of. She also runs a website. Pink Baby has turned her experience into a business, and offers online consultations and accompanies some patients to the hospital - sometimes for a fee.

Hundreds of people contact her every day, she says."Too many people's bodies and lives have been ruined like mine."

The count is growing in China.

Beijing Tongren Hospital's Plastic Surgery and Beauty Center director Zheng Yongsheng says most people who receive cosmetic operations are average-looking but seek aesthetic perfection. A decade ago, most were disfigured and hoped to appear normal.

"Rapid economic development, improving living standards and fiercer social competition have generated an obsession with appearance," he says.

"It's like gambling. When you lose, you want to win it back. And when you win, you want to win more. When a surgery goes wrong, you always think you'll get lucky next time."

"Cosmetic surgery offers a quick fix. Many people get hooked."

Plastic surgeon Ding Xiaobang, who has plied his trade in Beijing for more than 20 years, says up to 80 percent of his patients - mostly women - have multiple procedures.

"Most people get one or two operations and are satisfied," Ding says. "But some crave more and feel anxious until they indulge their urges."

This type typically struggles with body image issues and feels ugly, although they look fine or even attractive to others, he says.

The two most susceptible demographics are less attractive individuals in their 20s or 30s and middle-aged people hoping to reclaim the good looks of their youth, Ding explains.

Former journalist Huang Wei, who covered the industry for years in Fujian province's Xiamen city before co-founding a private practice in Beijing, says: "It can be especially addictive for people with low self-esteem."

Huang recently denied a new nose job to a 20-year-old mother surnamed Zheng, who'd already had a rhinoplasty, plus eye-widening surgery and liposuction.

"She's very pretty in others' eyes but not in her own," Huang says. "Her problem is that her husband often indulges in affairs. She believes it's because she's not beautiful."

Zheng's case isn't uncommon.

British Anti-aging Academic Society executive vice-chairwoman Yuan Lu, 36, says dozens of her friends get regular skin-filler injections. But only one - a 30-year-old - has had multiple surgeries because her husband frequently strays. She has received a nose job, an eye-widening operation and jaw-line narrowing.

Zheng Yongsheng, the Beijing Tongren Hospital surgeon, says many patients are women seeking to win back unfaithful husbands' desire. Many feel the urge to repeatedly go under the knife when they're depressed.

Fewer men undergo plastic surgery. But many who do get hooked, Zheng explains.

He recalls a 37-year-old man who regularly requests operations to remove eye bags.

"A good plastic surgeon knows when to stop patients," Zheng says.

"It puts the patients at risk if the doctor isn't responsible enough to refuse when he should."

Pink Baby's experience shows why.

"It ruined my life. I can't work or date. And I can't tell my family what I've done," she says.

"I was young and ignorant. If I could do it over again, I wouldn't get even one surgery."

But she plans to get several - mostly in hope of restoring her appearance to "normal".

"And I have to satisfy my cravings," she says.

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Hooked on the scalpel

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