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Plastic surgery popular
( 2003-10-10 10:50) (Agencies)

Risa arato never liked her hooded eyes - even her friends said she had a perpetually stony gaze. And she hated the way her sunglasses slipped down her nose. But the clincher was meeting her estranged father for the first time since childhood and being told she hadn't turned out very cute.

So the 19-year-old saleswoman decided to remake her face - and to do it on "Beauty Colosseum," a prime-time Japanese TV show in which people get free makeovers on camera from a panel of "beauty experts" including a cosmetic surgeon.

"I used to be afraid to show my face in public - I was a real indoor person," said Arato. "Now I can look people in the eye."

Facing less social stigma and encouraged by new no-scalpel procedures, women are more than ever changing the face of Japan by walking into cosmetic surgery clinics and walking out with rounder eyes, bigger noses and fewer wrinkles.

"Cosmetic surgery used to have a shadowy reputation," said plastic surgeon Toshiya Handa. "It was the kind of thing you only heard about celebrities and bar hostesses doing."

When he isn't redesigning faces on "Beauty Colosseum," Handa is the assistant director of the Otsuka Academy of Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery, one of Japan's best-known cosmetic surgery chains, with 14 clinics around the country.

Japan's decade-long economic slump has hardly put a blemish on the business. By one credit agency's reckoning, spending on cosmetic surgery climbed to US$25 million last year, up 50 percent from 1994.

Cosmetic surgeons say insecurities about typically Asian looks can be partially explained by Japan's long infatuation with images of the West - Arato said she idolizes Julia Roberts - though most of the clinic's testimonials simply describe anxiety about looking plain.

What has changed is the stigma about getting surgery.

Conventional wisdom once held that altering the face inherited from your parents was disrespectful. But Arato said her mother and father both supported her decision.

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