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Western Beauty, Eastern Faces: Beauty Development in China

By Susie Gordon , eChinacities.com Comments (9)     Add your comment Newsletter

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The first time I went shopping for face cream in Shanghai, I was accosted by an eager sales assistant brandishing a new product. This cream, she assured me, would render my skin as white as a dove. I cut a hasty retreat, discouraged by her vigorous sales patter almost as much as her message. Skin whitening? As a (very) white girl from rainy England, my life’s mission has been bronzing, tanning, and buffing my skin until it glows. Whitening cream? No way. But for millions of Chinese women, being paler is just as important. For them, dark skin is a mark of manual labour – lives spent working outdoors; to be pale is a sign of sophistication and wealth.

It isn’t just skin tone that divides women from the East and West. The ideal body shape, too, is different. While women in Western countries are desperate for slim, toned physiques (think of the multi-billion dollar diet industry and liposuction business), Asian girls are flocking in their millions to plastic surgery clinics for breast enlargements. Some even go so far as to subject themselves to painful leg lengthening surgery in a bid to be taller.

The fact that so many Chinese women are resorting to cosmetic surgery to appear less Asian may seem incomprehensible to some, especially if you consider the timeless appeal of the Asian woman. Quintessentially exotic and perfectly proportioned, the Oriental female is an attractive, mysterious, and appealing figure. I, myself, have felt stocky and ungainly beside my petite Chinese friends. I would gladly exchange my wide jaw, long nose and broad hips for their elfin features and slender physiques.

But despite the appeal of the Asian look all over the world, Chinese women are still compelled to “Westernise” themselves in order to fit with what they see as the fashionable ideal. This is why the number of plastic surgery operations in Asia is increasing by one million every year. Women want bigger breasts and wider eyes, making breast augmentation and blepharoplasty (creating a fold in the upper eyelid to emulate Caucasian features) the most popular procedures. Botox is used to slim down plump cheeks, and muscle carving makes chunky calves sleek.

Such is the popularity of cosmetic surgery that a special beauty pageant has been created for women with scalpel-enhanced beauty. The Rén Zào Měi N? Pageant (人造美女), meaning pageant of ‘man-made beautiful women,’ was established in 2004 by an 18-year-old girl who had been disqualified from a mainstream beauty pageant because of her surgery. This is all the more interesting when you consider that the first government-sanctioned beauty pageant took place only two years earlier.

Another controversial but highly popular form of entertainment is the television show “Lovely Cinderella.” Modelled on Fox TV’s “The Swan”, the show is filmed and produced in Changsha, and transforms ordinary women into “beauties” with plastic surgery makeovers.

Liu Yajuan was a contestant in the first series of “The Swan”. She has no qualms about using surgery to emulate beauty ideals. “Everyone can be beautiful,” she said during the show. She also hinted that China has come a long way from the strict Mao-era, during which cosmetic surgery was viewed as being against “the people.” “In the past, we thought that a woman was beautiful as long as she could work in the field. But that has changed.” Indeed.

So is China’s plastic surgery boom merely a reaction to years of repression, during which cosmetic enhancements gained popularity in the West, or is it a sign of something more sinister – an attempt to emulate what they see as Western “superiority” when it comes to looks? At the most basic level, we always want what we can’t have. If you were born with curly hair, the chances are you’d prefer it to be straight, and vice versa. By the same token, a woman with narrow eyes and small breasts will most likely yearn for wider eyes and a larger bosom. But on the other hand, there is an institutional bias in China towards occidental looks: many women believe that they have a better chance of being hired the less Asian they look.

It’s not difficult to see why Asian women may have an inferiority complex when it comes to their looks. Despite being universally admired for their clear skin, wide-set eyes, and youthful appearance (something anthropologists call ‘neoteny’) they are grossly under-represented on the global fashion scene. Out of the panoply of female celebrities from all ethnicities, there is only a handful of Chinese – actresses Lucy Liu, Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, and Bai Ling. Until the catwalk debut of Shanghainese model Du Juan in 2006, very few Chinese models reached world acclaim, mostly due to a lack of height and sharp “modelesque” features.

But, as China’s world reach continues to grow, and as the fashion and entertainment industries become more and more accepting of diverse looks, Chinese women will have more role models who look like they do, and will hopefully be less inclined to “Westernise” their looks.

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Keywords: Chinese women breast enlargement china Western Beauty China Surgical Enhancement Cosmetic Surgery china China Chinese Beauty

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9 Comments ( Add your comment )

1
comment|7533|0
Patrick

It’s "Westernize."

Oct 13, 2010 01:07
2
comment|7536|0
Carl

No it's not. Are you from America? Don't tell British people how to spell. It's 'Westernise."

Oct 13, 2010 05:34
3
comment|7733|0
Rick

Brits can claim they have the proper spellings when they stop making words look like French, ie: "colour", "Honour", "theatre", etc.

And yes, it's "westerniZe". It's a Z sound, not "Westernice", which according to grammar, is what the -ise ending to the word is.

Brits originated the language, America perfected it.

Oct 19, 2010 04:39
4
comment|7735|0
Anonymous

As Winston Churchill said (may have been quoting) - Britain and America, two countries divided by one language.

Oct 19, 2010 09:25
5
comment|7737|0
Anonymous

Rick,

You are an arse (not ass).

There are 2 systems, both correct. It was Patrick who took it upon himself to correct something that was already correct.

Oct 19, 2010 09:39
6
comment|7739|0
DarkClarity

I guess the French really did win that war.

Oct 19, 2010 16:17
7
comment|9465|0
9dragonking

Nice article. Though I do disagree from a different perspective. When most people say Caucasian this and Caucasian that... doesn't it just seem like ethnocentrism taking it's toll? As in Caucasian's perception of various ethnic groups attempt desire to emulate them or reference them. This is understandable because caucasians were the ones who set the foundation for most modern day culture. However a good example that show this is not the case would be the double fold eye surgery Asians usually have.

It obvious that these Asians want to conform.Conform to who? Well let's use china. What's the majority group in china? Chinese. With extensive research or a view of a plastic surgery ad for Asians it easy to find out that approximately 50 percent of Asians have naturally born mono or one fold eyes. And the rest? approximately 50 percent have naturally born double folded eyes or "big eyes." Wow It's social factor and a psychological factor, people want to be closer to what that society regards as beauty. With research of oriental china's perception of beauty favored small nose, big eyes, small lips, well rounded small jaw, lean body, lighjt skin. These traits are what plastic surgeons try to accomplish most of the time with their Asian clients. Though some Caucasian's surgeon are very ethnocentric to their own culture hence forth calling it westernizing no matter ethnic the client is. As double eye fold trait is possessed by those from all ethnicity though Caucasians claim it as they main trait when in fact African's eyes seem to have a superior double fold. On the otherhand there are surgeons who are cuacasian, asian and african who knows that the value and emphasize on the Asian characteristics that differ from Caucasians, as they work though the procedure.

http://www.drmccurdy.com/double.htm- a link to more info.

Another reason for this distorted perception on Asians is probably stereotypes which occurs mostly in American, a country that is very ignorant of various minority culture and ehtnics, but strive to understand more. Since asians are generalized and exaggerated by stereotype they fail to conceive that Asians like whites have various different eye sizes too.

As for the light skin. It's a social class factor. As you pointed out. Oh in Asian culture social class is as important then one's life. As reputation and respect is lusted after. Anything that symbolize high social class is taken in consideration including lighter skin. This has been this way for over five thousand years.

On a personal note:
I myself am a Asian, an Asian American. I have have various friends from different ethnicity and age. From what I understand individual physical traits is connected to ethnicity, but it doesn't really have that strong of a connection as perceive in stereo types. I have white friends who do have small eyes, African friends with small lips and Asians with big eyes. I have a mono or one fold set of eye while my sister, mother and grandmother have natural double fold eyes or "big eyes." My mother once suggested I have surgery to conform to them, but I refused because I dislike the idea of cutting myself up just to conform.

Any how thank you for whoever is reading this and I hope this give you more insight.

Dec 15, 2010 16:09
8
comment|14349|0
Vanessa

Patrick - you are a narrow-minded, egotistical DICK. It is people like you that give Americans a bad name. There is a world outside of the U.S.A, in case you didn't know, and not everyone is the same as you (THANK GOD). The different adaptions of the English language are what creates uniqueness amongst the English, Australian, Irish, Scottish and American people, and its beautiful! When I lived in Australia I spelt with an S, when I lived in Canada a Z . . . they are both correct. I recommend you step outside of the U.S and experience the world, you clearly need to appreciate other cultures and customs!

Apr 12, 2011 14:17
9
comment|37922|228230
13david

Can't believe that spelling arguments come before discussion of a very important issue in China. If you look at advertising hoardings in China you will hardly ever see a truelly Chinese woman they are nearly all "western". Great role models for young Chinese women and very sad. "White" skin is highly prized by women because that is what men want. Women also want to look as far away from a peasant as possible. Many despise them. It may not have happened in China yet, but in Korea operations are performed on the roof of the mouth to sound less Asian and more American. Imagine! Vanessa,you are correct, but who cares. Pity you got sucked into trivia rather than giving your perspective on this article. Only 9dragonking has attempted any analysis of the article and it is food for thought. Well done.

Jun 05, 2013 10:58

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