A few weeks ago, I discussed the problems facing women in the workplace here in China. I focused particularly on the plight of young female graduates. The situation for those looking for their first job after graduation is bleak enough, with 7 million graduates battling it out for an ever-decreasing number of positions, but many women will also face the extra hurdle of overt sexual discrimination. This has sparked one of the most bizarre trends the Chinese workplace has ever seen – a surge in the levels of cosmetic surgery.
Photo: Charlie Brewer
If I am honest, I must admit that this was not the article I originally intended to file this week. However, as I lazily surfed through the pages of China Daily’s online edition and Xinhua.net, I stumbled upon an article that made me sit up and pay attention. The headline read “Buckteeth Girl reject 21 times by employers.” My first reaction was that the headline writer at China Daily should be sacked for (a) his or her shocking grammar, and (b) their insensitive language. As I read further, though, and did a little more digging, I began to see that this story was indicative of a worrying trend here in China – women looking to alter their appearance to look ‘prettier’ in order to get jobs.
Miss B - I cannot bear to call her ‘buckteeth girl’ – is a student who will graduate this month. Like millions of others, she is on the lookout for a job once her studies are complete. However, her efforts proved fruitless as she was knocked back by 21 different employers in the space of one week. After such disappointment, many of her friends and family urged her to keep trying to find that dream job. Others, though, urged her to consider cosmetic surgery as they believed that employers will always be prejudiced towards ‘unattractive’ women. The extreme reaction of some of her friends alarmed, but also slightly amused me. Yet, as I read on through other articles, I began to see the issue of cosmetic surgery amongst female job hunters is no joke.
A story in America’s LA Times featured 22 year-old student Lydia Yang, who had surgery on her eyes in order to give her double eyelids. The rationale behind her decision to go under the knife was simple. She explained, “The more beautiful a girl is, the easier it will be for her to get a good job.” She argued that, “Interviewers may not say it openly, but during the process they will pick the prettier one. So it is necessary to undertake such small surgeries to become more beautiful, though the cost is a little bit high."
Lydia had her surgery at the Shanghai Time Plastic Surgery Hospital. Dr Liao Yuhua, President of the hospital, told the Times that business is booming and is up 40% on last year, which is certainly in major contrast to most other industries in China and the cosmetic surgery industry worldwide. Liao reported that the ten doctors working at the hospital were doing up to 100 procedures a day including raising noses and cutting eyelids. He found that 50% of the cases passing through the hospital were job related. These fell into two clear groups. Graduates hoping to find their first job and, "White-collar employees after being laid off are having surgery so they are more attractive for the job search."
In Hefei, things were similar. A 22 year-old graduate named Zhao told Xinhua that cosmetic surgery transformed her confidence and that she believes it will help her to find a good job, “I have participated in several interviews, but failed, I felt my face broad and my eyes small. The appearance made me lack confidence and perhaps affected the judge of interviewers. At least I am more confident now.” A doctor at the hold hospital which performed Zhao’s surgery told Xinhua, “After the Spring Festival, our center has seen a remarkable rise of the number of college students who come to have cosmetic surgeries," He speculated that graduates made up about half of all their patients.
Possibly the most startling thing about the growth of cosmetic surgery as a job-hunting technique, is the cost involved for the young women undergoing the procedures. The most common changes they are looking for, according to the website Cosmetic Surgery Today, include double eyelids, higher or sharper noses, rounder cheekbones and other procedures that will make their face look rounder and more symmetrical. These procedures commonly cost between 3,000 and 5,000 RMB, or more – Ms Zhao’s procedure cost her 10,000 RMB.
Sadly, finding out if cosmetic surgery actually helps the women involved will be difficult. With Chinese labor law outlawing discriminatory hiring practices, few companies are going to admit to hiring prettier young women as opposed to their ‘bucktoothed’ sisters.
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