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Eyelid surgery is performed on to make the eye appear bigger
Eyelid surgery is performed on to make the eye appear biggerImage: AP

Asia under the knife of cosmetic surgery

April 12, 2010

The number of people willing to be put under the knife for corrective plastic surgery fell during the economic crisis worldwide but in certain parts of Asia, there is a growing market.


An estimated million Chinese people have beauty operations annually, having new noses sculpted or their eyes enlargened. It is thought that between 1 and 2 percent of the operations are botched.

In recent times, therefore, many Chinese people have started going to South Korea, also known as the Asian Mecca of cosmetic surgery, where doctors are respected for their expertise.

Moreover, "there seems to be a trend for Korean plastic surgeons to go to China and perform surgery there. I have heard that those clinics are doing well," says South Korean plastic surgeon Lee Injoon.

Dr Kwak, a plastic surgeon with a practice in New York, explains that Korea has a long tradition of plastic surgery. He says the most common time for Koreans to get corrective operations was after high school and college.

"There is a large cultural push to have this better looking appearance to either land a better job or to impress a person of the opposite sex, to increase the chances of marriage and so forth."

Chinese fashion writer Hao Lulu, aka
Chinese fashion writer Hao Lulu, aka "Artificial Beauty", has had over 16 beauty operationsImage: AP

Bigger eyes and noses

The most common operation among East Asians is eyelid surgery, where a fold is added to the top eyelid to make the eye look bigger. The second most common is rhinoplasty, a procedure that enlarges the nose.

Many surgeons agree that these are safe procedures but Professor Dr Mang of the Bodensee Clinic in southern Germany says that this so-called "surgery tourism" is dangerous.

"I strongly advise against cheap operations and operation tourism, where the health of the patient is ignored. I have had patients who were infected with hepatitis, whose nipples had shrivelled up because of bad and some with so much silicone in their lips they could barely talk."

Advocating gentle cosmetic surgery

Mang is the main German advocate of what he calls "gentle cosmetic surgery". He criticizes the current trend in Asia, saying the methods there are too "brutal" and changes are too extreme.

"These days, there are no limits to the beauty craze. In the 90s, people between 20 and 60 were getting operations, now 14-year-old girls are getting their breasts operated on, getting liposuction or new noses."

Psychologists say there are two reasons why operations are becoming more common: increased exposure to perfect-looking, photoshopped movie stars, which might make some feel self-conscious about their bodies, and the fact that procedures are becoming less expensive.

Operations can’t be "undone" decades later

However, psychologists say cosmetic surgery is not as likely to boost patient's self-esteem as some people think. Dr Diana Zuckerman, president of the Washington DC-based National Research Center for Women and Families, says plastic surgery is oftentimes not the solution to a problem.

"One of the most interesting things about plastic surgery is the way it’s been sold as a way to help people feel better about themselves. In fact, there's just no data to support it. These changes are not easy to undo. If you get breast implants when you’re 19 and no longer want very large breasts when you're 30 and would rather be yourself, you can't just have them taken out. Your breasts will be stretched out of shape. You can't just undo it," she says.

Pre-operation preparation
Pre-operation preparationImage: AP

Dr Sanjay Chugh, a psychiatrist in India who treats patients who have had or are planning to have plastic surgery, agrees. "I think dissatisfaction with body image has been around for a very, very long time," he explains.

"But now cosmetic surgeons have so much to offer, it's like they are sculptors who are offering to re-sculpt your body for you. And when a solution is available, the problem is probably created after the solution is available."

Now that it has become possible to re-sculpt parts of the body, it only seems fitting that in modern consumer societies people are able to buy a new nose instead of a new car or sofa.

Author: Sarah Berning
Editor: Anne Thomas

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