Men in China Turn to Cosmetic Surgery to Increase Chances of Success

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Fearing that his appearance would hurt opportunities in China’s competitive society, Xia Shurong decided to go under the surgeon’s knife to reshape his nose – one of the country’s millions of young men turning to cosmetic surgery.

The 27-year-old researcher wanted medical procedures to turn his “engineering geek” appearance into something he believes will increase his chances in life.

Beauty standards in China can be demanding, from the pressure on skin tone, eye shape and nose to the controversial look of “little fresh meat” – a buzzword used to describe handsome young men with delicate features.

“I think I should be ‘fresh meat’ at my age, but I already look like a middle-aged uncle,” Xia explained.

AFP met Xia in Beijing as he was preparing for surgery to plump his features. He had already spent 40,000 yuan ($ 6,192) for a facial filling procedure earlier this year.

“I grew up in the countryside – my face was dark, my skin was bad, I thought my appearance was not good in general,” he said, adding that he had long planned to work again his face.

“I have always felt a feeling of inferiority,” he added.

The intense popularity of Chinese social media – rife with trends in cosmetic procedures, beauty “tutorials” and tips on how to become “beautiful” – has added to the pressure for many.

An increasing number of educated men in China are opting for cosmetic and surgical procedures to give them an edge.

According to Chinese consulting firm iResearch, about 17% of male white-collar workers in China have undergone cosmetic treatments, and the vast majority of men have had their first procedure before the age of 30.

“Changed my fate”

Xia Zhengyi, the doctor performing the procedure for Xia, says he has seen an increase in the number of young men coming to see him for procedures.

“Surgery can change facial expression and give people a feeling of privacy, which is good for your relationships with people,” he said.

Rose Han, of investment group BeauCare Clinics, said male officials opt for procedures because they fear looking tired or old could mean missing promotions.

Xia Shurong follows a nurse to the operating room of a Beijing clinic. | AFP-JIJI

Men in their 20s were most interested in eye and nose reconstruction surgery, according to surgery app So Young, which cited a survey of their 8.9 million monthly active users.

“It’s not like buying a Gucci handbag – it’s giving yourself an opportunity. Confidence will bring changes to my work and my life,” Xia said.

According to government data, China’s average national disposable income has more than doubled since 2010. The rising wealth of China’s middle class has helped fuel interest in such procedures.

Zhang Xiaoma quit his job at an IT company to become a full-time social media influencer after sharing his own cosmetic surgery experience.

“You can do more work in front of the camera if you become more attractive,” Zhang said.

Its procedures include “elf ears” – a process that fills the ears with hyaluronic acid to make them appear more prominent while the face appears smaller. It became popular after a social media star documented the procedure and it went viral.

Model Nai Wen has had more than 60 facial procedures, including laser treatments, and believes cosmetic surgery “changed her fate.”

“It’s as practical as a face mask – it’s really amazing that you can increase your age without getting old.” he told AFP during a shoot.

Stigma and complaints

China’s cosmetic surgery industry is now worth 197 billion yuan ($ 30 billion), up from 64.8 billion yuan in 2015, according to iResearch.

But the rapid growth in demand comes at a time when authorities fear the country is facing a “masculinity crisis.”

Beijing criticized the “fresh little meat” look and proposed increasing physical education classes for boys to encourage a more “traditional” form of masculinity in society.

Earlier this month, the regular show ordered TV stations not to show onscreen “anomalous aesthetics” such as “sissy” men.

A doctor examines Xia Shurong a week after his plastic surgery at a Beijing clinic.  |  AFP-JIJI
A doctor examines Xia Shurong a week after his plastic surgery at a Beijing clinic. | AFP-JIJI

There are also safety and quality concerns – the National Consumer Association has registered over 7,200 complaints relating to the cosmetics industry.

Xiaoran, a 33-year-old online influencer, died of a severe infection after undergoing liposuction, state media reported in July. The clinic where she was operated on has since been closed, the Global Times reported.

And the images shared by actor Gao Liu this year have gone viral in Chinese media, showing dead and blackened flesh on his nose after an operation gone awry.

Critics believe there needs to be better regulation.

Model Nai admits that there is a risk that cosmetic surgery will become “addictive”.

“You cannot accept an ugly self,” he added.

After her hour-long operation in Beijing, Xia examines her face in a hand mirror, turning side to side.

“It’s a little different, but it’s not quite as I expected,” he admitted.

“I think it may take a while to achieve the perfect look.”

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