China's Female Workers Turning to Cosmetic Surgery to Stay Competitive


You know how at the beginning of a Nip/Tuck episode some apparently INSANE person would stroll into the office and explain in a pathos-evoking way how she needed to have roughly the facial bone structure of a Bengal tiger if she wanted to keep her job as the madam of an animorph-themed bordello in Nevada? “These young girls,” she might say to the placidly judgmental faces of Christian Troy and Sean McNamara, “some of them are basically all ocelot. I can’t stay in the game unless I look exactly like a Bengal tiger. My livelihood depends on it.” For tiger madam, invasive, borderline irresponsible plastic surgery might be the necessary cost of earning a living in the zoomorphic fetish industry, but for working Chinese women, cosmetic surgery might be the only way to keep their employers from hiring a younger replacement.

According to a recent (and fairly horrifying) report from Daily Beast contributor Joanna Chiu, Chinese employers put undue emphasis on youth, which has led to a boom in cosmetic surgery, especially among working women on the cusp of thirty and looking back down the job ladder at the hordes of twenty-something competitors. Remember the government-labeled “leftover women” of China, those women who are 27-and-up, unmarried, and completely disrespected by the ruling party? Well, thanks to the cultural and economic transformations China has experienced in recent decades, Chinese women, according to anthropologist Wen Hua, feel job insecurity and anxiety more acutely than men.

Hua, the author of Buyings Beauty: Cosmetic Surgery in China, explain to Chiu that beauty is often seen in China as a door-opening asset in the workforce:

The dramatic economic, cultural and political changes in China have produced immense anxiety experienced by women, which stimulates the belief that beauty is capital…
Cosmetic surgery has become a form of consumer choice; it reflects in microcosm the transition of China from communism to consumerism with its own Chinese characteristics.

Wen’s research into the layoffs of urban workers from 1993 to 2001 helps illustrate the prevalence of employment insecurity among women. Nearly a quarter of China’s workforce (approximately 43 million people) were laid off in the 90s, but women were more often laid off than men, and, when re-applying for jobs, they encountered much more discrimination than men. Wh-what?? A patriarchal culture discriminating against women in the workforce? YOU DON’T SAY. In China, however, the employment gap has taken on new dimensions. Wen’s research further revealed that minimum age and height requirements pepper job advertisements in China, with a 2003 review of the country’s job ads showing that over-30 women might have a particularly hard time finding work: more than 90 percent of those job postings were only open to applicants under 30.

Women in China, however, refuse to let ageism dissuade them from entering the labor market. From Chiu’s report:

But these obstacles have not kept women from aiming high. A 2011 study by the Centre for World-Life Policy found that 76 percent of women in China aspire to top jobs, compared with 52 percent in the United States.
Ambitious women who turn to cosmetic surgery to gain an edge in the job market fuel a 2.5 billion a year industry in China that has grown at a pace of 20 percent per year, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. China is now the third largest market for cosmetic surgery in the world, after the US and Brazil, although when population is taken into account cosmetic surgery may be most common in South Korea.

The cosmetic surgery craze in South Korea has been well-documented, but China seems unique among other countries in that extremely traumatizing cosmetic surgeries seem to be, in certain instances, more like business expenses that wish-fulfillments — getting a nose job is, for the 28-year-old administrative assistant hoping to keep her job, like getting a new computer. To meet height requirements on job postings, super-dangerous, Gattaca-esque “leg-stretching” procedures have become popular in China, though they’re rarely used for cosmetic purposes in other parts of the world, which leads us unhappily to the most troubling nugget of information in this whole report: cosmetic surgery in China is fairly cheap and generally unregulated.

Nothing quite ties the bow on a scary plastic surgery piece like an anecdote about some horrifying back-alley clinic, something that Chiu provides for us. To gain some more insight into the plastic surgery industry, she visited a private clinic in Shenzhen housed in a building “with drunk or drugged men sprawled in the hallways.” Then a teenage assistant suggested that she self-administer some human placenta injections, and Chiu was all, “I’m getting the fuck out of here, pronto” because unregulated surgery is basically one of the most terrifying things about the modern human condition. You simply can’t trust the man who’s performing your rhinoplasty in the back of a nail salon to not be a raging nitrous oxide addict à la Merrill Bobolit.

In China, ‘Leftover Women’ Get Plastic Surgery [The Daily Beast]

Image via AP, Elizabeth Dalziel

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