|(Illustration: Liu Rui/GT)|
>> Travelers stopped by customs after celebrity surgery makeovers
They buy luxury goods from designer handbags to vintage French wine. They travel to exotic resorts in the Maldives and the south of France. And they buy multi-million-dollar apartments in New York and London. But that's definitely not all. The Chinese elite, with their rapidly accumulating wealth, have been gaining a ferocious appetite for plastic surgery.
China is not the most obsessive country about plastic surgery, or at least not yet. In South Korea, one quarter of women have fixed their face in one way or another, the highest rate in the world. In the US, the lifts of faces and buttocks, the Botox treatments and the breast work are, of course, infamous. Who can forget the late pop icon Michael Jackson shocking the world by changing not only his face but the color of his skin?
But China has more than 1 million people undergoing plastic surgery every year now, making it the third largest market after the US and Brazil. Every now and then, plastic surgery related news will make big headlines, from the speculation about who among the movie stars has had breasts augmented or jaws sharpened, to the malpractices that have permanently disfigured their victims or even cost them their lives.
In recent days, we heard film director Jiang Wen, apparently fed up with the impact of Botox, calling on Chinese actresses to stop altering their faces and vowing not to use man-made beauties in his new movie. Soon after, a teenage Chinese girl who went to South Korea to have her face fixed became a media sensation by being transformed from an unattractive duck with an unusually long jaw to a beautiful swan with a face looking like a Barbie doll.
I have no problem with women having plastic surgery, although I am personally too lazy to even put on makeup. According to some scientific research in China and some Western countries, people's looks, especially height, has a lot to do with their incomes. Science apart, common sense also tells us a good looking face can bring us more opportunities. And it may be even more the case for women.
Gender inequality? Genetic inequality? Yes. But our faces are laid out by genes over which we ourselves have little control. This is not a fair game from the beginning. So if some people think plastic surgery can help reduce the natural born unfairness and boost their self-esteem, then why not?
But what really disturbed me was a story in Guangzhou Daily about how a fake Fan Bingbing disappointed fans of the real one. Fan, a movie star in China, has long been considered a very beautiful woman by many Chinese. Now young girls take her pictures with them when they go abroad for plastic surgery and come back all looking like her.
This has caused some chaos at the airport. First, customs officials found the women look different from the photos on their passports, and other passengers took them to be as the real movie star. After one look-alike Fan told hopeful fans that she was not really the star, one customs officer at the Gongbei Customs in Zhuhai city told a reporter that she was the second young woman with a Fan-style face he had seen in the past two hours.
I think Fan is beautiful. But this is not about beauty.
We are now living in a world where almost everything is standardized, thanks to the swiping post-industrial culture that has its single vision fixed on maximizing efficiency and profits.
We have fast food made by different restaurants but all tasting like McDonald's or KFC. We have movies produced by different studios in different countries but all looking like Hollywood. We have chain stores sprawling all over the world that make the experiences of visiting Beijing and New York, Madrid and Mumbai more and more the same.
Beauty may only be the latest casualty of the out-of-control monster of standardization. The standards are clear enough to follow and the results have been tested numerous times so they are predictably satisfactory. We'll all look into the mirror and be pleased until we look at each other. Then we'll be freaked out by seeing we all look the same.