They say beauty is only skin deep. But for many China ladies, plastic surgery is more than just a pretty face.

Soaring numbers of Chinese women are turning to cosmetic surgery to gain an edge in a job market, fuelling a $2.5 billion-a-year boom in the industry, as reported by the Daily Beast. In particular, young ladies on the cusp of turning thirty seem to be swarming the doctor’s office for a facade upgrade to stay competitive against the fresh-faced twenty-somethings.

And their fears are not unfounded: In an environment where a quarter of the urban labour force is out of job, women were often the first to be laid off and the last to be hired back. When applying for jobs, they encountered much more discrimination than men too. A 2003 review of job advertisements further revealed that among positions open to women, nearly 90 percent were open only to those younger than 30 years old. Youth is particularly cherished in the Chinese society where women who remain unmarried past age 27 are labelled as “leftover women”. Women who don’t meet minimum height requirements (usually set at 1.58 meters) are reported to have been denied government jobs too.

Read More: The Dress that Brings Success


The Power of Beauty Extends Beyond the Bedroom to the Boardroom: China’s youths “investing” in cosmetic enhancements to nip, tuck and inject their way to brighter career prospects has contributed to a boom in plastic surgery. Nose augmentation, double eyelid surgery and dermal fillers are the most requested treatments, with chin-plants and jawline reshaping on the rise too.


While ageism and sexism endemic in China has pushed young women to the knife edge, the “beauty premium” is a well-recognised phenomenon that transcends cultures. Not only do we judge books by their covers, humans may be hard-wired to read the ones with attractive covers with much more interest than others. Research have shown that good-looking men and women are generally regarded positively to be more talented, kind, competent and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts, as often reflected in fairytales and movies throughout history. Even studies of babies show they will look more intently and longer at attractive faces.

While meritocracies are supposed to champion intelligence, qualifications and experience, a U.S. survey found that attractive lawyers earn between 10-12% more than less good-looking colleagues. Controlled studies have also showed how people go out of their way to help the beautiful, both of the same gender and opposite sex. The beauty premium delivers substantial benefits in social interaction, making the physically attractive people more well-recieved, better able to secure the cooperation of colleagues, attract customers and sell products.

Read More: Does Beauty Matter in Politics?


Buying Beauty Overseas: As the Chinese find new wealth, hordes are venturing overseas to plastic surgery havens like South Korea for a new face. Would the “Korean Clones” be invading China soon? 


China is currently the third largest market for cosmetic surgery, behind the United States and Brazil, and estimated to be growing at a pace of 20 percent per year. But in the era of the ultra-competitive job market, women aren’t the only ones encouraged to undergo cosmetic enhancements to gain an advantage in the career race or to marry – Surgeons are starting to see more male students jumping onto the beauty bandwagon for similar reasons as well, according to a First Time spot survey of plastic surgery hospitals in Shanghai.

The breathtaking pace of transformation for upwardly mobile Chinese – from bicycles to cars, village to city, housebound holidays to ski vacations – has now brought many such Chinese “beauty investors” overseas to places like South Korea too. Korea has over 1,400 registered cosmetic surgery clinics which received over 150,000 foreign patients in 2012, and nearly one third of these clients were from China. However, the growing popularity of Korean cosmetic surgery expertise among the Chinese has also seen a surge in number of incidents and disputes over the results of the procedures and the clinics’ fees, as well as complaints of scams involving travel agencies who arranged the trip and treatment as a package. Some of the Korean clinics were even found to be unqualified to perform surgery. And many Chinese clients had the feedback that they had inadequate understanding and knowledge about the procedures they underwent as well, since many surgical procedures involve advanced medical terminology that is difficult to put across with basic Korean-Chinese translation.

So if you’re tempted to pay pilgrimage to this “Mecca of Cosmetic Surgery of the East” and home of man-made K-Pop beauties, do choose your clinics carefully and select travel agencies with the necessary medical knowledge to facilitate communication with the doctor.

Read More: Korean Plastic Surgery Turning Women into Clones?


– By Emily Wong


*This article has been selected Editor’s Choice for Aug 2013*