Kyoko Altman at PostGlobal

Kyoko Altman

Hong Kong, China

Kyoko Altman has worked as a correspondent and anchor for CNN and CNBC, and as a news-magazine reporter for Japan's top-ranked news program 'News Station' on TV Asahi. She has covered more than twenty countries. Close.

Kyoko Altman

Hong Kong, China

Kyoko Altman has worked as a correspondent and anchor for CNN and CNBC, and as a news-magazine reporter for Japan's top-ranked news program 'News Station' on TV Asahi. more »

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China's Frightening Beauty Industry

“The women’s cleavage displayed in the film ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’ has sent ladies rushing to plastic surgeons for breast enhancement,” writes the Shanghai Daily. In 1999 Shanghai had hardly any plastic surgery hospitals. Today there are more than one hundred. Women in China are racing to get their eyes double-lidded, their waists slimmer, their breasts enlarged in the pursuit of beauty and sexuality with dangerous consequences.

According to Xinhua news agency, China’s beauty industry now accounts for 1.8 percent of the country’s GDP, providing some 20 million jobs. And it keeps growing as China gets richer. The speed at which the industry is expanding in a developing market that struggles from lack of government oversight and regulation has resulted in countless horror stories.

Late last year, Beijing had to warn its image-conscious citizens against leg-lengthening surgery after ten people who had responded to a hospital advertisement for ‘height without pain’ ended up disfigured. The operation involved breaking the patient’s legs and then stretching them on a rack.

And it’s not just cosmetic surgery that’s causing irreversible damage. Women who recently opted to avoid the knife by injecting hydrophilic polyacrylamide gel or PAAG to enhance their breasts found themselves with infections -- even cancer. The toxic gel left many victims without breasts at all.

A centuries old notion of Chinese beauty holds that white skin stands for beauty and status while dark skin represents manual labou and poverty. Not too long after a survey by a Shanghai-based internet research company found that half of Chinese women between 21 and 33 agreed that skin-whitener was their favorite product and on average used at least 3 creams, health officials found that many skin-whiteners in China had excessive quantities of mercury that could lead to skin deformation.

The suffering from the string of scandals to hit China’s beauty industry has led to a gradual realization of the physical consequences of ‘oversexualization’ in an unregulated market. China hasn’t even begun to weigh the psychological repercussions of all this.

Meantime China's obsession with beauty has an unusual wrinkle. It's not limited to women. The Shanghai branch of China Hairdressing and Beauty Association says that roughly 30 percent of the industry's procedures are for men and their share of the market is growing. A Shanghai plastic surgeon claims more than half of his patients are now men between 18 and 26 who typically want thinner faces, pointed chins and straight noses. If nothing else, the obsession with beauty, sex, and gender in China may be moving towards a curious -- and dangerous -- gender equality.

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