A Close-Up Of The Plastics : China’s Emerging Influencers

The pop­ular­ity of China’s plastic sur­gery afi­cion­ados has been on the steady rise over the past two years. Espe­cially those bold an beau­ti­ful kid­dos who dream of livestream­ing fame, get in some reg­u­lar facial “updates” to gain more likes and fol­low­ers. Tem­per Magazine con­trib­ut­or Jes­sica Laiter goes bey­ond skin-deep and gets raw and real. Beau­ty as a cur­rency… How deep does it run ?

The livestreaming entertainment hub in 2016 generated some 30 billion RMB (give or take 4 million USD) and, if all goes well, will triple this number by 2020. 

Care to make a long, lush life for your­self in China ? Get stream­ing ; LIVEstream­ing ! Though the “long” aspect might turn out to be a slightly short­er ver­sion, livestream­ing is one luc­rat­ive China busi­ness. This par­tic­u­lar enter­tain­ment hub in 2016 gen­er­ated some 30 bil­lion RMB (give or take 4 mil­lion USD) and, if all goes well, will triple this num­ber by 2020. One of China’s fore­front web­cam­mers, Zhang Dayi, in 2016 alone made a sloppy 40 mil­lion EUR. That’s more than China’s biggest-earn­ing act­ress, Fan Bing­bing, who in 2016 made “only” 18 mil­lion. Many a by no means-ugly duck­ling can barely wait to waddle in their foot­steps and swim­mingly hatch their own eggs filled with some golden online yolk. 

Watch this quick Vice intro to some China livestream­er pan­ache — cour­tesy of the Vice Inter­na­tion­al You­Tube Chan­nel):

Those bold an beau­ti­ful kid­dos who dream of livestream­ing fame espe­cially get reg­u­lar “updates” (“upgrades” remains an irrel­ev­ant term here) done to gain more likes and fol­low­ers. Not to men­tion cold hard cash — China’s stream­ing stars can make up to 13,000 USD per month. Where­as the mat­ter of their net worth being well-deserved remains ques­tion­able, they them­selves and their China Beau­ty beliefs undoubtedly are worth a visu­al exam­in­a­tion Temper’s beau­ti­ful boo Jes­sica Laiter tells the tale of an ugly truth.

No matter how much effort I put in, there is always just that little bit “extra” I could do, like getting that one last mascara that promises to give me those “BETTER THAN SEX” eyelashes.

The smokescreen of beau­ty hangs in front of us like a wet blanket sop­ping with the dreams of non-achiev­able stand­ards. As a young woman liv­ing in New York, many of my days can feel like an uphill battle. It’s as if Im climb­ing Mt. Everest, but nev­er really make it to the top because no mat­ter how much effort I put in, there is always just that little bit “extra” I could do… That one more red lip stain I could buy, that extra pair of slip on sneak­ers I could wear, that one last mas­cara that prom­ises to give me “BET­TER THAN SEX” (copyright@Toofaced, indeed) eye­lashes. It’s just nev­er enough ; and what for ? When will enough, be enough ? Women around the world are con­sist­ently bar­raged with images and head­lines telling them what they need to have, what they need to look like and what “truly” defines “True Beau­ty”.

Well. Allow me to call BS on it all.

 

A Close-Up Of The Plastics: China’s Emerging Influencers
A Close-Up Of The Plastics : China’s Emer­ging Influ­en­cers
Super­star stream­er Zhang Xiuxi­an dicusses his plastic “invest­ments” on Dutch tele­vi­sion. Copyright@Frank Ver­brg for NOS.

 

The Hot Girl Diet

Aka liv­ing the high life of cigar­ettes, Diet Coke and much room left for solids. The beau­ty industry has dic­tated the “stand­ards of beau­ty” since its incep­tion. What does that beau­ty look like ? I’ll tell you. In the United States and Europe, this beau­ty calls for tall and thin, cigar­ette-skinny legs, milky clear skin, volu­min­ous hair, Kylie Jen­ner lips, a Bar­bie-sized waist and large assets. The crime of it all is that along with glob­al­iz­a­tion, comes the imper­i­al­ist­ic injec­tion of these nar­row vis­ions into the devel­op­ing minds of women in emer­ging mar­kets and coun­tries. It’s the “just for­get their per­cep­tions of beau­ty ; they’re wrong ; just do as we say, look how we tell you to look” man­tra.

The effects of West­ern­ized beau­ty have cer­tainly sur­faced in China, where the women strive to look like “us.” Don’t get me wrong, beau­ty stand­ards have always been a pre­requis­ite in Chinese cul­ture, ran­ging any­where from determ­in­ing mar­riage arrange­ments and fore­cast­ing wealth, to hav­ing a suc­cess­ful career. Dur­ing one of my trips to China, I had din­ner with a well renowned cal­li­grapher and after sev­er­al rounds of gan­bei (cheers!) and mul­tiple munch­ings of hot­pot, the man pro­ceeded to tell me that my facial fea­tures implied I would nev­er find love nor be suc­cess­ful in my career… All this based solely on the shape of my nose and the size of my fore­head — and he truly believed what he said. BTW : Thanks a lot, dude. Appre­ci­ate the con­fid­ence.

Those obser­va­tions were based on tra­di­tion­al Chinese stand­ards of beau­ty, but today’s judg­ments are reserved for those who do not ful­fill the west­ern or mixed race require­ments. Racial diversity is sup­posed to expose vari­ations of beau­ty, not to be hindered by the desire for con­form­ity. The fact of the mat­ter is that Chinese women do not resemble European and Amer­ic­an women and that should be a pos­it­ive thing ! Their fea­tures are dis­tinct, exot­ic, and should be embraced. How­ever, the inab­il­ity to do so can­not be resolved with a stroke of blush­er or a slash­ing of lip­stick. No. It requires plastic sur­gery, a phe­nomen­on sweep­ing across China and seep­ing into the crevices of their soci­ety.

China ranks behind the United States and Brazil with the highest num­ber of total plastic sur­gery pro­ced­ures and this num­ber con­tin­ues to grow. In fact, often times get­ting some­thing done is highly encour­aged by fam­ily and friends. The industry by 2019 is expec­ted to reach a size of 800 bil­lion RMB (USD122 bil­lion) — up from its 2014 value of 400 bil­lion RMB. “Insane” is the very fac­tu­al and rel­ev­ant word that springs to mind here.

 

A Close-Up Of The Plastics: China’s Emerging Influencers
A Close-Up Of The Plastics : China’s Emer­ging Influ­en­cers
Zhang is, in his own words, pur­su­ing the “manga doll” look. Copyright@Frank Ver­burg for NOS.

 

Hot To Trot ?

Clearly, the women of China have issues with their nat­ur­al appear­ances. To them, the looks of European, Amer­ic­an, Japan­ese and Korean women are ideal. They com­monly chase after the double-eye­lid and the lar­ger sized baby doll eyes (rather than the single-eye­lid with a slightly more slanted shape). They’re after the big­ger eyes, smal­ler nose bridge, and a smoother jaw line. The goal, essen­tially, is too look like any­thing oth­er than the authen­tic­ally Chinese. The story is hon­estly tra­gic.

The industry of cos­met­ic sur­gery in China has surged over the past num­ber of years, and charges quite the hefty fee –for the elite and upper class, money is of no con­cern.  Plastic sur­gery is a given, how­ever many opt for the non-invas­ive “lunch­break pro­ced­ures” such as injec­tions. Those who find the ser­vices un-afford­able, seek under­ground cos­met­ic sur­gery (yes, you may take that to the Chinese char­ac­ters : 地下美容) facil­it­ies, put­ting them­selves at ser­i­ous risk for a botched exper­i­ence. At these undis­closed facil­it­ies, the tech­ni­cians and doc­tors are non-cer­ti­fied, lack exper­i­ence and, in gen­er­al, have no right put­ting a knife to any human being.

Accord­ing to HSBC, reg­u­lat­ors have approved only 20 per­cent of China’s hya­lur­on­ic acid injec­tions, while 60 per­cent are made up of either fake or smuggled ingredi­ents. Some 50,000 to 100,000 unqual­i­fied beau­ty salons are per­form­ing cos­met­ic sur­ger­ies in China, hence many people travel to South Korea for the pur­pose of book­ing the bet­ter clin­ics (unfor­tu­nately those are now being exposed for mal-prac­tice as well). What does a gal got­ta do to get a little pick me up here ? Is a doc­tor with some exper­i­ence too much to ask for ?

The most popular and largest of all photoshop-apps goes by the name of MEITU, well known for its uncanny ability to transform Chinese women into the western “beauties” they desire — before or after plastic surgery.

Due to these gaps in the sys­tem and a grave lack of account­ab­il­ity, women have been sub­jec­ted to bru­tal treat­ments, res­ult­ing in loss of eye­sight, wak­ing up with lop­sided faces and cop­ing with ill­ness from pois­on­ous injec­tions and fillers. Once more, I ask… Why ? In China, not only is the goal to emu­late west­ern women for the sim­ple sake of van­ity, but also a means for land­ing that per­fect job. When apply­ing for a job, men and women are required to sub­mit per­son­al pho­tos as well.  Job dis­crim­in­a­tion based on looks is real in China. Can you even ima­gine ?

The biggest cul­prit of them all is…drum roll, please…social media ! Sur­prise. Social media star­dom, a phe­nomen­on sweep­ing the world right now, has laid the pres­sure on thick. You want to be fam­ous ? Look like her…or her…or her…or her. Being Insta- or Weibo-fam­ous is the ulti­mate mod­ern day ver­sion of fame and it seems oh-so achiev­able for the aver­age woman. With a little bit of help from the “trust­worthy” pho­to-shop­ping apps, celebrity status is at arm’s length for the every­day beau­ty afi­cion­ado or fash­ionista.  Who wouldn’t want a piece ?  The most pop­ular and largest of them all goes by the name of MEITU, well known for its uncanny abil­ity to trans­form Chinese women into the west­ern “beau­ties” they desire. Before or after plastic sur­gery — yep, that’s right, your eye­sight isn’t blurred.

 

A Close-Up Of The Plastics: China’s Emerging Influencers
A Close-Up Of The Plastics : China’s Emer­ging Influ­en­cers
Nev­er bare-faced and with altered bone-struc­ture : Livestream­ing fame comes at a high cost. Copyright@Frank Ver­burg for NOS

 

The Bare-Faced Truth

Those who have already ris­en to ulti­mate star­dom or are well on their way may upload out­fits, beau­ty routines, and daily inter­ac­tions to their pub­lic pro­files on plat­forms such as Weibo, WeChat, and Ins­tagram, mul­tiple times a day. They micro-blog and cre­ate glam­or­ous online pho­to albums and homemade videos of them­selves social­iz­ing at private events, stay­ing in exclus­ive hotels and din­ing at high-end res­taur­ants, always in out­fits tailored per­fectly to the occa­sion. And smil­ing behind a per­fectly air­brushed face.

The women who are idol­ized for their per­form­ances have inspired and per­petu­ated the trend of air­brush­ing and plastic sur­gery in young women. Most fre­quently they can be found post­ing selfies smil­ing into a cam­era angled down­ward at the girl who stares seduct­ively with doe-wide eyes upwards into the faces of her audi­ence.  Tee­ter­ing on the bor­der of ador­able and seduc­tion, these young women are crav­ing to “fit in.” “Plastic influ­en­cers” are the real­ity, and although they per­petu­ate the very real and very scary reform­a­tion of women across the coun­try, they are the ones mak­ing money, the ones reach­ing lar­ger audi­ences, and the ones exem­pli­fy­ing the beau­ty stand­ard. These star­lets can make any­where from 300 mil­lion RMB (£35 mil­lion or about USD 46 mil­lion a year). Although beau­ty was always a money­maker, it is hard to believe some­times that these men and women are mak­ing more than many people hold­ing col­lege degrees.

Janet Chen, founder of Tophot, an incub­at­or com­pany that provides train­ing for emer­ging inter­net celebrit­ies, stated in her 2016 inter­view with BBC that “inter­net celebrit­ies have already out­per­formed show­biz A-listers and she attrib­utes this to the fact that they are more down-to-earth and approach­able.” She also poin­ted out that an attract­ive appear­ance has turned into an indis­pens­able qual­ity for Inter­net celebrit­ies. Sport­ing a so-called “inter­net celebrity face,” refer­ring to the com­bin­a­tion of doe eyes, a pointy chin, a high nose and fair skin, is a com­monly used short­hand in China.

Why is it ok for the everyday women of China to have plastic surgery in an attempt to look like these social media influencers and celebrities, but the celebrities themselves must possess have 100 percent authentic beauty ? Sounds like double standards to me.

Fame, The Ultimate Toxic Peel

Act­ress and Mod­el Angelababy, aka the Kim Kar­dashi­an of China, is one of these women. Meitu, the afore­men­tioned pho­to-edit­ing app, alters selfies so that ordin­ary women can look like her : Ssh­iny hair, white teeth” and a nar­row jawline. Her past endorse­ment deals have included Coach, Coca-Cola, Gap and Sam­son­ite. She was also recently named Chris­ti­an Dior’s very first Chinese ambas­sad­or. Pretty incred­ible, right ? Think again.

Des­pite the Chinese obses­sion with what I feel can be best described as “arti­fi­cial beau­ty,” upon Angelababy’s announce­ment as the newest Dior ambas­sad­or, an imme­di­ate out­cry again­st the decision flooded both China’s major Weibo and WeChat social plat­forms. “Why did Dior decide to des­troy its high-end pub­lic image?” people ques­tioned. The issue at hand stemmed from rampant rumors accus­ing her angelic beau­ty as hav­ing been plastic sur­gery-man­u­fac­tured. But wait a minute. Didn’t we just spend the last 5 minutes talk­ing about the glor­i­fic­a­tion of plastic sur­gery ? Although she was even­tu­ally found inno­cent of such claims, we have to won­der why she was held to such a dif­fer­ent stand­ard ? Why is it ok for the every­day women of China to have plastic sur­gery in attempt to look like these social media influ­en­cers and celebrit­ies, but the celebrit­ies them­selves must pos­sess have 100 per­cent authen­tic beau­ty ? Sounds like a double stand­ard to me. Well actu­ally it’s plain hypo­crisy… Down with hypo­crisy !

Angelababy endured hours of screen­ings to prove her inno­cence and claims that her good looks come from a healthy regi­men and a Ger­man grand­father. Prob­lem solved, right ? Not quite. The issue here is that she is val­id­at­ing her good looks with European genet­ics. This only fur­ther per­petu­ates the yearn­ing for Chinese women to look more West­ern­ized ! You’re not exactly help­ing the cause there, Angela, baby.

 

A Close-Up Of The Plastics: China’s Emerging Influencers
A Close-Up Of The Plastics : China’s Emer­ging Influ­en­cers
Li Wang (31): Hungry for online fame. Copyright@Frank Ver­burg for NOS.

 

A Famine Of/​For Beauty

The Chinese mar­ket is hungry. Hungry for suc­cess, hungry for beau­ty and hungry for accept­ance. These hun­ger pains, well, they can be sati­ated, but nev­er 100 per­cent sat­is­fied. The older gen­er­a­tion lived dur­ing a time of sim­pli­city and inter­de­pend­ence. Born into a whirl­wind of change, the young­er gen­er­a­tion now seeks indi­vidu­al­ity, fame and inde­pend­ence. Iron­ic­ally how­ever, these three goals have been exploited by the mar­ket, and some­how turned into nour­ish­ment for con­form­ity. It’s pos­sible the coun­try wasn’t allot­ted enough time to develop its domest­ic mar­ket before open­ing its gates to the west­ern industry. Hav­ing too many options at once can cause irra­tion­al decision-mak­ing. Skin­care, bags, shoes galore ! Which one offers the best qual­ity ? Which one makes for the optim­al choice ?

Women and men suf­fer from these conun­drums across the globe and it is pain­ful to watch. Plastic influ­en­cers, com­ing in from far and wide, are believed by too many to be nat­ur­ally per­fect, fur­ther encour­aging and feed­ing our insec­ur­it­ies and res­ult­ing in the destruc­tion of who we are as indi­vidu­als. Gone be the nat­ur­al mosa­ics that dis­tin­guish our his­tor­ies, our eth­ni­cit­ies and our true beings.

Some­times the people and places we idol­ize and use as role mod­els are in fact the most tox­ic ones out there. China’s idol­iz­a­tion of West­ern beau­ty and fash­ion appears to be caus­ing more harm than good in some ways. What’s wrong with Asi­an beau­ty ? What’s wrong with being your­self ? What’s wrong with being Made In China ? Noth­ing is. It should be beau­ti­fully okay.

It seems that no mat­ter what the rhet­or­ic, beau­ty stand­ards, as they are known today, con­tin­ue to make the rich and fam­ous, while sim­ul­tan­eously dam­aging the mind and bod­ies of many a fan. Thank­fully, the per­cep­tion and defin­i­tion of beau­ty has begun to shift for women in the west­ern world and day-by-day their diversity and imper­fec­tions are being nor­mal­ized. China, in many ways, is still devel­op­ing and mak­ing up for lost time, but devel­op­ing in the 21st cen­tury is much dif­fer­ent than it was in the 20th cen­tury. Beau­ty  is, after all, only skin-deep and as a cur­rency, unlike cold hard cash, tends to fade. Will China’s latest wave of plastic influ­en­cers catch up before it’s too late ? Or have they coun­ted their chick­ens before they hatched ? Time will unveil its ulti­mate selfie por­trait even­tu­ally — with no app able to pho­toshop that.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jessica Laiter of Chinese Graffiti for Temper Magazine
Intro and editing by Elsbeth van Paridon 
Featured Image : Copyright@Frank Verburg for NOS
Images : Copyright@Frank Verburg for NOS
Copyright@Temper Magazine 2017 All Rights Reserved

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