The East West Divide Of Cosmetic SurgeryThursday, October 24, 2013 Mary Anne Velasco
One of the most fascinating features of the modern cosmetic industry is the phenomenon of wanting to look not just like other people but actually like other races.
One of the latest manifestations of this trend is the growing demand for East Asian blepharoplasty, better known as double eyelid surgery, which is now thought to be the most common cosmetic surgical procedure in countries including Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. Strictly speaking, it isn't simply a case of making East Asian people look more Caucasian: many East Asians naturally have a double eyelid, while others do not.
For those who don't, the procedure is now widely available, and completely safe and straightforward when carried out by experienced cosmetic surgeons, such as at the Sloane Clinic in Singapore. A crease is added to the skin to create a fold which leaves the eye looking bigger, more rounded, with accentuated eyelashes and more scope for applying make-up.
In the West, people go on expensive foreign holidays to sunny destinations, or spend hours absorbing UV light in tanning salons, in an effort to look darker: the ideal of the exotic is always "tall, dark and handsome", while native stereotypes of unhealthy Westerners often involve paleness. Historically this wasn't always the case, of course: in centuries gone by, aspirational women hid under parasols to escape the sun — associating dark skin with the need to perform manual labour, and so with a lower social and economic standing — and did their best to maintain their natural paleness.
In the East - for instance in India, where skin tone is often seen as a useful proxy for one's place in the caste system - this way of thinking never went away, and persists to this day. The global market for skin lightening products is expected to be worth $20 billion within five years, with Asian women making up the bulk of the demand. Meanwhile car owners who wish to be whiter often buy tinted windows to keep the sun away while they drive.
In the West, by contrast, liposuction - the surgical removal of fat from under the skin - is the most common procedure. Almost half a million liposuction procedures are now carried out each year in the United States alone, and about 90% of those who choose to have it done are women. As Western diets - traditionally higher in fat, sugar and red meat than in Asia - become more popular in countries like China, we can expect to see a rise in liposuction rates as people struggle to deal with the obesity side-effects that tend to accompany the growth of such diets.
Rhinoplasty - more commonly known as a nose job - is well established in the Western world and the Middle East, but East Asia is now starting to catch up as the procedure becomes more common. Western women often want to have smaller noses - traditionally perceived as more feminine - and increasing numbers of men are also now going under the knife for this procedure [often, for example, to reset or reshape noses broken in the course of playing sport]. Many East Asian women and men consider their noses too flat and broad, unlike the popular ideal of the prominent [but not too prominent] and well-defined bridge.
Beauty may or may not be in the eye of the beholder, but it seems there are some idealised features men and women all over the world aspire to. The growing popularity of both augmentation and reduction of breasts and lips around the world suggests there might be some golden mean that many of us, whether Western or Asian, are aspiring to.
Penny believes that beauty comes from within first and foremost, but there is no harm in supporting the inner beauty with external appeal. You can connect with her on Google+.