Buying Beauty

Buying Beauty: Cosmetic Surgery in China

Wen Hua
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Buying Beauty
    Book Description:

    Cosmetic surgery in China has grown rapidly in recent years of dramatic social transition. Facing fierce competition in all spheres of daily life, more and more women consider cosmetic surgery as an investment to gain “beauty capital” to increase opportunities for social and career success. Building on rich ethnographic data, this book presents the perspectives of women who have undergone cosmetic surgery, illuminating the aspirations behind their choices. The author explores how turbulent economic, socio-cultural and political changes in China since the 1980s have produced immense anxiety that is experienced by women both mentally and physically. This book will appeal to readers who are interested in gender studies, China studies, anthropology and sociology of the body, and cultural studies.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-850-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    During a casual conversation in December 2004, a German friend of mine asked me: “Did you see the BBC news reporting on China’s Miss Artificial Beauty Pageant? It says that a lady over sixty and a transsexual are in the competition. It’s really unbelievable! What’s going on in China?” I was speechless at his question. People outside China can hardly figure out how an ideologically “socialist” country could host such a beauty pageant. What struck me was not just the news itself but my friend’s shocked reaction to it: China, a “socialist” country which used to regard the quest for...

  6. I. Cultural Background of Cosmetic Surgery
    • 1 The Cultural History of Plastic Surgery in China
      (pp. 25-50)

      Over a century ago, a German pathologist, Rudolph Virchow (1848), made his famous statement that “Medicine is a social science, and politics nothing but medicine on a grand scale.” In this chapter, I use Virchow’s critical perspective to approach the cultural history of a medical specialty, plastic surgery, in China. To review the cultural history of plastic surgery in China is to explore the historical and social conditions with which this Western medical specialty has been adopted in China. How has plastic surgery been brought in and adapted to China? How has the trajectory of the development of plastic surgery...

    • 2 China’s First “Artificial Beauty”
      (pp. 51-72)

      In 2003 and 2004, a newly coined Chinese term—renzao meinü—became popular around the country. The term literally means “artificial beauty,” a woman who has enhanced her appearance through cosmetic surgery. When the Beijing Language and Culture University announced Ten Catchwords in Chinese mainstream newspapers in 2004, “artificial beauty” (renzao meinü) was one of them.¹ The popularity of the phrase “artificial beauty” in the Chinese media in 2004 reflects an unprecedented boom of the cosmetic surgery industry in China. The term became popular after a young Chinese woman, Hao Lulu, was dubbed by the Chinese and international media as...

  7. II. “Beauty Capital” in Social Transition
    • 3 “Being Good-Looking is Capital”
      (pp. 75-98)

      Since China launched its economic reform and started opening up in the late 1970s, women have become vulnerable to the impact of economic restructuring on employment. This chapter focuses on the impact of economic transition and social transformation on women’s choices of cosmetic surgery. People sometimes assume that cosmetic surgery is a privilege of movie stars, the elite and the rich. However, this is not the case in today’s China. Women who opt for cosmetic surgery actually come from diverse ages, classes and social groups. In this chapter, I explore the phenomenon that more and more Chinese high school and...

    • 4 From the “Iron Rice Bowl” to the “Rice Bowl of Youth”
      (pp. 99-122)

      Women in general are primary consumers of cosmetic surgery, but we should never assume that they are a singular group. Women who seek cosmetic surgery are positioned differently in the power-laden social hierarchy. Through the ethnographic cases of a laid-off woman, an upper-middle-class woman, and a rural migrant woman in an urban setting, this chapter explores the diverse motivations that lead women to undergo cosmetic surgery.

      Since the mid-1990s, not only have college graduates no longer been guaranteed jobs due to the reform of higher education sector, but workers employed in state-owned enterprises have also been faced with layoffs because...

  8. III. The Beauty Economy and “Beauty Diplomacy”
    • 5 The Commodification of the Body
      (pp. 125-146)

      This chapter focuses on the commodification of the female appearance in China’s flourishing beauty industry. I first discuss the crucial role of the commercially motivated media in creating an “ideal beauty” and the endless desire to purchase it, and in normalizing cosmetic surgery. Based on two case studies, I discuss how the body has been extensively targeted by China’s thriving beauty industry.

      During 2006 and 2007, I sometimes went to a plastic surgery hospital in Beijing to observe and conduct interviews. In my first visit to the hospital, I was impressed by a dozen big mirrors hanging on the wall...

    • 6 China’s Beauty Economy and Beauty Ideology
      (pp. 147-164)

      When the quest for beauty and the option of cosmetic surgery has become a matter of consumer choice, is the state power of controlling the body superseded by the capitalist market in post-Mao China? Does this phenomenon indicate a triumph of the capitalist market over Chinese communist ideology in controlling individuals’ personal lives and bodies? I doubt it. Consumer culture definitely plays a significant role in shaping women’s perceptions of and purchase for beauty, with the capitalist market as an important institution to drive the development of China’s beauty industry. However, in a country where communist ideology is still immersed...

  9. IV. Globalization and the Changing Image of Beauty
    • 7 From Barbie Doll to the Korean Wave
      (pp. 167-186)

      In this chapter, I examine the increasing Western as well as Korean influence on China in the standards of beauty through the perspective of globalization. Globalization refers to “an intensely interconnected world—one where the rapid flows of capital, people, goods, images, and ideologies draw more and more of the globe into webs of interconnection” (Inda and Rosaldo 2002: 4). I first discuss how ideals of beauty have shifted in China and which cosmetic surgery operations are the most desirable among Chinese women. Using the increasing sales of Barbie doll in China as an example, I then explore the increasing...

    • 8 Between the Local and the Global
      (pp. 187-204)

      When commenting on the increasing popularity of cosmetic surgery in China, Jesús (2005) writes, “We’ve had the globalisation of manufacture, sales and economies. Now, especially in China, we are about to experience the globalisation of beauty: one face suits all.” There is no doubt that globalization, which integrates the whole world into one big marketplace, has indeed penetrated economic as well as socio-cultural boundaries of nation-states. When “Caucasian features” such as double eyelids, prominent facial profiles and light skin have been pursued by Chinese women through medical aesthetic treatment and cosmetic surgery, does one face really suit all? In other...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 205-214)

    How often have we heard the saying that “beauty is only skin deep”? Well, maybe it is time to rethink it. A purpose of this book is to decode meanings embodied in a seemingly “frivolous” and “trivial” beauty practice—cosmetic surgery—in the context of China. As has been discussed in the preceding chapters, beauty and the pursuit of it through cosmetic surgery is more than skin deep. The practice of surgical body alteration is intertwined with various social meanings and values, and embodies the discourse of both control and resistance. Women’s choice to undergo cosmetic surgery reflects the reconfiguration...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 215-222)
  12. References
    (pp. 223-242)
  13. Index
    (pp. 243-254)
  14. [Plates]
    (pp. None)