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Saving face

A 22-year-old Chinese woman made headlines worldwide in December 2004 when she was crowned the first-ever Miss Plastic Surgery.

According to BBC News, the winner, Feng Qian, believed the contest offered a "platform for all the girls who have undergone plastic surgery and aren't willing to talk about it."

However, keeping cosmetic surgery enhancements under the radar is directly tied to the deeply rooted concept of saving face in the Chinese culture. Maintaining face is important within Chinese social relations because face translates into power and influence. As a result, if someone gets a cosmetic procedure, they could potentially lose the trust of their social network, according to Beili Sun, a 20-something professional in Shanghai.

"That's why people keep plastic surgery a secret," she says. "They don't want to lose face. I have some colleagues who were quiet about their surgeries even though it was obvious they had something done. But as time went by, everybody got used to it."

Although Ms. Sun says she has never considered having work done ("I don't even have my ears pierced"), she admits there is a lot of pressure to be beautiful in order to get a good job or marry well.

In 2003 alone, Chinese women spent about $2.4 billion on plastic and cosmetic surgeries. In Beijing, Chunming Liu, M.D., performs between 35 and 40 aesthetic procedures per month. His patients are mostly female university students, young professionals and women in their late forties. Most commonly, patients ask for eyelid surgery, blepharoplasty, nasal augmentation, liposuction and breast augmentation. In addition, zygomatic reductions are popular in China, Dr. Liu explains.

"Chinese people don't like a high zygoma," Dr. Liu says. "If a woman has a high zygoma, it is deemed that it will bring ruin to her husband."

Worldwide, humans have a long history of modifying the human body in the name of beauty. The centuries-old Chinese practice of foot binding continued into the last century before the communist government eventually outlawed it.

"From today's point-of-view, (foot binding) is not considered beautiful at all," says Dr. Liu, whose own grandmother had suffered intense pain and dysfunction from the process. "It was a cruel practice."

Nowadays, the cosmetic enhancements women receive are much safer, painless and most importantly — voluntary. But despite the growing desire for cosmetic surgery in China, Ms. Sun says she is intent on saving her own face.

"I want to keep everything natural," Ms. Sun says. "Just like I was born."

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