Who's the prettiest of them all? It's more than a folkloric contest in Asia, where inflated and omnipresent beauty standards inspire millions to go under the knife each year. Countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan put a social and workplace premium on appearance, causing citizens to turn to the operating table in order to achieve the slim jawline, double eyelids, and straight nose coveted by many. These three Asian nations all made it into the latest study of the top 10 most plastic-surgery dependent countries in the world. South Korea ranked first, with 16 procedures per 1,000 people, Taiwan took sixth, and Japan came in seventh. In the South Korean capital of Seoul alone, one in five women underwent cosmetic surgery in 2012. And two years earlier, it was estimated that more than 5.8 million procedures were performed across Asia.
Research showing improved economic opportunities for those deemed attractive has, in part, fueled this rise, especially within hyper-competitive markets like China. Even pre-teen children are undergoing these procedures. "I'm having her do it," the mother of a 12-year-old Korean girl who got double-fold eye surgery told CNN, "because I think it'll help her. This is a society where you have to be pretty to get ahead. She's my only daughter."
The desire to have a specific look is not just an issue for South Korean and Japanese women. Many Asian-Americans cite pressure to conform to Western beauty standards as a reason to alter their natural appearance. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of Asian-Americans who had cosmetic procedures nearly doubled, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. In September, CBS anchor Julie Chen stirred up attention when she admitted to undergoing the double-eyelid procedure in her 20s at the behest of her boss, who thought she looked too Chinese.
But these procedures are both costly and invasive. As an alternative to plastic surgery, some people, primarily teens, are now turning to a low-tech solution: torturous-looking products that claim to mold the users’ features into the “ideal” standard of beauty.
Cosmetic surgeons worry such products can harm natural development in adolescents who are barely in their teens. Dr. Hong Jung Gon, of the Metro Plastic Surgery Clinic in Seoul, recently revealed to the GlobalPost that his clinic has occasionally treated teenagers who’ve inflicted damage on themselves by using the face-shaping gadgets, and interviews with users found they experienced bruising and pain. “We want to become pretty without spending all the money,” a 17-year-old South Korean teen told the GlobalPost. “We know that these methods aren’t approved of, but lots of our peers do it.”
“These kinds of devices usually make claims that have no basis in studies or scientific fact,” Dr. James Marotta, a Long Island facial plastic surgeon, told a beauty blog in December. ”At the very best, you end up completely wasting your money. At the very worst, you can injure yourself resulting in infections, permanent scars, or other irreversible facial deformities.”
Here is a look at a few of the more bizarre products, and the results they claim to achieve.
A recently popular surgery in China and South Korea involves shaving off and realigning the jaw bone to sculpt a slimmer face shape. This clownesque mouthpiece claims to cure your saggy cheeks and tired muscles after three minutes a day of use. Just pop the silicone lips into your mouth and repeat vowel sounds, according to directions, for a “more youthful, vibrant” face. A more hi-tech version called “Facial Lift At Once” vibrates in your mouth to exercise facial muscles.
Instead of slicing into your skin, this ribbon clip pulls your face taut from above the ears in what it claims is an instant facelift. Hook it on every day, pull your hair over it, and the wrinkles around your cheeks and eyes are said to disappear.
A buzzing maroon gadget is inserted into your nostrils and plastic legs press into the bottom, sides, and bridge of your nose. Three-minute-per-day vibrations claim to shape the nose into a straighter, higher version of the shnoz you currently have. “A nose lift without the hassle!” a description reads.
This bandit-like mask straps around the eyes, head, and over the crown and applies pressure across the face to maintain a smooth, wrinkle-free appearance. Use it while “you are eating, working or sitting in the bath,” the description instructs, saying the product is designed to achieve the beauty goal of a smaller face, known as kogao in Japan. In the past decade, sales of products claiming to slim and mold the face into smaller proportions have been booming in the country.
This glasses-like contraption pledges to provide a double-fold eyelid after five minutes a day of wearing it, as an alternative to the increasingly popular 20-minute eyelid surgery. The $16 plastic frame appears to push up into the eyelid cover to separate it from the lid. As you blink, the device supposedly trains your lids into the desired look of depth. The product apparently sold thousands of units in its first month, and was expanded to 200 stores.
In some parts of Asia, a rounded nose is considered less ideal than a straight, pointed one, and surgery-free products are flooding the market. One of these clips inside your nostrils to “push up the bones and contours of your nose,” slimming it. Some are meant to be worn as you sleep, like this seemingly suffocating clip and this metallic clamp.
A clear silicon retainer presses your lips into a perma-smile meant to form your face into a natural grin after five minutes of use a day. The product claims to improve “the angle and balance of your face and cheeks.”