Men in China go under the knife to boost their chances in life

BEIJING • Worried his appearance would detract from opportunities in China's competitive society, Mr Xia Shurong decided to go under the surgeon's knife to reshape his nose - one of millions of young men in the country turning to cosmetic surgery.

The 27-year-old researcher wanted medical procedures to transform his look from "engineering geek" to something he thinks will boost his life chances.

Beauty standards in China can be exacting, from pressure over skin tone and eye and nose shape to the controversial "little fresh meat" look - a buzzword used to describe handsome young men with delicate features.

"I feel I should be 'fresh meat' at my age, but I already look like a middle-age uncle," says Mr Xia.

The intense popularity of Chinese social media - rife with trends in cosmetic procedures, beauty "tutorials" and advice on how to become "beautiful", has added to the pressure for many.

Growing numbers of educated men in China are opting for aesthetic and surgical procedures to give them the edge.

According to iResearch, around 17 per cent of male white-collar workers in China have had cosmetic treatments and the vast majority of men had their first procedure before the age of 30.

Dr Xia Zhengyi, the doctor carrying out Mr Xia's procedure, has seen an increase in the number of young men coming to him for procedures.

"Surgery can change the facial expression and give people a feeling of intimacy, which is good for your relationships with people," he says.

Ms Rose Han, from the BeauCare Clinics investment group, says male civil servants opt for procedures because they worry looking tired or old may mean missing out on promotions.

Men in their 20s are most keen on eye and nose reconstruction surgery, according to surgery app So Young, which cites a survey of its 8.9 million active monthly users.

"It's not like buying a Gucci handbag - it is giving yourself an opportunity. Confidence will bring changes to my work and life," says Mr Xia.

China's average national disposable income has more than doubled since 2010, according to government data, and increased wealth among China's middle classes has also fuelled interest.

Model Nai Wen has had more than 60 procedures on his face, including laser treatments, and believes cosmetic surgery "changed his fate".

"It is as convenient as a face mask - it's really amazing that you can increase your age but not grow old," he says during a shoot.

China's cosmetic surgery industry is now worth 197 billion yuan (S$41 billion) - up from 64.8 billion yuan in 2015, according to iResearch.

But the rapid growth in demand comes at a time when authorities are concerned the nation is facing a "masculinity crisis".

Beijing has criticised the "little fresh meat" look and has proposed an increase in physical education classes for boys to encourage a more "traditional" form of masculinity in society.

Earlier this month, the broadcast regulator ordered television channels to resist showing "abnormal aesthetics" such as "sissy" men on screen.

There are also safety and quality concerns - the National Consumer Association logged more than 7,200 complaints relating to the cosmetic industry.

Xiaoran, a 33-year-old online influencer, died of a serious infection after undergoing liposuction, state media reported in July. The clinic where she had her surgery has since been closed, reported the state-run Global Times.

And pictures shared by actor Gao Liu this year went viral on Chinese media, showing dead, blackened flesh on her nose after surgery went wrong.

Critics believe there needs to be better regulation.

Model Nai admits there is a risk that cosmetic surgery becomes "addictive". "You can't accept an ugly self," he adds.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2021, with the headline 'Men in China go under the knife to boost their chances in life'. Subscribe