Singapore girls pay the price for plastic perfection

She seemed to have everything a girl could ask for: a sports car, designer clothes and memberships in the most exclusive clubs in Singapore, all paid for by her doting parents.

What more do you give a 19-year-old daughter?

If you were the parents of Vivian (not her real name), you would give her a surgical makeover package—the trendy new thing to do in a wealthy city-state where girls as young as 15 have their features altered or enhanced.

Vivian, now a 22-year-old undergraduate at an overseas university, disliked her “wide, round nose” so much she decided to have it fixed, downloading a picture from the internet for her doctor to use as a model.

“I honestly never really liked my nose very much and thought it would be much better nipped in,” she says. “My mindset was more like, if I pinched it in, it looked much better, so why not?”

Not content with that, she went on to reduce her nostril size, got a chin implant and had a double-eyelid operation.

Although she says she had a hard time convincing her parents, Vivian eventually got them to foot her plastic surgery bills, which so far stand at 20 000 Singapore dollars ($12 500).

She is not an exception. Plastic surgeons say they have noted a sharp increase in operations for young Singaporeans—including some boys—and even government-run hospitals now offer some basic forms of cosmetic surgery, like breast augmentation.

“I see a very big increase in the 16-25 age group ...
about a 30 to 50% increase,” says Woffles Wu, Singapore’s most renowned plastic surgeon.

The 32-year-old Wu does not depend on wealthy ladies of a certain age for business.

“In fact, I just did the eye bags on a 19-year-old girl,” he says. 

The most popular operations are creating double eyelids—stitches are sewn into the upper eyelid to create a fold—along with nose jobs and breast implants, said Martin Huang, consultant surgeon at private firm The Cosmetic Surgery.

Botox, which is typically used to iron out the wrinkles of middle age, now has a much younger following. Botox facial slimming, pioneered by Wu in Singapore, gives girls a slimmer face by injecting Botox into the jaw muscles.

This procedure, says Wu, can also be used to slim down calf muscles.

Huang, who has seen an annual 20% increase in the number of young people undergoing plastic surgery in his clinic, says Botox facial slimming and chin implants have been gaining in popularity.

Males now constitute 20% of his young patient client base. “Boys also like to have their chins done because having a very weak chin is not so cool,” he says.

Doctors are also impressed by how well-informed their patients are when they walk into his clinic.

“There is just so much information in the world available to them,” Huang says of his customers.

“That helps make the whole concept more acceptable, not a taboo subject anymore, and not something that is in the closet.”

With rhinoplasty at Wu’s clinic costing anywhere from 6 000 to 12 000 Singapore dollars and double-eyelid jobs between 3 000 and 5 000 Singapore dollars, young women who do not have rich parents like Vivian’s are getting creative at finding funds to pay for plastic surgery.

Rosaline (also not her real name) chose to save up in her early 20s and had her operations done in Malaysia and Taiwan where “it was very cheap”. After three procedures, the information-technology consultant is determined to maintain her heart-shaped face with botox treatments and stay trim with a little help from surgeons.

Liposuction, chin and cheek implants are looming “sometime in the near future” for Rosaline, who saves her travel allowances for operations.

“It’s very addictive because once you see how good you look, you think ‘wow I can look perfect’.”

Wu believes young women who are “disturbed enough by what they want to change” will beg, borrow, work harder and save up to get their operations. Plastic surgery is now considered a valid means of self-improvement rather than “a silly indulgence in vanity”, Huang says.

“There is societal pressure for sure,” he concedes.

“The modern world we live in today is highly visual, everything is compressed, and we tend to seek instant gratification more and more. All of this adds to pressure to look good.”

Chung Wai Keong, a sociology professor with the Singapore Management University, believes the media are responsible for promoting “a Western standard of beauty” which Asian women try to match with the help of plastic surgery.

“The blurring boundaries between virtual and real is characteristic of our contemporary lives,” he says. “A fake nose is just fine, so long as from the appearance, it looks good.”

And with government hospitals offering plastic surgery at a relatively reasonable 2 800 dollars for a nose job and 2 200 dollars for eyelid surgery, plastic surgery is widely available to middle-class people in Singapore.

Vivian goes so far as to liken cosmetic surgery to a visit to the salon. 

“It was along the same lines of, if I cut my hair, I’d look much fresher, so I’ll go get a haircut,” she says matter-of-factly. “Honestly, it was just like having my nails done.”

She had her nose done about the same time as two friends.

“It was a girl-bonding thing,” she recalls. “We went to each other’s surgery with cakes and get-well-soon cards.

“And after recovering, we cooed about each other’s noses,” she adds. - AFP

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