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Chinese students spend summer holidays trading faces

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, Aug 25: Like a growing number of students in China, Pan Ou will spend her university vacation going under the knife in a plastic surgery procedure she hopes will boost her chances of getting a good job after graduation.

''I want to be more beautiful, to perfect myself,'' Pan, a student at one of China's most prestigious law schools, told Reuters in the waiting room of EverCare Xingfu hospital.

''My face is too big and flat, like all Asians. I would also like to make my nose higher,'' said the attractive 23-year-old.

The EverCare in Beijing is one of thousands of plastic surgery clinics mushrooming across China with promises to make patients more beautiful, more successful and more marriageable.

Photographs of women before and after surgery, accompanied by testimonials, are displayed on the clinic's walls. Pan's portrait may soon join them.

EverCare has agreed to give her free corrective surgery after a 10,000 yuan (1,200 dollar) breast reduction operation at another hospital left her with bad scarring and one breast larger than the other.

Pan hopes to also receive free operations to make her nose higher and sculpture her face, she said.

In return, she has agreed to allow the hospital to use her face for the next five years to promote its plastic surgeries.

''The finer details haven't been worked out, but they agreed they wouldn't use images of private parts of my body,'' she said.

NO LUXURY

Pan is one of many students in China getting plastic surgery over the summer break when a three-month vacation gives time for bandages to come off and bruises to heal before school resumes.

''There is definitely a trend in students having operations,'' said Dr Liu Yanqun, EverCare's director. His hospital gives students 20 percent discounts on plastic surgery procedures.

Parents who grew up under Mao Zedong's austere Communist rule, when plastic surgery was unimagined and feminine beauty frowned upon, now encourage their kids to go under the knife with the hope that a prettier face may give them an edge.

''It's an economic age of beauty,'' said Liu. ''A good-looking girl earns 10 per cent more than others.'' EverCare performed over 1,000 operations last year. Around 95 per cent of the patients were women and over 20 per cent were aged under 25.

Like cars and mobile phones, plastic surgery is no longer considered a luxury, Liu said. ''It has become a need for ordinary people,'' he said. Government officials estimate that 2.4 billion dollar is spent annually in China on plastic surgery procedures. They say about one million such operations take place every year.

Eye and nose modifications are the most common operations.

''These are the areas for that all-important first impression -- the place where people first look and where a lover's eyes gaze,'' Liu said.

Now school-age girls can get ''double eyelids'' for 2000 yuan (250 dollar) -- a procedure favoured by aspiring stars -- where a crease is added to the eyelids to make the eyes appear larger.

Bi Shumin, a prominent psychologist and writer on women's health, said the youth boom in plastic surgery reflected China's frantic modernisation. The sheer pace of change has made first impressions paramount, she said.

''Unlike the past, we had a lot of time to get to know each other. Now, we judge people and are judged within a very short period,'' she said.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE

For China's graduating students, cosmetic surgery offers a skin of protection in an increasingly brutal job market where women often come second.

While the nation's economy charges full-steam ahead, millions of university graduates are finding the jobs promised when they began their degrees simply don't exist.

This year, 4.13 million students are entering the workforce -- 22 per cent more than in 2005. Many are reluctant or ill-qualified to work in the heavy industries fueling China's growth and face a service industry too small to absorb them.

With media reports of this year's graduates taking jobs as cleaners and domestic helpers for rich families, it's no wonder that students and their parents are seeking an edge in looks, said Yang Chun, a 32-year-old TV anchor.

''Many parents fully support their kids getting these procedures, particularly high school kids going to university,'' she said.

''They'll say 'It's a new environment, no one will know you. Why not enter it with confidence and a fresh, new outlook,'' she said, speaking after receiving a collagen injection for her lips.

REUTERS

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