Q&A: Cosmetic Surgery in Shanghai

On any given day in Shanghai it’s not unusual to see and hear people originating from all corners of the globe. With such a mash-up of different cultures, languages, races, and influence I’ve been curious to know what the ideals of beauty are here. I mean, other than ginger folks who quite obviously sit at the epitome of cross-cultural envy.

Dr Sheena BurnellDo Chinese women want to look more western? Do western women want to look more like Chinese women? And what about the guys? We know both local and foreign men spend too much time on their hair but what sort of physical enhancements do they seek? And is it really true that in these economic times cosmetic surgery is being used to land jobs?

Well to help answer those questions and more I asked Shanghai East Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery Clinic’s Director of Clinical Liaison, Dr Sheena Burnell, an Australian trained Doctor and ex-pat in Shanghai. As a professional with experience in both Australia and China Dr Burnell brings an insightful look into the world of cross-cultural beauty, cosmetic surgery in Shanghai, and the people who seek cosmetic enhancements.

First up, what brings you to work in the cosmetic surgery business in Shanghai?
I originally trained as an anaesthetist in Australia but as I have always had an interest in the aesthetic side of surgery and medicine I branched out into the injectables side of cosmetic medicine a few years ago. I had always wanted to work in Asia and when the opportunity came up to work in a highly-regarded plastic and cosmetic surgery clinic in Shanghai I jumped at the chance for a slight career change.

What are the typical types of procedures that are undertaken in the surgery? What are the most popular procedures?
Typical procedures vary slightly according to whether you are talking about our Asian or Western clientele, but generally-speaking would include nose reshaping, eye reshaping/lifting, face-lift procedures, breast enhancement (enlargement reduction or lifting procedures), tummy tucks and liposuction. Our most popular procedures at present are eye reshaping procedures for our Asian clientele, and liposuction, tummy tuck or breast enhancement procedures for our Western patients.

Do you see a difference in the types of cosmetic surgery undertaken by locals in Shanghai compared to Australia?
As far as Western clients go I have found there isn’t an enormous difference between Shanghai and Australia in terms of types of procedures requested such as breast enhancement, tummy tucks, liposuction etc, the biggest differences for me are with our Asian patients requesting procedures such as double eyelid fold, epicanthoplasty, nasal bridge augmentation (Western patients usually want smaller, not more prominent noses) jaw reduction and facial or calf slimming with Botox.

In addition I find my Asian patients are much more adventurous and informed especially with regard to procedures such as cheek and forehead implants, eyelash implants, skin whitening procedures and use of substances such as dermal fillers and will quite often book several procedures at once.

Calf Slimming? You know I have cankles…
Yes, calf slimming is quite popular, there are a number of different approaches depending on what’s causing the calves to be big, however as a rule it is excess subcutaneous tissue, bulky muscles or a combination of the two. The treatments range from actual liposuction of the calf/ankle area to Botox injections to a procedure where one of the nerves supplying the calf muscle is cut, so you get atrophy or slight wasting of the muscle (obviously not sufficient to prevent walking!).

So it depends on what is causing the problem, in the case of ‘cankles’ and assuming you are of Western background, it’s usually excess tissue (which doesn’t mean you’re overweight at all, it’s usually just a hereditary trait) so possibly liposuction may help, we do perform this on ankles quite frequently and although it sounds a bit dramatic you usually get a good result which is permanent. The Botox and nerve cutting options tend to be used more for our Asian patients as they are totally paranoid about muscular calves, even the men…..unlike Westerners who pay to have calf implants!

From what you see do you think Chinese women are increasingly influenced by western standards of beauty such as bigger busts, defined noses, slim bodies and larger eyes?
Interestingly although my Asian patients want to correct overtly Asian features such as very small or hooded eyes, or a very flat nose, they don’t as a rule want to actively look Western, and although our beauty ideals of large eyes, larger breasts and more defined noses are definitely informing Asian women’s choices, they are not so much seeking a Western look as a rather more hybrid Eurasian look commonly seen in Japanese and Korean singing stars and models who have had the above types of procedures (all the Asian beauty blogs are full of young girls idolising their stars but specifically referring to Eurasian rather Western beauty ideals, which I think shows quite a perceptive view of themselves as Asian women rather than Western wannabes).

In addition I have discovered that there is still a very strong Asian beauty aesthetic operating in China, so that a longish, slender, slightly narrow-jawed face is the ideal, very different to the wider more ‘triangular’ look favoured in the West (see Michelle Pfeiffer, Madonna, Liz Hurley et al) which is reflected in requests for jaw-slimming and chin reduction procedures.

On the flipside have you noticed foreign women being influenced by Chinese standards of beauty?
In my experience it is extremely unusual for a Western woman to actively seek an Asian look, however the large demand for liposuction I think reflects an awareness of the desirable slenderness of Asian women; I have had some women seeking liposuction confide that they worry about their husbands surrounded all day by these impossibly slim creatures.

How about the men of Shanghai? Are you seeing an increase in men undergoing cosmetic surgery? If so, what are the guys seeking?
In line with world trends, we are seeing a definite increase in the number of males both Asian and Western seeking cosmetic surgery. In the case of Asians it tends to be younger men seeking double eyelid fold procedures or nasal bridge procedures, in other words specific procedures to improve a particular feature seen as undesirable, whereas Western males tend to be slightly older, quite often successful in the corporate world and are either seeking correction of sports-related injuries such as broken noses, or generalised rejuvenating procedures such as liposuction, eye, face and neck lifts or even Botox.

The LA Times recently reported that job seeking candidates in Shanghai are getting plastic surgery in a hope to increase their employment prospects. Do you see much of this happening?
The job-seeking aspect of cosmetic surgery is most definitely real – the competition for jobs is apparently intense in China and, perhaps even more so than in the West, China is a more or at least quite differently aesthetically-based society and job selection is evidently based on a candidates looks in addition to abilities. Chinese people are very open about having surgery for this reason, or for general life reasons such as finding a partner or just being generally better accepted and liked, and are happy to spend quite large sums of money achieving their aesthetic goals.

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3 thoughts on “Q&A: Cosmetic Surgery in Shanghai

  1. SteveR

    It’s funny to read job advertisements in China. They ask for ‘pretty, young receptionists’. I guess many in the west do the same thing but filter them out during the interview stage.

    Interesting article though.

  2. Pingback: Q&A: Cosmetic Surgery in Shanghai | Breast Enlargement and Enhancement Center

  3. Kath

    I wonder if more foreigners in China look to get liposuction because of the sizes in the department stores are much smaller.

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