More and more Japanese - old, young, women and increasingly men - turn to cosmetic surgery when they don't like what they see in the mirror. Cosmetic surgery has been touting "Beauty is skin deep" as the motto for self-investment - to improve one's self-confidence, social life, and career advancement. In the past, plastic surgery used to be known as a shadowy practice among celebrities, bar hostesses, and suspects running away from the law. In just a few years, cosmetic surgery has emerged as the hottest trend throughout society - not just here in Japan, but everywhere else in Asia.
Demand for cosmetic surgery has surged in Japan due to several reasons: change in cultural attitudes toward plastic surgery; cheaper and no-scalpel procedures; media propaganda; and a sluggish economy intensifying competition for jobs.
Conventional wisdom once held that altering one's face was not only immodest but also disrespectful to one's parents. As the first ones to react to changes in fashion and to novelty, the dynamic young have often set trends in Japan, ignoring social stigma and traditional practices. By embracing cosmetic surgery, the young women and men found themselves to be more sociable, glamorous and self-assured as individuals in society.
In addition, new noninvasive procedures and affordable prices have encouraged many people to walk into cosmetic surgery clinics that hold promises for a better future. Women and men of all ages are nipping and tucking, injecting and implanting, sucking and suturing, all in pursuit of their ideal appearance. Without going under a knife, one can acquire double eyelids with sutures in 10 minutes for as little as ¥50,000, or get injections of botox to diminish wrinkles and hyaluronic acid, a tissue-filler, to enlarge noses and chins.
Furthermore, women's magazines, promotional fliers, newspaper inserts, and TV programs constantly pitch the glamorous possibilities of cosmetic surgery to millions of Japanese, creating a false security that being aesthetically attractive can resolve all personal problems. To drive home that point, Koji Kaneda produced a weekly TV program, Beauty Colosseum, in which women with sad tales in desperate cases get a complete makeover by a panel of beauty experts. After the "Cinderella transformation", their friends or family members didn't even recognize these women. The popularity of the show has inspired numerous TV viewers to sign up for cosmetic surgery; many of them were in their teens or 20s. Even the media has caught on in presenting good-looking news reporters and commentators in the belief that a broadcaster's attractiveness can appeal to a larger audience.
As the unemployment rate fluctuates during the extended economic slump, the growth of cosmetic surgery has soared in society. Cosmetic surgeons say clinic's testimonials showed that most customers had cosmetic surgery done due to insecurities - fear of losing or finding a job, anxious about being too plain-looking, or worried about showing signs of aging. Since appearance is considered culturally important in Japan, the pressure on workers to look their best - especially women, salespeople, people in media related-work - compelled many of them to seek cosmetic surgery for beauty enhancement. In fact, "recruit seikei" is the latest business buzzword - cosmetic surgery for the sake of landing a job. Doctors claimed that their older patients over 50 wanted face-lifts to look younger to keep or find work and that younger patients wanted to look better to get an edge over others.
The most popular cosmetic surgery procedure in Japan (and elsewhere in Asia) is blepharoplasty - double eyelids created by making a crease above the eye. Besides the much-demanded nose jobs and the anti-wrinkle treatments, another common facial procedure is reshaping a broad face by injecting botox to shrink puffy cheeks. More recently, breast-enlargement has been the rage - even among girls in their teens. The common method of enlarging busts uses breast implants filled with saline or other substances. A technique getting more attention nowadays involves filling the breasts with unwanted fat sucked out of the stomach, buttocks or other parts of the body. The cost for a breast-enlargement procedure can range from ¥300,000 to over ¥1 million.
However, not every cosmetic surgery operation produced the desired results - problems that are often underreported in the media. To exact legal retribution in a medical malpractice suit is rare in Japan. Nevertheless, bargain-hunting Japanese take the risk in choosing cut rates offered by unqualified or unknown cosmetic practitioners or go on an inexpensive overseas package cosmetic tour that includes airfare, hotel, sightseeing and a cosmetic surgery operation.
Obsessed by physical appearance, girls who underwent cosmetic surgery this year are getting younger - a disturbing trend. Most of the younger patients, aged from 10 to 15, went with their mothers to the cosmetic surgery clinics. Many carried photos of their idols and requested operations to look like them. Both mother and child believed that for anyone to attain popularity was to look cute.
In a materialistic world, cosmetic surgery seems to be a quick solution to achieving personal success. Perhaps so, but there are many cases of failures that have been left untold. As long as society continues to idolize youth and beauty, the cosmetic surgery industry will make a killing for years to come.
(First published on UniOrb.com, June 3, 2005)