Like a growing number of students in China, Pan Ou will go under the knife in a cosmetic 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 the 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 cosmetic surgery clinics mushrooming across China, promising 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.
The EverCare has agreed to give her free corrective surgery after a 10,000 yuan (US$1,200) breast reduction operation at another hospital left her with bad scarring and one breast larger than the other.
Pan also hopes to receive free operations to sculpt her face and make her nose higher, she said.
In return, she has agreed to allow the hospital to use her face for the next five years to promote its cosmetic surgery.
"The finer details haven't been worked out, but they agreed they wouldn't use images of private parts of my body," she said.
"We are definitely seeing a trend for students having operations," said Dr Liu Yanqun, the EverCare's director. His hospital gives students a 20 per cent discount on cosmetic surgery procedures.
Parents who grew up at a time when cosmetic surgery was unimagined and feminine beauty frowned upon are now encouraging their kids to have surgery in 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."
The 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, cosmetic surgery is no longer considered a luxury, Liu said. "It has become a need for ordinary people."
Government officials estimate that US$2.4 billion is spent annually in China on cosmetic surgery procedures. They say about 1 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 2,000 yuan (US$250) 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 cosmetic surgery reflected China's frantic modernization. The sheer pace of change has made first impressions paramount, she said.
"Unlike in the past, when we had a lot of time to get to know each other, we now judge people and are judged within a very short period," she said.
For China's university graduates, cosmetic surgery offers a confidence boost in an increasingly competitive job market.
While the nation's economy charges full-steam ahead, millions of university graduates are finding that the jobs promised when they began their degrees simply don't exist.
This year, 4.13 million students will enter the workforce 22 per cent more than in 2005.
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 terms of their looks, said Yang Chun, a 32-year-old TV anchor.
Source: Agencies/China Daily