Dangerous Beauty in China

China's increasing wealth and love affair with Western products has spilled over into the realm of fashion and beauty, and many Chinese women are paying a very high price for it:

Ah Jiao and Xiao Xue are undergoing weekly treatments to whiten their skin.

The fee is about $250 -- an average monthly salary -- but worth every penny in their quest for that beautiful look. The "look" is a Western one they constantly see on their television screens, towering big city billboards and in countless fashion magazines.

Fashion magazine editor Hong Huang said, "Chinese women are going completely ga-ga over fixing their face, fixing their breasts, fixing their legsā€¦"

Hung Huang says whiter, thinner and taller represent the new standard of beauty here, and many will go to extraordinary lengths to achieve it, believing that good looks will lead to better jobs and more opportunities in life.


One public hospital in Shanghai now performs up to 30,000 plastic surgery procedures per year -- two-thirds of them cosmetic. These include eyelid jobs, reshaping cheek bones and breast-augmentation.

Several hundred a year will undergo a painful operation -- having their leg bones cut and metal rods inserted just to gain an extra two to three inches in height.

While that is an extreme example, there is now growing concern in China that people are taking too many risks and paying too high a price for beauty.

There have been numerous reports in the Chinese media, exposing plastic surgery quacks and dangerous fake products, including bogus skin creams that burn and scar.

And one devastating breast enhancement gel reportedly injected in up to 300,000 women is now banned by the government, but victims are still suffering from enormous pain and disfigurement. Some were even forced to have their breasts removed.

Dr. Mu Xiong Zheng, a top plastic surgeon, says he now performs many operations to repair the damage done by cosmetic procedures.

And people must learn, he says, that some mistakes cannot be reversed.

But just like the booming economy that it mirrors, the beauty business here shows no signs of slowing, even though some women might pay a terrible price.