The curse of the beauty quest

Deborah Choo


As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

But to first capture your beholder’s attention, multiple research studies have shown physical attractiveness remains a key component – especially the impression created in the first five minutes. Competition is high, and an increasing number of people are not hesitating to turn to cosmetic surgery to boost their chances in the dating game. A quick fix that promises supposed permanency.

Singapore’s medical tourism industry, widely known for its forte in cosmetic surgery and high-class health examinations, drew over 410,000 medical tourists annually.

Women, men and even teens as young as 14 years old are jumping on the bandwagon. According to The Straits Times early this year, a check with nine plastic surgeons and aesthetic doctors showed an increase of about 30 per cent in the number of clients under the age of 21 over the past five years.

Popular cosmetic surgeries include face lifts, Botox, double eyelid procedure, breast implantation, nose jobs, and liposuction. A brief check with renowned plastic surgeon Dr Woffles Wu’s website revealed that a double eyelid procedure could cost between S$3,300 to S$5,100, a nose job between S$5,300 to S$11,500, depending on the technique of your choice. Of course, the prices vary from clinic to clinic. For a Botox at David Loh Surgery Aesthetics Clinic in Singapore, it is priced at SGD $800 for women, but for men it costs about twice as much.

But is the phenomenal craze in the quest for “beauty” a curse or a saving grace?

In January last year, the death of 44-year old Franklin Heng, CEO of YTL Pacific Star, after a liposuction treatment stunned everyone.  But of course, the issue at the heart of debate after his death was fixated on the fact that Heng did the procedure at a general practitioner’s clinic and not a plastic surgeon’s office.  At the moment, licensed general practitioners are only allowed to remove 1-kilogram of fat.

In other cases, surgical risks that may occur include permanent scarring, bleeding, infection, nerve damages, and in the case of breast augmentation – sensory damage around the operation site, and discoloration of the skin to name a few. Sometimes in the case of facial plastic surgery, it can lead to noticeable tissue damage, unnatural looking features and premature aging.

Just last week, another glaring issue surfaced. Two plastic surgeons were found for professional misconduct for the use of injecting animal foetal cells to perform cell therapy. Both Dr Martin Huang Hsiang Shui, who practises at The Cosmetic Surgery Clinic at Paragon, and Dr Jonathan Lee Yi Liang, who practises at True 'Est in Ngee Ann City, were found guilty of the same charge and fined S$5,000 and S$2,000 respectively.

Yet despite the risks to undertake, and the dubitable reputation of certain medical practitioners involved, why is it then that this million-dollar industry is still thriving?

In fact, its business is proving to be unstoppable in this Internet age. When speaking to People’s Daily Online this year, Dr. Andrew George Tay, a plastic surgeon at Novena Medical Center, attributed this trend to greater awareness of plastic surgery.

One particular group that is highly credited for such endorsements are bloggers, some of whom are not hesitant to seek for sponsorships on a boob or nose job in exchange. Celebrity blogger QiuQiu and famous local blogger Xiaxue had both admitted to receiving sponsorships.

And why not? It’s a triple-win situation; the blogger gets a free surgery (and perhaps modeling and acting opportunities), the readers get to assess the results for themselves without any costs incurred, and the practitioner gets more customers.

To what end, one might wonder in our endless pursuit for what society perceives as “beauty”? 

Filipino Herbert Chavez took it to a whole new level. A self-professed beauty pageant trainer living in Calamba Laguna, Manila, he had undergone a series of surgeries for his nose, cheeks, lips, from chin down to his thighs and most strikingly his skin color to look none other like his fantasy idol Superman.

Everyone wants to feel beautiful, and to be loved. Skin deep beauty, however, is only temporary against the works of nature. Like US-based author Kate Angell once said, “Outer beauty attracts, but inner beauty captivates.”

The writer previously wrote for an array of portals like Youth.SG and The Online Citizen. She now writes at her own blog in her free time.