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As China's obsession with plastic surgery grows, so too do the pitfalls

A patient is seen as she goes through the so-called "double eyelid surgery", which adds a crease to the eyelids to make the eyes appear larger, in a plastic surgery clinic in Shanghai. Double eyelid surgery is the most popular cosmetic procedure in China. Picture taken November 4, 2007. (Nir Elias)
A patient is seen as she goes through the so-called "double eyelid surgery", which adds a crease to the eyelids to make the eyes appear larger, in a plastic surgery clinic in Shanghai. Double eyelid surgery is the most popular cosmetic procedure in China. Picture taken November 4, 2007. (Nir Elias) (Nir Elias/reuters - Reuters)

Xu said he now sees about 20 patients each day, about half of whom elect to have plastic surgery. Most are women in their 20s, he said, and the most popular procedures are eyelid slicing - to make Western-style double-lidded eyes - followed by nose jobs and tummy tucks.

"I feel people have a higher standard of beauty right now," Xu said. "I tell many of my patients they score 98 already, and that's good enough, with no need to pursue a perfect 100. But most of my patients still choose to add those two missing points."

It was the pursuit of perfection that led Wang Baobao down her never-ending path of surgeries.

She was an aspiring dancer in China's hardscrabble northeastern Heilongjiang province when she decided to have work done on her eyes. "I wanted to make my eyes more beautiful," she recalled. "But the technology wasn't good enough. Their skills weren't good enough. I kept needing repair operations."

Despite the bad experience, she decided to have her breasts enlarged. But the doctor used polyacrylamide hydrogel, which two years ago was banned for breast implants in China when it was found to cause infection and deformation.

Eventually, she said, her friends and neighbors no longer recognized her. Her colleagues at a Shanghai stock brokerage firm laughed behind her back, so she quit and began freelance stock trading from home. Two years ago, her boyfriend became frightened and left.

Now, Wang runs a Web site about the promise, and perils, of plastic surgery.

Her last major operation was in April, when she had implants put into her heels to make her taller. The doctor promised the 5-foot tall Wang a few extra inches and a recovery after a week. She paid about $7,500 and was left on crutches for nearly six months with large scars on her feet. And she didn't get any taller.

Another patient, Fung Jian, 28, also underwent the heel implant surgery after learning about it on Wang's blog. At just 4 feet 9 inches, Fung said he always felt "tortured" by his height. And like Wang, he too paid for the surgery, but did not get noticeably taller.

Wang and Fung have hired a lawyer, and, with a third patient, are trying to take legal action against the doctor. The doctor, when contacted, said he never makes absolute promises to his patients and that, on average, they get "a little bit taller."

Wang said she regrets ever having that first operation. After spending more than $600,000, she said, "The effects are not that good. And all over my body, there are too many scars."

She also offers advice for young people considering enhancing their appearance. "Don't get any plastic surgery," she said. "This is a no-end track. You can never turn back."

Washington Post researchers Wang Juan in Shanghai and Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.


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