Beauty is Skin-Deep


Source: Cancan Chu/Getty Images News: “Miss Plastic Surgery Finals,” 2004. Beijing, China.

The image above, titled “Miss Plastic Surgery Finals” portrays the winner of a beauty pageant in Bejing, China, Feng Qian. The pageant is not what one would consider a “typical” beauty pageant, however, but a competition for Chinese women who have received extensive plastic surgery. In this image, Feng Qian celebrates her victory amongst a colorful downpour of celebratory confetti. She smiles proudly while holding a red book and cloth above her head. Author Erica Swallow explains how the philosophy behind the beauty pageant is that “all ‘ugly’ women can become beautiful with the wonders of man-made beauty” (Swallow, 7).

The image exemplifies how the beauty market and economy in China has propagated the belief and standard that women must reach a certain measure of beauty in order to gain internal and external happiness, success, and societal worth. When viewing “Miss Plastic Surgery Finals,” one can observe various signs upon conducting a deep connotative analysis of the image:

1) Plastic Surgery: Considering that China hosted its first annual Miss Plastic Surgery beauty competition in 2003, one can contemplate how the quest for beauty has become increasingly popular in China. The propagation of beauty standards has directly impacted the Chinese woman, evident in more than makeup and beauty products, but surgical beautification. Surgery suggests permanency, causing one to consider the lasting effects of beautification on Chinese culture and society, in addition to the feminine body and psyche. The image also causes the viewer to consider what types of cosmetic surgery Chinese women are opting for. One may perceive that Chinese women are choosing surgeries that convey a more western appearance (need evidence or explanation), suggesting how a psychological inferiority complex may be present between the Chinese woman and the western woman. (Swallow, 1).

2) Confetti: Swallow explains how “rather than accepting themselves as Chinese and embracing their natural beauty, young women are seeking medical treatments and beauty enhancements to make themselves appear more foreign” (Swallow, 1). Rather than admonishing these beliefs and re-defining them amongst the Chinese youth, both Chinese and western influencers have celebrate an unnatural standard of beauty through advertisements and societal rhetoric. In the image, the raining confetti can be viewed as symbolic of how foreign beauty has been celebrated while “ugliness,” and natural beauty have been societally condemned.

confetti: celebration of surgical beauty rather than natural beauty: indication? explain “western influence”: how the image suggests the influence? 

3) Red Book: The red book that Feng Qian holds reminded me of the Maoist red book utilized by the Red Guard movement. The red book in this image stands in ironic contrast to beauty ideals during the Maoist period. During the Red Guard period, wearing beauty products was frowned upon as it undermined the Communist philosophy of standardization amongst people. It is ironic to consider, then, how plastic surgery as perpetuated by the beauty market, has, in a way, “standardized” beauty in a very different way. Beautification has pushed people not to look different, but to look similar in acceptance of uniform beauty standards.

I think that the red book is the certification or award document

4) “Audience”: One might also begin to consider who is “behind the camera”; not the photographer, but the audience at the event. This may lead one to question who is supporting such standards of beauty at the small-scale, local level, and further, at the commercial, global level. One may consider beyond who is “behind the camera,” and consider, further, “who is behind the face?” The molding of a new face is more than the work of a plastic surgeon, but the doing of various advertisements and a standardized rhetoric for feminine beauty.

this paragraph sounds strong

The image ultimately displays how foreign standards (does the image suggest foreign standards, if so explain)  of beauty have been promulgated and celebrated by both Chinese society and the western beauty market, creating a psychologically harmful standard of beauty amongst the Chinese female population. Further, a new standardization of feminine beauty has emerged in contrast to the Maoist period.