Plastic fantastic

Surgical marvels battle it out in China's first artificial-beauty pageant.

Published December 13, 2004 3:40PM (EST)

It is a contest where beauty is in the eye of the scalpel holder. Nineteen surgical marvels who have been nipped, tucked and stretched to within an inch of their unnaturally taut forms are to battle it out in the first ever artificial-beauty pageant held in China. Miss Artificial Beauty pits 19 princesses of plastic surgery against one another next Saturday, including a raven-haired pensioner and a 21-year-old woman who was a man three years ago. Rather than display their natural wholesomeness, the contestants will have to prove they have been surgically altered to win the contest, which is taking place in Beijing.

In a society increasingly transfixed by surgical transformation, the idea for the competition took shape after an 18-year-old woman unsuccessfully sued for emotional damages after she was disqualified from a Chinese beauty pageant earlier this year because she had had plastic surgery.

With elaborate hairstyles framing artificially chiseled cheekbones, and traditionally attired in ball gowns showcasing their enhanced cleavage, the man-made beauties posed for reporters Sunday. Each was keen to promote her personal qualities, rather than the dexterity of her cosmetic surgeon. "I'm not here for a prize," said Liu Yulan, 62, who has had four visits to a surgeon for a facelift and work on her eyelids. "I want to show my attitude of my heart, my self-confidence. Before, I couldn't imagine it was possible to have places where the old could become young and the ugly could become beautiful."

In a country that has hosted the last two Miss World beauty contests, organizers said the plastic pageant was designed to promote the benefits of surgical enhancement. "This contest shows women's strong pursuit of beauty," said Han Wei, one of the organizers. "We would like to use it to unveil the mystery of manmade beauty and let society have a complete understanding of every aspect."

Plastic surgery is now worth 1.3 billion pounds a year in China, according to the government. And it is not just women who are seeking beauty under the surgeon's knife.

Wearing a strapless turquoise dress and boasting reshaped eyebrows, nose and chin, as well as facial shape, one of the contestants, Liu Xiaojing, 21, revealed yesterday that she used to be a he. "Becoming beautiful is everyone's wish," she said. "I am now legally a woman, and this contest is my first formal step toward womanhood." Organizers said that they would have to discuss whether Liu still qualified as a contestant.

By Patrick Barkham

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