This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
Micchi, 9, does not remember getting under the knife. Instead, she only remembers the countless conversations with her mother about her tonsil eyes.
In the months leading up to the main procedure earlier this year, they were talking about what kind of double eyelids you want. Have you had a less invasive and more precise surgery? Or did she choose the more expensive option, in which the surgeon has to cut the folds of her eyelids to refresh the sagging skin?
Her mother, Rucchi, urged her to choose the second. Roshi thought that if her daughter was going to do this, she should do her best. At her request, we do not use their real names on this piece, as she fears negative feedback.
Rucchi posts these mother-daughter conversations on her YouTube channel. She also uploaded a video of her daughter’s operation showing the girl crying and having a panic attack.
The video, which was also widely shared on TikTok, received a lot of criticism from people on the internet. Many wonder how this little girl – who is clearly in pain – could have plastic surgery, even with her mother’s permission.
But Micchi is part of the younger generation who often voluntarily undergo plastic surgery years before they reach adulthood.
In 2021, a Japanese clinic found that 9 out of 10 teen participants wanted plastic surgery to correct their insecurities, up from 7 in 10 just two years earlier. Many young people in other parts of the world have done the same. In the United States, more than 220,000 cosmetic procedures are performed annually on patients between the ages of 13 and 19.
Medical experts and governments are concerned about these numbers. Last year, British lawmakers made lip fillers, a minor surgery or “modification” among young adults, illegal for anyone under 18 to protect children. Opponents warn that younger generations, largely raised on social media, feel pressure to live up to ideals of physical beauty, resulting in psychological – and sometimes physical – harm to minors.
Toru Aso, a plastic surgeon in Tokyo, has seen for himself how the number of underage visitors to his clinic has increased in recent years.
Over the twenty-plus years he’s been practicing it, he’s performed surgeries primarily on women in their twenties and thirties. “About ten years ago, I could have had one small client per month. Now I have one every day,” he told VICE World News.
For Aso patients, eyelid surgery is the most common procedure, which is also seen nationally. In 2020, 64 percent of all surgeries in Japan involved eyelid surgery, also known as blepharoplasty. While the procedure is relatively safe compared to more physically demanding surgeries such as a Brazilian butt lift or liposuction, there are still risks involved, such as blindness or damage to the surrounding eye muscles.
In Japan, anyone under the age of 18 can have plastic surgery, subject to parental consent. But Aso said some guardians are abusing this law and are presenting their aesthetic ideas to their children. That is why he pays extra attention when minors visit his clinic. “I talk to them separately to see if the child really wants the procedure – sometimes parents drag their children and try to force them to have plastic surgery,” he said.
Tomohiro Suzuki, professor of child psychology and body image at Tokyo Future University, realizes that plastic surgery can have positive effects on the human psyche, such as improving self-esteem.
But if these procedures are performed on minors who are still psychologically and physically developed, they may regret it later, he said. They often do not know what their ideal “look” is, as they are still in the process of growing up, and some have already gone several times to achieve their ideal self-image.
“And then you go into a cycle where you can’t stop doing plastic surgery,” Sukuzi told VICE World News.
Recent trends in plastic surgery are often associated with the rise of social media.
Research has shown that social networking apps like Instagram or Facebook make people more aware of how they view themselves – and others. These sites also have filters that give people a “perfect” look, for example with higher cheekbones or fuller lips, which can be very different from what people see when they look in the mirror.
Some Japanese surgeons like Aso attribute the popularity of double eyelid surgery in their country to the influence of Western beauty ideals, which are mostly white. People of mixed Japanese and white ancestry have traditionally been used in the Japanese fashion and media industry to portray idealistic and ambitious looks. “It’s a face that looks a little foreign, with some unusual features,” Aso said.
But Laura Miller, professor of Japanese studies and anthropology at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, says it’s entirely wrong to assume that the Japanese choose double eyelid surgery to “look whiter.”
In her research on the subject, Miller had never met a young Japanese man who pursued a non-Japanese ideal as an ideal. “Many women believe that surgery will help them achieve more Kauai They look similar to those of famous Japanese models and artists,” she told VICE World News in an email.
While actors and singers originally defined the ideals of beauty for a particular generation, social media has spawned a new breed of celebrity that is just as powerful: influencers.
This is how Nonoka Sakurai, real name Rie, became known as an influence in plastic surgery. She had wanted plastic surgery since she was eight because she was bullied by her peers throughout her school career for having large nostrils that “made her look like a gorilla”. At the age of eighteen, she underwent rhinoplasty as her first procedure.
After 10 years and 25 million yen (€170,340) in surgeries, Nonuka says she feels more confident about her appearance. “I was insecure because I wasn’t liked by the guys at school,” she told VICE World News.
She said she realized she was unpopular because she was ugly. The solution was to modify her face. “Thanks to plastic surgery, I can walk around proudly with my head held high.” Now she’s a full-time plastic surgery influencer who runs a women’s bar, where clients hang out and chat with attractive waitresses.
But monetizing her looks isn’t always as pretty as the self-love story the 33-year-old reads to her followers.
She said that with plastic surgery being widely accepted, there are also many more trends than simple double eyelid surgery to track. “People tell me my face is dated.”
Sometimes these comments come from anonymous online profiles. But she said sometimes they come from clients at her bar, who tell her they’ve loved her face since five more surgeries.
Keeping up with the constant spin of trends can be physically exhausting for Nonoka. The cartilage is inserted somewhere, only to be removed after a few months. Silicone is injected everywhere. She says anesthesia and recovery after surgery can be so painful that sometimes she wishes she was dead.
She said she won’t stop until she finds someone who can tell her that she’s the most beautiful person in the world.
Ruchi, the mother who pushed her daughter to have plastic surgery, did not aspire to be the most beautiful of all.
But growing up with a younger sister and mother who both had double eyelids, Ruchi always felt she was treated differently. She remembers that her sister always received compliments and sweets from the neighbors, empty-handed. “My sister was always loved by everyone, much more than me,” she said.
When Ruchi turned 18, she underwent tonsil surgery. Now a mother of five – three boys and two girls – she says she will do everything she can to help her daughters grow without insecurities, even if it means pushing them to plastic surgery.
“I’ve never seen a girl with almond eyes that I thought was beautiful,” she said. The same does not apply to her sons, because society, according to her, is more inclined to accept ugly boys as long as they are successful and intelligent.
When Micchi turns 18, her mother wants to get her rhinoplasty. She said maybe a breast implant too.
“It’s still growing, so we don’t know its size yet. But if she’s worried about how small she is, I’ll make her do it.”
As far as Rucchi is concerned, anything is conceivable.
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