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People in China are paying to have their ears elongated into 'elf ears' because they think it makes their faces look slimmer

Insider Asia logo Insider Asia 11/6/2021 insider@insider.com (Lina Batarags)
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  • People in China are lining up outside of clinics to get an "elf ear" procedure, the South China Morning Post reported.
  • Many people think that altering their ears to be longer and thinner will make their face look thinner.
  • China's plastic surgery industry is booming - in 2017, it became the second-biggest plastic surgery market globally.

People in China are lining up outside of clinics to get a massively popular "elf ear" procedure, Mandy Zuo reported for the South China Morning Post.

The belief is that elongating the ears will make a face look thinner and younger, per the Post. The procedure is popular with both men and women and can generally be done in one of two ways: Taking cartilage from another part of the body and placing it behind the ear to make the ear protrude or injecting the ear with hyaluronic acid.

Two of the surgeons the Post spoke to said that while the procedure is certainly a fad, it is - as with most fads - likely to fade.

"I dare to say that after this 'elf ear' frenzy, there would be an army of beauty seekers requesting to get their original ears back, just like those 'online celebrity nose,' 'European-style double-fold eyelids,' etc., that once were very popular," Yu Wenlin, a doctor at Guangzhou's Gaoshang Medical Cosmetic Center, told the Post.

The plastic surgery market in China is reaching new heights, according to a March 2020 report from Daxue Consulting, a Shanghai-based market research firm.

Per the report, in 2017, China became the second-largest plastic surgery market in the world, behind the US, but surpassing Brazil. In 2017, China recorded more than 15 million plastic surgery procedures; in 2018, that number rose to more than 20 million procedures - and that's only accounting for the legal procedures done by licensed plastic surgeons.

This popularity of plastic surgery in China and across the Southeast Asia region can be attributed to, among other factors, the pressures of western and celebrity cultures. Among the three most common procedures in China, per the Daxue Consulting report, is the double-eyelid surgery that creates a fold or crease in the upper eyelid that helps mimic a Caucasian eye shape. Celebrity culture has left its mark, too - the effects of K-pop, for instance, on the popularity of certain kinds of plastic surgery has been well-documented.

Professional pressures are also a factor. For example, in some countries, including China and South Korea, people have to include a photo ID with job applications. Because of that, many individuals say they feel pressure to look perfect and turn to plastic surgery to obtain what they see as a physical ideal.

But the plastic surgery industry has its dangerous downsides, too. In South Korea - which is known as the global plastic surgery capital - the "ghost surgeon" industry, wherein one surgeon is paid to perform a procedure, but another performs it instead, is booming. In September 2016, a 24-year-old student in Korea died after undergoing a jawline-altering surgery at the hands of one of these ghost surgeons.

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