“Did it hurt to get your nose job done?” Ma Yili 马伊琍, a famous Chinese actress with an acting career of over 20 years, reportedly said last week during her interview with a female applicant for the Shanghai Theatre Academy, one of the most prestigious drama schools in China.
Some internet users criticized Ma for making harsh comments that sounded like personal attacks. But she is not alone. Ma’s hostility toward actresses and actors who have had cosmetic surgery is so widely shared with other professionals in the Chinese entertainment industry that it is now affecting aspiring acting students who have not started their careers yet.
“You can get away with your plastic surgery if those artificial improvements on your face look natural to us. But to be honest, the majority of the physical changes achieved by cosmetic surgery are not that good. And it’s sad to see many male students are joining the trend,” Ma said during an interview, adding that accepting students who have had procedures to improve their physical looks is actually sending a wrong message to young people that appearance outweighs talent.
Other well-known directors and instructors at drama schools have also weighed in on this topic. Last year, while casting for Youth (芳华 fānghuá), the famous director Feng Xiaogang said at the film’s premiere, “I’m fine with other movies using actresses who have gone through plastic surgery, but my film has different standards.” According to Wangyi Entertainment, in order to prove that all the actresses in his film have natural beauty, Feng turned the whole premiere into a “makeup removal event” by using wet wipes to clean the makeup traces off the actresses’ faces and pinching their noses.
Shandong University of Art has gone one step further: The school announced earlier this month that it will reject any applicant who has had plastic surgery. “Having plastic surgery is like attaching a sandbag to your face. It will definitely affect your subtle facial expressions,” said Dong Liang 董亮, dean of the university’s film and television school. “I think people are paying too much attention to their physical appearance. But for acting students, professionalism and capability are equally important.”
The obsession with an ideal face is not confined to the hyper-competitive world of Chinese showbiz, where stars, especially female celebrities, often feel pressured to have every aspect of their looks on point. In the past decade, the trend of altering one’s appearance with medical procedures has grown steadily in China. It is expected that the country’s cosmetic surgery industry will reach 800 billion yuan ($126 billion) by 2019, making it the third-biggest for the sector worldwide after the U.S. and Japan.