Chasing Cinderellas

May 17, 2009
*Special to asia!
-A +A

According to a survey reported in Taiwan some months ago, only two per cent of all women in the island country think of themselves as physically attractive.


Taiwanese women are not alone. In fact, the same survey, which polled 5,600 women in 21 different countries, showed that the two per cent figure applies to the rest of the world, as well.

But other numbers indicate women in Taiwan are increasingly worried about their look. Out of those polled, 60 per cent felt they were overweight, despite Department of Health statistics that put the actual number of overweight woman less than 16 per cent.

As a result, the island nation has become something of a dream market for beauty aid suppliers with several home shopping networks catering full time to women with those diminished egos. Then there are the commercials with celebrities promising true empowerment through looking good. “You deserve it,” actress Gong Li announces in one. Taiwan entertainer, Hsu Xi-di, popularly known as Little S, says you too can have a “great body” like hers if you buy Product X.

Beauty aids have become big business, even turning a few women into successful entrepreneurs and national icons. Amy Ho is one that comes to mind, but there are others whose names are immediately recognisable by an overwhelming majority of women in the country.

Tsai Yen-ping’s Natural Beauty, a national chain of beauty salons, offers facial services, skincare, skin-whitening, body sculpting and spa treatments. Tsai has positioned herself as a provider of less artificial treatments, exclaiming: “Being natural is beautiful” in her commercial spots.

Chao Rei, the founder of Perfect Beauty, touts services like aromatherapy and breast massage (designed to enlarge breasts and get them into “better shape”), and her company offers a weight-loss program and skincare products made of bird’s nest (which is essential bird saliva) which is believed to get the bad stuff out of the pores. Perhaps Chao captures the mentality best with her slogan “Perfection is a good ideal.”

Chuang Ya-ching is perhaps best known for her slogan “Trust me, you can do it.” Her Matinform Inc. also offers a weight loss programme as well as body sculpting and a massage designed to shape a particular part of the body such as to flatten the tummy.

Lou Lih-fen’s name is hard to miss given the name of her company, Loulihfen Beauty Care Professional Inc., which provides spa treatments, skincare, body sculpting, and aromatherapy.

Walking around the streets of Taipei, it’s not hard to guess why the market has ballooned. Just about anything for sale has some young attractive woman, Chinese or Western, hawking it in an advertisement. While the life-sized posters outside lingerie shops are almost excusable, the very nearly nude ladies adorning coffee shops may be pushing it by some standards.

Women have come to recognise it as well. In the aforementioned survey, 62 per cent of the respondents accused media and advertising, saying that they have defined beauty in such a way as to make it unattainable for the masses. Unattainable using any natural methods, that is.

Enter the new world of plastic surgery. A mere 20 years ago, terms such as liposuction and nose jobs were virtually unheard of. Fast forward through an economic miracle and technological advancements that brought along more disposable income, more advertising and fewer practical concerns—now 40 per cent of women say they are unhappy enough with their appearance to go under the knife.

While respondents indicated a number of things they would like to change, nearly 80 per cent of women said that they would like to alter the shape of their eyes. Yet, while 40 per cent said they were willing to go to a doctor to have it done, only 14 per cent had actually acted on it.

Given that the industry is largely built on self-perception, are those businesswomen capitalising on their own gender’s insecurities or are they providing a new route to confidence?

“I hope that everyone can feel beautiful,” says Amy Ho whose Amy Go line offers a number of health and beauty aids and Spring Clinic provides a number of services including plastic surgery.

“Some people might object and prefer to go the natural route, but if you have good, professional doctors, it is appropriate for some people. If it can make someone look and feel better, why not?”

lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


Contact Han Shih