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April 13, 2010

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A lucky face

A female CEO in her 40s used to feel that her staff avoided her and seemed afraid of her. She didn't think it was her demeanor (though that could have been a factor she chose to ignore). Instead, she blamed her angular face - high cheekbones and a square jaw, for putting people off.

She recently sought out a cosmetic surgeon to change her face and, as the Chinese saying goes, change her luck. She got her fu xiang (lucky face).

It's well known among Chinese face readers (kan xiang), practitioners of an ancient art, and to some degree the general population that a woman with sharp features, nose, chin, cheekbones, can be dominant and disagreeable - this is what they bring to their husband.

Smooth, gentle curves are what are sought in women, especially as wives. Their faces tend to be read in terms of what they mean to their mate.

In any case, the cosmetic surgery to smooth her face (by removing and shaving bone) seemed to work wonders for the female CEO's interpersonal relations at work. Now she says there's a better dynamic in the office, and even business seems more successful.

Perhaps she changed her ways as well, but there's a deep-seated notion in China that appearance affects character and fortune. Worldwide, we know that agreeable faces at least initially get agreeable responses.

A famous case of the scalpel bringing luck concerns a former Miss Hong Kong, beautiful indeed, but troubled by a slightly humped nose - a woman's humped nose is considered an especially bad luck sign for her husband.

After getting her nose straightened, she finally married the rich man she had been romantically linked with for years. Gossips suggested the prospective mother-in-law was opposed to the match on the basis of the hump. Who knows?

Much has been written about the enormous popularity of cosmetic surgery in China, often to achieve a more "Western" look. It is common for models to get double-eyelids and ask surgeons to give them a more sculpted look.

This angular look is quite the opposite of traditional Chinese beauty. That ideal face is round, smooth and symmetrical, without sharp angles, the chin is round and the nose is straight and has a round tip.

But a great many surgeries are performed, not for Western looks, but to create a lucky face; sometimes parents may even decide that their child will need surgery to make their face more pleasing in some way, to "fix" a nose, to turn a mouth upward and even create dimples.

Many ordinary and attractive-looking girls and women seek to improve their appearance and improve their luck in education, in jobs, and in love - prospective mothers-in-law want more than a pretty face.

Men get surgery too, of course, but not so much. It's often done to create large, thick auspicious earlobes - note Buddha's pendulous earlobes. They do it not for looks, but for luck.

"It's human nature to pursue a beautiful appearance, which not only brings more admiration but also opportunities," says Dr He Jinlong, associate chief physician of cosmetic surgery of Shanghai Time Cosmetic Surgery Hospital.

Traditional Chinese face reading (physiognomy) holds that there is a close connection between facial appearance and specific features, even a mole - and one's fate.

And these old beliefs, which never really went away, are finding some favor today among those who want to improve their luck in a highly competitive world.

Apart from the always-popular eye-enlargement, other popular surgeries create a straight nose with a high bridge, round tip and full wings (invisible nostrils - open nostrils indicate a spender); some make the forehead fuller, some reduce and smooth out cheekbones and create a plumper face and less prominent chin.

Once the standard for beauty called for a small palm-size face, full and moonlike, with slanted, single-eyelid "phoenix eyes," a round chin and a small cherry-like mouth.

Shanghai Daily took an informal multiple-choice poll about the most important aspects of beauty on There were 1,576 votes cast for different aspects: 1,053 votes for smooth skin, 828 for straight nose, 821 for a small face, 804 for big eyes, 605 for a soft facial outline; there were other votes for a small cherry-mouth, full sexy lips, and general triangular shape.

What's beauty?

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing is considered very beautiful by many men, says Xu Daxiong, a 29-year-old architect. "But we usually prefer a girlfriend with a face like South Korean actress Song Hye Kyo who is not that sharply beautiful."

David Fang, a master face reader, says that a person with a smooth facial outline is usually considered you fuqi (born with good luck), while those with angular bones often encounter bad luck.

"A lucky person in Chinese physiognomy should have straight bones concealed by flesh," says Fang, "A smooth facial outline, straight and plump nose, full lips, and big earlobes may all suggest good luck."

In addition, a full forehead and fleshy chin are considered lucky signs in traditional Chinese physiognomy.

Recently quite a few women have been showing their cosmetic surgeon pictures of diving champion Guo Jingjing who is said to have married a rich Hong Kong businessman. They want to look like her because she has a wang fu bi, or lucky nose for her husband, according to Dr Wang Rong from Shanghai Ren'ai Cosmetic Surgery Hospital. He made the comment earlier to a local newspaper.

The traditional "lucky" face with a smooth outline gives the impression of being easy going for most Chinese, says Dr He. That might be why some people find themselves more popular after surgery.

Dr He performed cheekbone and jaw surgery for the female CEO mentioned at the beginning of the article.

"Afterward she found her that her staff talked to her more; before that they had a scared expression on their faces," says Dr He.

Though not that many Chinese people firmly believe in fate and face today, many still tend to judge people's temperament and characteristics by appearance, especially at first sight.

"It is true that I would suppose plump people with regular eyes and eyebrows are friendly and nice," says Jessica Cheng, who works in public relations at a foreign-invested company.

"Thin people with narrow eyes and up-stroke eyebrows seem foxy, or at least mean," she says, admitting she does get it wrong.

One prospective mother-in-law says she definitely considers her future daughter-in-laws features.

"I wouldn't expect a girl with a perfect wang fu xiang (face with good signs for the husband), but at least she should not be picky or mean, which could be a big threat to the family," says Wang Xianglin, 57, who has a 29-year-old son.

Face does reveal personality in most cases, she says.

Clearly cosmetic surgery for luck, an amiable appearance or beauty does seem to help many young women gain popularity at work and in romance.

The bad news is that many men reject "fake" features, regardless of their beauty and improved appearance.

"I cannot accept that my girlfriend would have cosmetic features, whether on her face or body," says Kevin Lin, a sales manager at a decoration company, "It's hair-raising to see a nose and know at the same time that it's fake."

Shanghai Daily, again unscientifically, asked the opinions of six guys, ranging from 24 to their 30s. All said they want a pretty girlfriend but reject cosmetic surgery.

Face reader Dave Fang is opposed to cosmetic surgery for better luck or looks. One's appearance, he says, is a message from god.

"If you are born with an unfriendly looking appearance, you should learn to be outgoing and friendly," he says. "Rather than changing your appearance by surgery, it's better to make yourself truly friendly and sincere and make that show in your face."

Classic standards of beauty

1. San ting wu yan (three courts and five eyes)

This is a standard for proportion and location of features.

Three courts refer to the space between the forehead hairline and eyebrows, the space between the eyebrows and nose tip, and the space between the nose tip and the chin. The length of three courts of a beautiful face should be equal.

The "five-eyes" standard means that seen from the front, the distance from the left ear to right ear should be the length of five eyes.

The distance from the left ear to far left eye corner, that from left inside (by the nose) eye corner to the right inside eye corner, that from the far right eye corner to the right eye should all be equal.

2. Egg face or melon-seed face

The forehead should be full while the cheeks should be narrower, in an oval. The outline should be smooth.

The angle between chin and cheek should be 120 degrees. The tip of the nose, lips and lowest point of the chin should be in line.

3. Bright, large eyes with double-eyelids.

4. Delicate nose, straight with round tip.

5. Moderately full lips, the lower a big fuller than the upper.


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