Singapore’s ‘Go Plastic’ phenomenon (Part 2): In pursuit of plastic perfection

Jacqueline Koh before (left) and after (her) surgery (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Koh)
Jacqueline Koh before (left) and after (her) surgery (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Koh)

Plastic surgery in 2012 is hot, especially among the young. Fast becoming a topic discussed as flippantly as what to have for lunch, non-invasive procedures like fillers can be done in less time than it takes to finish your meal. 8 out of 10 women in Singapore aged between 20 and 25 will soon have had some form of aesthetic work done to their faces or bodies, doctors told Yahoo! Singapore. In the second and final part of our series on the 'Go Plastic' phenomenon, ELIZABETH SOH and GAIL CHAI speak to local bloggers Peggy Heng and Jacqueline Koh about their costly pursuit of (plastic) perfection. (Read first part here)

They are both attractive female bloggers in their 20s, self-employed and happy with where they were in life.

Confident, well-spoken, and positive about life, both young women have supportive families and stable friendships.

But here's something else they have in common -- Peggy Heng and Jacqueline Koh, both left Singapore for the land of K-pop and kimchi, underwent tens of thousands of dollars worth of plastic surgery, and came back new girls. In Jacqueline's case, she has shelled out over S$130,000 over the years in a radical, plastic makeover to transform her body and face.

An endorsement for one, a quest for perfection for the other

For blogger, model and pageant contestant Peggy, 22, the decision to have plastic surgery came after she was approached by Seoul-based aesthetic centre Item Plastic Surgery.

She accompanied a good friend to the centre's Singapore branch -- her friend was there for a pre-trip consultation and she had come along to offer support.

"The clinic manager recognized me and they asked if I wanted fully sponsored plastic surgery to enhance my face," said Peggy, "I thought, since I was tagging along with my friend to Seoul anyway, why not?"

Her parents respected her decision and were supportive after she explained to them that the clinic was an established and well-known one. Less than a week later, she was on a plane and on her way to South Korea.

Full-time blogger Jacqueline, on the other hand, had been planning and saving for months before deciding to take the plunge.

"I already felt before my surgeries that I was very pretty — I just wanted to be even prettier. From 10/10 to 100/10 to even a million out of ten," she said, explaining her decision to undergo extensive surgery.

"I also felt I had some lines on my face, and I'm paranoid about ageing. I have applied facial masks every single day since I was 18, I take any kind of collagen, powder, bottled drinks," said the 29-year-old.

Her then-boyfriend meticulously researched medical journals, testimonials, and different procedures before helping her decide on a clinic and the number of surgeries she would undergo.

Both girls went with friends who also underwent plastic surgery, and both said that it helped make them more comfortable with the idea as well as supported during the post surgery healing process.

Transformation vs enhancement

Peggy and Jacqueline both went to their Korean surgeons knowing what they wanted fixed.

Peggy, who had been teased and called "horse-face" when she was young for her pronounced underbite, wanted a more "three-dimensional face shape" and sharper side profile, as well as bigger eyes and a higher nose bridge.

"To be honest, I was already very confident in my looks. I just thought, why not, if I can be even prettier. Even if I had not done the surgery, I wouldn't feel ugly or bad about myself," said Peggy during a recent interview at the Yahoo! Singapore office.

"I wanted an enhancement, not transformation. I still want to look like Peggy, like myself."

She decided to go for epi and lateral canthoplasty to widen her eyes for a "doll-like" expression, as well as cheek and forehead implants using fat from her own body to give her face more definition.

To correct her underbite, she underwent a procedure to trim her chin line, and rhinoplasty to raise her nose bridge.

Jacqueline, on the other hand, wanted a more "cute and pretty" look.

"I wanted a cute face more than a pretty face — although guys like sexy more than cute but I was doing it for myself.. and I wanted something cute, like Angela Baby," she said with a laugh, referring to the Hong Kong model-cum-actress.

Jacqueline wanted to look like Angela Baby (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Koh)
Jacqueline wanted to look like Angela Baby (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Koh)

Unfortunately, Jacqueline's surgeon told her that her face shape would not be suited to Angela Baby's features, but suggested procedures which would give her the look she wanted.

Jacqueline also underwent the same procedures for her eyes and nose, but decided to go for the full works, also doing chin augmentation, otoplasty to push back her ears, a zygoma (cheekbone) reduction to make her face smaller, and double eyelid surgery.

"Did I want a transformation? Yeah, why not? "I don't mind if it's going to be awesome," said Jacqueline with a laugh.

What they also agree on is that nothing prepared them for what they looked like, post-surgery, and after the anaesthesia wore off.

Jacqueline Koh in the early days post surgery (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Koh)
Jacqueline Koh in the early days post surgery (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Koh)
Peggy post-surgery (Photo courtesy of Peggy Heng)
Peggy post-surgery (Photo courtesy of Peggy Heng)

"My whole face was super badly swollen and my eyes could barely open," said Peggy.

"I felt like I was in a daze, and it was totally surreal, I couldn't believe that it had happened."

But unabashed, she was out the next day exploring Seoul -- bandages and all -- shopping, eating, and enjoying the city to the horror of friends and family.

"My doctor actually told me that moving around after the operation would help the healing process and improve my circulation. I wasn't in much pain at all, in fact moving around helped distract me," said Peggy, who remained unfazed despite receiving many curious looks from Seoul-ites in public.

"At one barbecue place, the Koreans at the next table even congratulated me on my surgery and treated us to an extra plate of meat!"

Jacqueline, on the other went into a panic post surgery and became depressed.

'I felt ugly and suicidal'

"I started freaking out and telling the doctor, can you reverse this? Oh my god, why do I look like that, I don't want the surgery anymore, can you make me what I looked like before?" said Jacqueline.

"I looked like a pig, I totally couldn't imagine that I would look better after the bandages came off. I felt 'cheated' and depressed about my swollen face."

Unhappy with the look of her chin, she decided to undergo an additional procedure the day after her operations to get it fixed.

"I didn't take many pics up close because I felt ugly and suicidal," blogged Jacqueline.

For Peggy, the most agonizing part of the surgery was removing her stitches... and not being able to wash her face for four days.

"When my eye stitches were being removed, wow, that was painful. I was tearing non-stop and crying out in pain. But the worst part was not being able to wash my hair. I ended up getting ripped off and paying $40 to get it washed at a salon -- they knew I was desperate," she said.

"No more surgery for me" - Peggy Heng (Photo courtesy of Peggy Heng)
"No more surgery for me" - Peggy Heng (Photo courtesy of Peggy Heng)

Danger of plastic surgery addiction?

Post-Korea, both Jacqueline and Peggy told Yahoo! Singapore that they do not intend to get any more procedures, dismissing the idea that they would become "addicted" to plastic surgery.

"Been there, done that, I'm really happy with my face. The thought of getting anymore done never crossed my mind -- that's why I did so many things at one go -- so I don't have to undergo anything else," said Peggy.

"I don't think I will undergo anymore procedures," said Jacqueline, who added that she saw her transformation as the end of a long, painful, and bumpy journey towards reaching her ideal look.

"My husband worried about complications, like risk of cancer, health problems, so he is not supportive of me going for more surgery."

No stranger to going under the knife, Jacqueline had previously received breast implants and undergone Vaser liposuction here in Singapore, which turned out to be a nightmare experience.

"The liposuction was the worst. The doctor was really terrible — the Vaser liposuction left me with "wavy" arms because the fat was not distributed properly," said Jacqueline, "I didn't know then that it was a very common problem, but even a GP can do Lipo, and if they do not have an aesthetic eye, it can become a disaster."

"I even woke up halfway during my operation and I started screaming from the pain. I was under twilight local anaesthesia, meaning the area is numb, but I'm half asleep."

Hate mail

Both girls have blogged extensively about their plastic surgery experience at their blogs and, responding to floods of enquiries and e-mails from curious readers.

"When I was doing my research, I was looking for a real-life experience but there was nobody. Forums were not detailed and the information on forums can be fake. I had a very difficult time doing my research -- every girl was unwilling or evasive. So if I can share my experience and help others, why not?" said Jacqueline, who receives over 200 e-mails a day asking for advice and help.

However, she is also worried about how young some of her readers asking questions are -- some just 14.

"The first thing I ask (my readers) is how old are you — it's very very important that you don't undergo surgery because it's a trend. It doesn't work like that -- what if you're older and you don't want to look like that anymore?" said Jacqueline.

"In your teens, you can't see the consequences — they want instant results, think everything is going to be fine and dandy, but it's not like that."

And while she gives advice, she refuses to disclose the name of the clinic where she had her surgery done.

"I don't want random people to flood his (her doctor)'s office and blame me if there's a bad job. Queries from readers can get invasive, if it's too much I just block them."

Peggy Heng pouts and frowns to show her face's flexibility (Yahoo! Photos / Gail Chai)
Peggy Heng pouts and frowns to show her face's flexibility (Yahoo! Photos / Gail Chai)

Peggy says that 9 out of 10 of her readers and feedback has been positive. For haters, she's learnt to simply brush them off.

"I've always been controversial, there are always people criticizing me, my face, my looks. In my line (as a model and pageant contestant), this is something you have to deal with, so I am not worried," said Peggy, who used to be bullied as a child.

"I recently won a beauty pageant, and of course people said I'm fake so it's not "real", but who cares, I won anyway, not them."

Likewise, Jacqueline says that "a very thick skin" has helped her ignore naysayers, despite her husband's concern about some of the nastier e-mails calling her "fake", "plastic", and some even threatening her.

"He's protective about me -- he doesn't want other people to think badly of me, but I'm happy go lucky, and I tell him it doesn't affect me at all."

Both girls said that their decision to go public about their surgery, however, is not for everyone, especially if one has low self-esteem.

"There are definitely still social taboos against plastic surgery. But you don't owe anyone an explanation --the surgery was done to yourself," said Jacqueline.

I would say don't talk about it or confess anything unless you're very very secure, because the criticism can be really bad."

"At the end of the day, you have to love yourself first. I know it's cliche, but if you don't already love yourself, no plastic surgery in the world will make you more confident or feel truly more beautiful," said Peggy.

Part 1: Singapore youths fixated with fillers