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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 December 2004, 23:56 GMT
China's 'artificial beauty' show
Contestants for the Miss Artificial Beauty crown
The contest will last for a week
A novel beauty pageant exclusively for women who have had plastic surgery on their face or body has begun in China.

Nineteen contestants aged 17 to 62 paraded on stage in Beijing on Sunday as finalists in the week-long Miss Artificial Beauty contest.

China's fast-growing cosmetic surgery is now worth $2.4bn a year.

To prevent cheating, all contestants - who include one transsexual - have to provide a doctor's certificate to prove that they have indeed had surgery.

But last-minute nips and tucks are not allowed - all surgery must have been completed no later than 29 May.

Contests will compete for a series of awards, including the biggest change, the best body and the best personality.

Other prizes will be given for best figure and best stage demeanour.

Fixation

The competition is another sign of China's increasing fixation with beauty as the country grows more prosperous.

Beauty pageant contestant Liu Yulan
Beauty before age? At 62, Ms Liu is the oldest contestant
In big cities, cosmetic surgery has become a trend as women and some men go under the knife to improve their looks, emerging as "renzao meinu" man-made beauties.

"Before, I couldn't imagine that it was possible to have places where the old could become young and the ugly could become beautiful," said Liu Yulan, who at 62 is the oldest contestant.

She has had a facelift and surgery on her eyelids.

"I'm not here for a prize," said Ms Liu, who was wearing a formfitting carmine Mandarin-collar dress with silver beading.

"I wanted to convey a message to society - that the pursuit of beauty is ageless," she added.

Sex change challenge

The idea for the contest took shape after a contestant was disqualified from a Chinese beauty pageant earlier this year because she had had plastic surgery.

"This contest shows women's strong pursuit of beauty," said organiser Han Wei.

Beauty pageant contestant Liu Xiaojing
Beauty pageant contestant Liu Xiaoping used to be a man
"We would like to use it to unveil the mystery of manmade beauty and let society have a complete understanding of every aspect."

Liu Xiaojing, a 21-year-old finalist from the north-eastern city of Harbin, was a man until three years ago.

"Becoming beautiful is the wish of everyone," said Ms Liu, who was wearing a strapless turquoise dress.

"I am now legally a woman and this contest is my first formal step toward womanhood," she said.

Her eligibility was being reviewed by organisers who only learnt of her previous identity on the opening day.

Ms Liu remained determined, however.

"If they disqualify me, I will use legal means to seek fairness," she said.




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