Over the years, Ho Chi Minh City has seen a rise in both glamorous and dangerous niptuck obsessions. By Ruben Luong. Photo by Vinh Dao.

Before: a low nose, square jaw and a chubby body. After: a delicate high nose, V-line jaw, heart-shaped lips and elongated legs.

Deemed a girl-turned-swan, Ngoc Van (aka, V Tokyo) gained online notoriety in June for publicising before-and-after selfies of her pristine rhinoplasty, cheek tuning, jaw trim, padded chin, lip pumps, breast pump and full body liposuction.

V Tokyo, who is 26 and working at a local fashion shop, spent more than VND 800 million from her savings to complete all her cosmetic procedures. As fate would have it, her sister also followed suit with a jaw trim, chin implant, rhinoplasty and eyelid press.

It all shouldn’t come as a shock, considering Ho Chi Minh City is now a mecca for cosmetic surgery in Vietnam. There are an average of 100,000 cases each year at 53 licensed clinics (45 are specialised and eight general hospitals), according to information released by the Ho Chi Minh City Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery late last year.

But surgeon and vice head of the HCMC Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery Cao Ngoc Bich told Tuoi Tre last year that only 20 percent of customers are knowledgeable and know what they truly need to improve. The remaining misunderstand cosmetic surgery as a ‘magic wand’ that morphs them into their idols or imagines typically Anglo facial features or babydoll characteristics reminiscent of some Koreans or Japanese.

Local Vietnamese make up 75 to 80 percent of customers with women as the general majority. There was a time when traditional creams or white powder make-up might have been enough to satiate their vanity, but there’s a growing middle class of wealthy youth and locals who aren’t afraid to invest maybe US $300 for a nose job, $500 for an eyelid lift or $2,000 for breast enhancements in local clinics, especially since prices here are significantly lower than overseas.

“From the age of 16 I was conscious that I wanted to become more beautiful, even more so when I was bigger,” V Tokyo told Kenh14.vn. “I was determined to change myself. During that period, nearly all of my money was to feed the dream of a better day.”

With such increased accessibility, cosmetic surgery seems as easy as photo-editing applications on smart phones which perpetuate the desire of removing imperfections and refining contours. In the age of selfies in youth pop culture, a hyper self-consciousness pervades the local mindset.

It’s why favoured services for women here tend to include face and neck smoothing and nose, eyelid and dimpled cheek surgery, and breast lifting or enhancing, according to the HCMC Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery’s findings.

“Waiting for more than six months healing yourself is like rising from the dead,” says V Tokyo. “The most pain is the jaw adjustment process. To adjust the jaw, my jaw was shaved. The first step is easy to adjust to. But I wanted to create a second set of teeth to match my face. At that time I didn’t eat anything to avoid sharp pain. I just sucked porridge to hold out for the last day.”

Nowadays it is especially the Vietnamese models and celebrities who consider the V-line jaw an important beauty trend and standard. Vietnamese singer Thuy Tien was relatively unknown until she returned to showbiz with a noticeably pointed chin, slender jaw and tall nose. Vietnamese model Ngoc Quyen is also known for her chin, which gradually changed from chubby to V-line.

The dramatic rise and demand of these cosmetic surgeries, influenced by Western ideals and the local entertainment industry, caused many private and illegal clinics to propagate around town, hoping to reap lucrative payoffs on surgeries. Some illegal clinics are run by doctors at state-run hospitals who open their own unlicensed clinics.Last year, the Ho Chi Minh City Health Department conducted an inspection of 80 private plastic surgery clinics and found 15 throughout Districts 1, 3, 5 and 10 with practice violations.

“Before beginning any surgery, I consulted very closely and went to find out for myself if the cosmestic surgery might affect my health,” V Tokyo says. “But because the desire to change myself was also too big, I still took the plunge. I risked it to become more beautiful.”

Others, however, have been met with horrific results. In April last year, the local appeals court fined the director of Viet My private plastic surgery institute who damaged a Vietnamese American’s breasts. After several failures, she was left with flat breasts and only one nipple.

In Hanoi, a 39-year-old woman passed away earlier this year on the operating table at an unlicensed cosmetic surgery centre while undergoing breast enhancement, prompting the surgeon to dump her body in a river.

Ultimately, botched surgeries or the health hazards of illegal clinics are not always enough to deter those in the pursuit of Barbie perfection.

“Before nobody supported me. But after a long time I became more beautiful and my family was more open and accepting,” said V Tokyo. “Generally my personality is a little stubborn, you have to love yourself and feel free. There is nothing to be afraid of.”