Man at His Best

What I've Learned: Dr Rachel Chew

The aesthetic doctor tells it as it is.

BY sarah chong | Mar 22, 2017 | Culture

Photograph by Tommi Chu

I come from a very ordinary family, but I’d always aspired to be something more from a young age, and I knew education was the key.

Frankly speaking, I wanted to be a doctor because the title seemed so glamorous. I admire those who save lives, but my passion has always been art and music.

I suffered because I hated medical school. I only liked the glamorous side of being a doctor, but not the process. Housemanship was even worse. I jumped from one hell into another.

The plastic surgery department didn’t usually accept housemen, but they needed doctors so I volunteered, even though I didn’t really know what plastic surgery was. It just looked glamorous to me. The whole team had an air about them because they could fix burn wounds and cleft palates.

Training at the plastic surgery department marked a turning point in my life. It was such an eye-opening experience for me and related to what I was interested in pursuing.

People jump into this industry because they think that they’ll be raking it in. It wasn’t like that for me. I started out an innocent with naïve intentions.

There’s definitely a learning curve. You can’t be skilled from the start.

It’s a myth that surgery is permanent and non-surgery isn’t. That’s totally wrong. With eyelid surgery or a nose implant, sure, the crease and the implant might be permanent, but the shape and the result will alter over time. As you age, your body fat and frame change, as will your skin.

Ageing is like time. It doesn’t stop.

I’m constantly thinking about how I can make a person more beautiful and enhance his or her features.

I do say no to clients if their requests are irrational. I show them pictures of how it will turn out. If they insist, I say, “Maybe you should go to the doctor of the person in the picture.” I don’t want them to tell their friends that their procedure was done by me. It’ll tarnish my reputation. I don’t want people thinking that that was my idea.

The biggest difference between the Asian and the Caucasian face is that Caucasians are very “3D”. If you put their skull on the floor and kick it, it doesn’t roll. If you put an Asian skull on the floor and kick it, it will roll away, and that’s because [its features are] flat.

Everyone is beautiful in his or her own way, but what we all want is to be more outstanding, more eye-catching.

In this era, educated people are commonplace. There are those who say: “It’s okay if I can’t attract people with my appearance because I have a high IQ,” but no way! There are so many highly educated people who also look sharp. Your image is very important.

Men usually come in for skin-clearing treatments and receding hairlines. A small number want adjustments done to their face, especially their jawline, chin and nose, for a more macho look.

I can’t really tell you how to redesign someone’s face because it’s all art. It’s not so much learning as analysing. There are words to describe it, of course, but as to what makes a man look more macho, and a woman more feminine, that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

I would let my children do reconstructive surgery if they wanted to.

My youngest patient for facial re-enhancement (not counting the removal of moles or birthmarks) is 13 for a male and 12 for a female. My oldest patient is 80 years old. But most fall between the ages of 20 and 45.

We don’t have a Malaysian standard of beauty as compared to a Korean standard of beauty. We just follow.

Personally, I don’t fancy the Korean standard of beauty. I prefer the Japanese look. Many people consider the Korean look ideal because they’re more familiar with [the cosmetic surgery] industry [in Korea] rather than that of Japan or Taiwan.

I respect unconventional beauty like face tattoos or stretched earlobes, but it’s not to my liking. To me, fashion should be changeable; I would never wear something that I can’t take off. I need to refresh my look now and then.

I prefer to work on myself. I let another doctor do a procedure on me once, but not anymore. That’s because reconstructive surgery is like working on a piece of art. Everyone paints differently, conveys a different feeling. It’s not a matter of whether it’s more or less beautiful, or whether you like it or not. Only those who don’t have confidence in their treatments and products won’t try them first. I try everything personally before introducing them to my clients.

Inner beauty is very important, but if you aren’t physically presentable, no one will give you a chance to show it. I think both inner and outer beauty are equally important. Beauty is a form of respect for other people.

This article was first published in Esquire Malaysia's March 2017 issue.