She offered standard black market rates: $30 Botox shots and $50 filler injections, a popular method for elevating the nose bridge to look "less Asian." In licensed Bangkok clinics, Botox injections range from roughly $150 to more than $400.
Dangerous beauty treatments have become a worldwide problem as people seek cheaper alternatives to plastic surgeons. In Hong Kong, a woman died last week of septic shock after getting a blood transfusion that a clinic claimed would whiten her skin. An American woman died in March from an illegal buttocks implant in Georgia, caused by suspected counterfeit silicone.
But Thailand sets a particularly stark example, partly because Thais of all income levels are striving for a uniformity of beauty that for large parts of the population would be impossible without surgery.
"People here are not seeking to look unique or different. They're all trying to look the same," said Lakkana Punwichai, a Thai feminist and social commentator who hosts a popular TV talk show.
Thais with darker skin, flat noses, round faces and full lips — features associated with the working-class descendants of Lao, Khmer and other ethnic groups — are enduring needles, knives and hazardous chemicals to emulate the Bangkok elite, whose porcelain complexions and more chiseled features traditionally stem from Chinese ancestry.
"The rich already have the look that Thai society values, they just work to maintain it," Lakkana said. "But the lower class has a dream of upgrading themselves. For them, cosmetic surgery has become a shortcut to a better future."
The cost of cosmetic procedures is low enough in Thailand that many Thais can afford licensed beauty clinics. There are 500 of them in the capital, and most have sprung up in the past five years, the Health Ministry says.
Bangkok's Yanhee Hospital, one of the country's best-known beauty emporiums, performs 30,000 cosmetic treatments a month, a dramatic increase from five years ago when dermatologists at the hospital say Botox was much less popular.
Some of those procedures are for foreigners — part of Thailand's "medical tourism" industry. But a large portion are for Thais, including young people who are using Botox long before the onset of wrinkles.
At a cafe in Bangkok, a group of fashionable young professionals said most of their friends no longer have their original faces.
"Almost all my friends have had something done," said Nuttida Kruapanich, a 23-year-old student and aspiring actress who recently had a nose job and injects Botox to make her face look slimmer. "If not cosmetic surgery, they've had Botox or filler. Nowadays, there's so much importance attached to how you look. What matters is that you're beautiful."
Her friend Surasit Areesamarn, 24, joked that he's a victim of both beauty and fashion. His nose job two years ago was modeled after what he called "the Western nose," but now he wants "a Korean nose," which is flatter at the top and pointy at the end.
"It's like changing shoes," he laughed. "You want the fashionable model."
Associated Press writer Thanyarat Doksone and AP video journalist Papitchaya Boonngok contributed to this report.
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