Even Giant Fish Can’t Ignore the Siren Song of Plastic Surgery

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arowana fish
A majestic arowana. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Asian arowana fish can grow up to three feet long, but these aquarium giants, seen as a status symbol in many East Asian cultures, aren’t exempt from the beauty standards that rule us all.

A new report by the New York Times dives into the niche world of fish plastic surgery, but to be fair, this isn’t standard practice for your average goldfish. Asian arowana fish first became prized on the black market after they were largely banned from international trade in 1975, which doesn’t account for the dosh required to provide the space and maintenance of a gigantic fish. Though there are now legal methods of breeding and trading, arowana have still been sold for up to $300,000.

What qualifies as plastic surgery on a creature with fins, scales, and gills? The report shares that “chin jobs” go for $60 while “eye lifts” go for $90, which is presumably chump change for anyone dropping thousands of dollars for a pet fish. (Not surprising, arowana surgery gets shouted out in the finale of novelist Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.)

As Singaporean fish plastic surgeon Eugene Ng puts it, “I know some people think it’s cruel to the fish. But really I’m doing it a favor. Because now the fish looks better and its owner will love it even more.” A tricky and familiar judgment, no matter where you stand or swim.

Even Giant Fish Are Subject to Strict Beauty Standards