Over a billion phones in China are equipped with apps produced by Meitu, Inc. Launched in 2008, the signature app, also named Meitu (“beautiful picture”), is a basic photo-editing program. The inventors originally imagined it as a general-purpose app until they noticed user data. Teenage girls were by far the most engaged audience. Today the company is worth more than $6 billion.
Meitu not only changed the perception of a generation in China, it also gave birth to a specific look: wang hong lian, “Internet-celebrity face.” Executives and users claim it to be an expectable backlash against the lack of individuality demanded by Communism for so long. And yet, critics reply, this has created its own form of uniformity. The average user spends forty minutes doctoring a photo before daring to release it for public inspection. A two-person photo demands at least an hour.
Revenue is in part generated by cosmetic companies brandishing lucrative deals with wang hong elite, as well as by partnering with Meitu, Inc, to virtually stylize and then sell actual product to adoring fans—embedded links make shopping irresistible. But the craze has also created another trend: plastic surgeries in hopes of attaining the perfect “Internet-celebrity face.”