Don't like your nose? Try musical makeover

Lu Feiran
"Subliminal music" is gaining popularity online. Listeners believe dramatic change will happen by just listening to them. Is it a kind of magic?
Lu Feiran

Tired of counting calories and forgoing foods you love? Maybe a "diet" of music can lead to a thinner, trimmer you.

Angela Wei, a college senior, advocates "subliminal music" as a means of losing weight.

She says excess weight made her feel inferior for years. She tried all sorts of weight-reduction plans but all failed. During her sophomore year, she was diagnosed with depression.

This past summer holiday, she says she spent hours a day listening to music on videos on Bilibili, a major online video platform in China – videos like "What a Charm Nose," "Grow Taller" and "Small Face Plus."

Such videos are often comprised of soothing music and pictures of beautiful, svelte women.

The two-minute "What a Charm Nose," for example, incorporates ethereal music with shots of various actresses from both home and abroad, focusing mostly on their noses. The video garnered more than 320,000 clicks since it was uploaded two months ago. Hundreds of viewers have shared their comments under it.

"It's really effective," comments a netizen with the screen name Chengyu. "I listened to the music for less than a week, more than six hours a day, and my nose has become much prettier. The point is that if you don't care too much about the result, good things happen naturally."

Such comments were the first thing that attracted Wei, who didn't initially believe in the power of subliminal music. But she knew she had to do something about a weight obsession that often left her just wanting to lie in bed all day or even trying to self-harm.

Subliminal music, she says was like clutching on a rope to prevent her from falling off a cliff.

"All those people sharing their stories encouraged me a lot," she says. "And I wanted to give it a try because I had nothing to lose after all."

Subliminal music didn't originate in China, but rather was introduced from the West. It involves music played below the threshold of human awareness, which advocates say can stimulate the brain and affect behavior. Such "subconscious" therapy has been used, for example, by people who want to quit smoking or who want to bolster their self-esteem.

A study done by Swedish neurologists in 2012 claimed that exposure to subliminal stimuli induces robust activation in parts of the brain, resulting in certain emotional processing. The study became a major theory underpinning the rise of subliminal music on global video platforms like YouTube.

The videos on YouTube seem to be a bit different from those on Bilibili.

Take one entitled "WEIGHT-LOSS MUSIC: Powerful Subliminal Therapy to Aid Weight Loss FAST," for example. It comprises a piece of calm piano music and a gif (graphics interchange format) picture of flowing water on a lakeshore at sunset. There are no slim women shown.

Its comments section, however, looks more or less the same as Bilibili's. People marvel at how they "look thinner every day after listening to the music before bed."

Such music video uploaders claim that if you watch the video long enough and keep picturing your goal in your mind, the power of suggestion will make it come true.

"The uploaders say that the only thing that prevents you from getting what you want is your mind," Wei explains. "You don't get what you want if you subconsciously don't believe that you deserve it. But when you truly believe, all the 'energies' in the universe come help you."

The first thing Wei wanted to change was the shade of her eyes, which she thought "too dark to be stylish." So that she watched a video and listened to its background music for almost a week. Result? She said her eyes did indeed "look paler."

The "magic" didn't seem to work for everything, however. In ensuing weeks, Wei says she listened to music to thin her thighs and reshape her lips, but she didn't get results. Anxiety crept in. She tried listening and watching the videos for longer periods of time, to no avail.

"I became more and more obsessed," Wei says.

Xu Peng, a therapist and psychologist, says that subliminal music is an easy-to-adopt variation of the "Law of Attraction" preached by the New Thought spiritual movement.

The Law of Attraction doctrine holds that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into a person's life.

The pseudoscience encourages people to create positive visualizations and use verbal affirmations to replace negative thoughts in their minds. In other words, to "feel" that a desired change has occurred, or, in short, "fake it until you make it."

The concept has become popular in the new millennium, thanks to the book "The Secret," written by Australian Rhonda Byrne. The book has been translated into 50 languages, including Chinese, and has sold more than 30 million copies around the world.

"The Law of Attraction asks people to spontaneously do or think something, but subliminal music is carried out in a more passive way," Xu explains. "Both of them are like a kind of religion in that you pray for something you want and find comfort. The Law of Attraction asks you to write your own prayer; subliminal stimuli are more like a prayer book ready at hand."

But does it truly work? Psychologically speaking, yes.

"It works just for the listeners," Xu says. "If they believe some change will happen, then in their subjective world, it does happen, although it may not be seen by others."

Xu, however, says it's more important to pay attention to the people listening to subliminal music rather than to the method itself.

"It is clear that most listeners, at least in China, are women, and their desire is, first, to change their appearances for the better, and second, to have better interpersonal or intimate relationships," he says. "That means that women are coping with serious obstacles in their daily life, and we should actually pay attention to their well-being."

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