What pops up in your mind when someone mentions Korea? Possibly the Korean music industry, better known as k-pop, or maybe the Korean dramas that many claim are real tearjerkers, like the world-famous series, Descendants of the Sun. During recent years, Korea took in another association–plastic surgery. It all began after the Korean War when David Ralph Millard, the chief plastic surgeon of the U.S. Marine Corps, and his team offered complimentary reconstructive face surgery for injured soldiers due to war efforts. Soon after, Korean citizens sought Millard to change their Asian eyes to Occidental ones (The New Yorker). Ever since, plastic surgery clinics advertise themselves by posting flyers on the street to train station walls encouraging citizens to attain the perfect nose or the slimmest face shape. In an article published by the Washington Post, writer Ana Swanson went to the extent of calling South Korea the plastic surgery capital of the world. This holds truth for statistics show that while the United States has been leading in the cosmetic procedure realm, only 5% of American women have been under the knife compared to the significantly larger 20% of Korea women ages 19-49 who have (International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons). Lots of non- Koreans dismiss the beauty of the culture and physical composition of Koreans with beliefs that they have modified their looks and there is no such thing as a natural beauty anymore. With such a mass of misconception or a belief may hold some truth, it is essential to dive deeper into this theory today more than ever.
When a patient enters a plastic surgery clinic, they speak to a consultant, and then the doctor. The meeting with the doctor involves him/her telling their patient where imperfection lies by drawing a series of lines on their face using markers. About 980,000 Koreans went through this protocol in 2014 (International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery). Though women make up an enormous part of this number, men also alter their faces. In fact, Dr. Choi from JK Plastic Surgery stated that 15-20% of his patients are made up of males (businessinsider.com). The most popular cosmetic surgery in Korea is a blepharoplasty. During the procedure, …the doctor removes skin, muscle, and fat from the eyelid… (harpersbazaar.com). The goal is to transform a monolid to double lids in order to make the eyes appear bigger. The second most common surgery is a rhinoplasty. This is when an incision is made and …the skin that covers the nasal bones and cartilages is gently raised, allowing access to reshape the structure of the nose… (plasticsurgery.org). People undergo this procedure for a tall and defined nose bridge. Having a small face is associated with femininity, a strictly enforced standard to be met by Korean women. By choosing jaw reduction, or better known as V-line Surgery, this can be achieved in a matter of 2 to 3 hours. According to jwbeauty.net, Korea’s #1 plastic surgery clinic, V-line surgery consists of cutting the jawbone from the mandibular angles to the front. To ensure the jaw does not move back, titanium plates, screw, or gauge wires are used.
Society plays an integral part in the rise of the plastic surgery industry in Korea. Since, beauty is one of the top priorities in Korea, meeting such standards means a better life down the road. Parents and friends suggest, if not encourage, modifications without hesitation. As a matter of fact, a typical high-school graduation gift for a Korean teen-ager is either a nose job or a blepharoplasty (thenewyorker.com). In addition, not having anything done on your face is often frowned upon. According to a Korean college student, When you’re nineteen, all the girls get plastic surgery, so if you don’t do it, after a few years, your friends will all look better, but you will look like your unimproved you. A common practice in Korea is to give in a headshot to employee-seeking companies. The prettier the applicant, the more likely they will get the job. South Korean employers scrutinize the looks of the applicants — in search for physical attractiveness — in addition to their professional qualifications (theatlantic.com)
Korea is a nation that follows Confucian values closely, such as the idea of putting the interests of others before your own. Someone else’s opinion is more important than one’s own perspective of themself. Thus, Koreans will only be pleased with their face until everyone around them is content as well. Another belief within Confucianism is conformity within all. The Washington Post compared plastic surgery clinics to manufacturing industries in that they both pump out relatively standard products. Several plastic surgeons that author Patricia Marx from the New Yorker interviewed reported that they often receive clients that want them to mimic popular actresses’ favorited features, such as Kim Tae Hee’s nose or Lee Min Jung’s eyes. Overall, they want to be in sync with society’s standard of beauty because standing out is anti-Confucianism but a slight variation is acceptable.
Korea is the hub of entertainment with their flashy girl groups and dramatic dramas. Famous girl groups are admired by teens all throughout Korea and worldwide. They are made up of 4-10 young women between the ages of 17-20 that have different specialities in a group. One may be the leader, another may be the vocalist, and one can be a rapper. When these girls sign with a large entertainment industry such as YG, JYP, or SM entertainment, their every move is controlled, from what they say, eat, or look like. The image of a girl group member include having small faces, large eyes, and tiny button noses. Chins are pointed, cheeks are wide, and their faces glow artificially, imbuing them with the anime quality (theatlantic.com). When their fans see their role models looking that way, they would want to recreate that artificial look with plastic surgery. K-pop singer G.Na says, “This clinic is where Dr. Jong Phil is. As you are aware he gives a really kind consultation. Come and become more beautiful.” Not only do fans want to look like the stars they admire so much, their role models are urging them to as well.
Ghost doctors in Korea conduct many ghost plastic surgeries. But, what exactly is a ghost surgery? It is the process in which someone who is not licensed performs surgery in place of the surgeon (PubMed). Although there are only 1,500 registered institutions along with 2,100 licensed plastic surgeons in Korea, 20,000 and counting clinics are in operation today (ShanghaiDaily.com). In fact, Dr. Cha of the Plastic Surgeon Association stated that, If there are 10 plastic surgeons out there, there are another 100 who are not qualified. An infamous case of ghost surgery occurred in 2016 at one of the most well known plastic surgery clinics in Korea, Grand Plastic Surgery. From 2012 to 2013, they engaged in illegal behavior, which included hiring dentists and otolaryngologists to stand in while the patients were unconscious under anesthesia without the patient’s’ consent (BusinessKorea). This exact clinic was also found responsible for causing brain damage and later death of a 19 year old woman by overdosing her with too much general anesthesia. The Korean Association of Plastic Surgery claimed that a probable reason for this is to make sure patients do not find out the original plastic surgeon was not conducting their surgery like expected. A further malpractice clinics take part in is not having proper surgery equipment and not allotting the necessary amount of time to gain optimal results. Victims describe their face as …not a human face. It is more revolting than monsters or aliens (BBC News). On the other hand, the majority of Koreans still embrace the possible dangers of such unethical behavior in order to obtain a flawless face.
With all the stigma surrounding Korea’s plastic surgery industry, it is nearly impossible to see the perspective of every single person. Jeniffer Kim, also known as meejmuse, is an active Youtuber who created a series called Streets of Seoul (S.O.S). In her multiple part series, she interviews passerbys on the street of Myeongdong on topics ranging from a Korean girl’s ideal guys to life as a Korean student. SOS: Koreans Open Up About Plastic Surgery was about what average Koreans thought about exactly what the title suggests–going under the knife. Her short but dense video captured unique opinions on plastic surgery. For example, a couple of participants saw plastic surgery as a negative enhancement. A 19 year old university student went on to further explain that you shouldn’t try and hide something that naturally was given to you. When Kim asked Good looking but plastic guy/girl, or average looking but natural guy/girl, about half of the interviewees chose the latter option with some exceptions. A 25 year old office worker said that she would not choose the good looking guy if his surgery procedures were too obvious. When Kim followed up with What if you really can’t tell he’s had plastic surgery, she responded with so shallow. Hence, this shows that plastic surgery is not idolized by everyone in Korea.
Korea is garnering attention from all around the world as they are evolving step by step, face by face. Close to one million Korean citizens alter a part of themselves to fulfill their fullest physical potential. Some pay a visit to these plastic surgery clinics because of pressure from societal Confucian beliefs, to look like their favorite celebrities, or simply to become more confident in their own skin. Whatever reason it is, potential risk factors exist whether or not the client is aware of it. There is a whopping amount of practitioners that should not be performing inside the operation room or even be near it. As one of her closing questions, Jeniffer Kim asked whether or not these Koreans would undergo surgery if it guaranteed a gorgeous change, but, completely altered their natural features. While some answered a firm yes without any hesitation, others were against this idea. A middle-aged Korean woman looked straight into the camera and said, I have what I got from my parents, and I have my identity
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