Plastic Surgery in Korea

“How about that one?” – me
“Yep.” – Korean friend
“And that one?” – me
“Of course. You can’t tell?” – friend
“Well, yeah I think it’s pretty obvious. But maybe they’re all just really pretty right?” – me
“Well, I think Korean girls are pretty. But those ones all definitely have had plastic surgery.” – friend 

It’s a weird issue, but incredibly poignant in Korea, as this stuff can be found everywhere. Funny enough, this was a female friend pointing out the ubiquity of plastic surgery, in what is the World Capital of…Plastic Surgery.

There were a few occasions I walked by what looked like doctor’s offices with cardboard cutouts with perfectly (ie photoshopped) shaped women outside. Turns out these are where you can get plastic surgery, and they are quite easy to find in Seoul. I even saw lengthy neon sign ads at night, highlighting the myriad surgeries you could get. No body part is off limits.

(Side note: it’s never wise to typecast an entire country. Obviously this is a huge issue, but not everybody gets surgery. For instance, my friend did not. So while it’s worth noting, never conflate the whole population with a large segment. This commentary does not cover all Koreans.)

In Korea, it’s a rite of passage of sorts, at the age of 16 to get plastic surgery on your eyes. Northern Chinese and Koreans tend to lack the second eye-fold that Westerners generally have. A lot of the plastic surgery they get is on their face, and less so on their bodies, although the K-Pop stars probably get everything done. This is obviously incredibly harmful to a young girl’s self-image.

If you watch some K-pop music videos, they are a tad…aggressive at times. To be fair the music is actually pretty catchy a lot of the times, and they have to resort to these kinds of music videos to gain notoriety. In any case, the K-pop stars have loads of plastic surgery which definitely has an impact on young girls self-image.

A few years ago, I stood vehemently opposed to plastic surgery of any kind. This is the body you were granted. Deal with it. But then I’ve slowly changed over the years. Basically, it’s boiled down to this: if you have the money and the desire, then why not?

It started with Wayne Rooney getting hair transplants. Dude had money and was going bald; why wouldn’t you do that? So if he can get surgery to fix something that plagues guys, why can’t women just as non-judgmentally get changes to things that plague their bodies? I know in my old job in China, there were lots of housewives (because they just burned money learning English) who definitely had plastic surgery, face lifts and whatnot. And pretty much most of the people I talk to here are somewhat open to the idea.

To me, these bodily changes aren’t a binary option. If you wear lipstick or comb your hair then you subscribe to cosmetic change, so it’s a question of where you draw the line not whether any change at all is fair game. Lipstick is okay, but breast implants are not? Maybe somewhere in between? I tend to the more conservative opinion in that I don’t think we should be getting loads of plastic surgery. However, I have dropped my “judginess” a lot, because I am certainly not the arbiter of bodily disputes.

In any case, it’s prevalent here to a huge degree. It’s sometimes pretty easy to spot, mainly because they’re adding features to their face that aren’t natively “Korean.” But walking on the street with my buddy pointing stuff out, it was hard sometimes to determine who was real and who was not. I’m told too that this stuff is NOT cheap in Korea (nor anywhere) so a sizable chunk of money is going to plastic surgery.

The biggest reason against stars getting this treatment is probably its effect on young girls. If that’s what you see on TV and the only way to be in a pop group is to have fake boobs and a nose job, what’s that say about what you were born with naturally. It certainly makes you rethink self-worth.

Perhaps it happens a lot more in the US than I care to realize. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Like what you’re reading on Korea? Check out some other related articles in: The Korea Chronicles!


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