What Is Beauty in Korea?

eyelid surgery 2 eyelid surgery

written by gkim

Korea has one of the highest rates of plastic surgery procedures per capita in the world. This is obviously absolutely nothing new. BUT I am still shocked when I see how many women get plastic surgery here. When I came to visit Korea back in 1994, a few years before the IMF crisis, women were not this obsessed, although there were still many who were getting their eyelids surgically cut to have creases. What made plastic surgery so popular to the point where the term “surgery” isn’t even applicable to blepharoplasty (eyelid crease surgery, SSANG-GA-POOL SOO SOOL, 쌍까풀 수술) or rhinoplasty (nose jobs, KO SOO SOOL, 코 수술) in Korea anymore? What defines beauty? What is so intriguing about Western beauty? Why are bigger eyes better? What is wrong with us when we aren’t born with double eyelids, or creases? Why are straighter, taller noses more beautiful than flatter, wider noses? Why are smaller faces coveted over larger faces?

Some people have speculated that the plastic surgery obsession began during the financial crisis in 1997. Because of the shortage of jobs, students and citizens were desperate to differentiate themselves from each other…and therefore, they opted to LOOK better, since their resumes were indistinguishable.

A lot of people say it became more popular after K-Pop started making its way throughout the country and outwards into every other country. This type of success, fame, and publicity that actors and singers started to gain perpetuated the desire to look a certain way and appeal to certain people from everywhere around the world. This triggered everyday citizens in the country to idolize public figures who influenced them, so they say.

Other people attribute the boom of plastic surgery to the culture of Korea. They say Koreans naturally tend to think about how others view them much more than other countries. For example, when Korean soccer teams are competing with other teams, the Korean announcers always have elongated chats about what they think other teams and viewers are thinking of the Korean players. But has this type of constant worry, about what others think of us, been a part of the Korean culture, or did it actually create this kind of culture in Korea? What came first? South Korea was a poor, third world country that moved its way up to compete with the highest GDP ranking players of the world in such a short amount of time. Could this have affected and revamped the culture that prompted an obsession over Western beauty?

What is LOOKING better? We aren’t satisfied to look Asian when this is who we are. What makes us conform to this Westernized beauty? If we were proud to be who we were, we would try everything to achieve looking more Asian! Comparing previous Miss Korea women to modern day Miss Korea women is laughable because the plastic surgery has gone too far these days.

What’s distressing is that mothers are pushing and paying for their daughters to get plastic surgery. Sometimes it is a high school graduation gift, and there are many girls who undergo the knife much earlier. Because of the high rate of plastic surgery amongst Korean women and even Korean men, the children don’t seem to resemble them as much.

plastic surgery in korea

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Furthermore, there is another beauty obsession that goes hand in hand with the plastic surgery. Porcelain skin. Where does the desperation for possessing super light skin come from? I’ve heard explanations about how dark skinned people toil under the sun, whereas light skin people live better lives……..? Ridiculous. Every time I go into a Korean department store, the counters are filled with whitening products. When I went to get a facial package in Seoul, the consultant said that my complexion looked a bit dark and that I should purchase the whitening facial package. The funny thing is my skin isn’t dark at all, and in America, everyone used to say that I looked like I needed a tan :/

My own American male friends, who have been living in Korea for five or more years, have changed their views on what is beautiful. It is no longer the traditional Korean look that these men are attracted to. This is no longer what they consider as being natural. They have been so affected by this society that some of them actually urge their girlfriends to get their eyes done or their jaws sawed off, saying it’s not a big deal. To them, being natural just means wearing no makeup.

Fashion is one thing, but our perception of beauty is so distorted. How much time we waste on trying to “perfect” our God-given physical appearances is just deplorable. Lord, help us.