Lookism is a thought that the most important value is appearance and people’s value are judged only by how they look. In Korean society, physical appearance became far more important than a person’s inner beauty or ability. In this society, it is natural that people want to look more attractive than others. Even in job interviews, good-looking applicants are preferred. By this lookism, many Koreans believe that a beautiful face and body is essential to get a good job or have a nice boyfriend or girlfriend.
Even worse thing is that many advertisements on mass media keep on whispering how great it will be if people have plastic surgery and forcing people to grasp the chance for a better life by improving their appearance. Actually there was ul-jjang boom, which means the best face, a few years ago in Korea. At that time, women, and some men as well, took their photographs and posted them on websites, where they could be ranked by their looks. The winner of the competition was able to get a chance to be a model or an actor.
This society, where people are pressured to be beautiful, made Korean more eager to have plastic surgery. Next, the prevalence of plastic surgery among Korean has relation to their pop culture. Korean pop culture shows people the ideal appearance and beauty standard. The images of women in Korean pop culture negatively affect Korean and their self-images. The idea that double-lids, sharp nose and larger breasts are beautiful is reinforced by many TV programs in Korea. It also popularizes the cosmetic trend of plastic surgery.
From this phenomenon, Korean’s sense of well-being becomes more dependent on appearance and beauty. And it is also true that there are many Korean celebrities who had plastic surgery. Their complete change gave people a big shock and at the same time, Koreans want to become beautiful and popular like them by taking plastic surgery. Lastly, Koreans tend to be very competitive from every aspect. Traditionally, Korea was based on Confucianism, so they had no control over their looks. For example, their hair was considered a gift from their parents, never to be cut.
However, Korea became even more competitive than it’s conservative. And with so many young people having plastic surgery, teenagers became afraid that they will fall behind, not just academically but aesthetically. This is basically why so many teenagers are doing their eye jobs as a high school graduation gift from their parents. In this very competitive society, it is no longer enough just to correct perceived flaws. Koreans want to stand out from their crowd and be the envy of their friends.
What makes Korea as “The Kingdom of Plastic Surgery”? Now, Seoul has an international reputation as the place to go for a nip and tuck. A lot of foreigners visit plastic surgery clinics in Gangnam area. An unofficial estimate put the number of Chinese women coming to Korea primarily for cosmetic surgery at 100,000 a year. Some clinics are known to be hiring Chinese interpreters for better communication. Then why did Korea becomes so popular for plastic surgery? First, Korean wave has contributed to this reputation.
The high popularity of Korean movies and celebrities in Asia makes many young Asian females to visit plastic surgery clinics in Korea, and most of them request for the creation of the beauty they found in the features of specific Korean entertainers. By a huge influence of Korean wave, the Korean look is considered as the ideal beauty among Asian countries. For example, Thailand women want to make their skin tones lighter to look like a Korean celebrity, and many Chinese women try to chase the Korean fashion trend. As a part of this effort, some foreigners want to go under plastic surgery by a Korean surgeon in Korean style.
Second, Korean plastic surgery clinics have inexpensive price, high level of skill, and a good view. In Korean cosmetic surgery market, “The expensive strategy” doesn’t work because supply competition is too fierce. In Korea, the expense of the slight cosmetic surgical treatment needs 1,000 dollar to 5,000 dollar, and this price is one-tenth level of Japan’s and half level of Taiwan’s. Like this, Korean cosmetic surgery expense is the level that Asian wealthy women can bear enough, and this makes its popularity become higher. Furthermore, Korean plastic surgeons’ skill is very high.
Their quick and sophisticated skill of incision and suture makes the operation time shorter than that of other countries’ surgeons. And this high level of Korean surgeons’ skill is evaluated as having a high safeness, because if operation time is long, a complication is easy to happen, and also it takes a lot of time to recover. So, low price and superior surgery skill, these are the reasons why Korean plastic surgery has become popular around the world. Pros and Cons of Korean Plastic Surgery Boom There are both positive effects and negative effects of Korean plastic surgery.
By plastic surgery boom in Korea, Korea became popular for plastic surgery and this attract a lot of foreign patients to Korea. The Korean government advertises that Korean cosmetic surgery with the reputation of technology on a large scale as new niche industry. In a recent press conference, Myung-Bak Lee, the president of Korea, announced that Korea should abolish excessive regulation and cosmetic surgery clinic should accept a lot of foreigners. (Myung-Bak Lee, 2008) And recently Korean government began to support the issuance condition of visas of cosmetic surgery tourists.
Like this, the Korean government wants to increase the number of cosmetic surgery tourists and make plastic surgery industry more flourished, because they know this brings a lot of money. On the other hand, plastic surgery boom also brings about unconstructive effects. Even though plastic surgery clinics are helpful economically, it is shame that Korea is called as “The Kingdom of Plastic Surgery”. Many people in the other countries believe that all most every woman in Korea has had plastic surgery.
For example, during a recent episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, Winfrey was discussing women’s image and fashion culture around the world when she disparaged Korean women, saying that they have “an obsession with plastic surgery”. She mentioned that Korean women have a unique preference about plastic surgery and an inferiority complex in which they would like to have Western features. She also described Korea as “a plastic surgery superpower”. This negative national image of Korea isn’t helpful for itself at all and makes Koreans embarrassed.
Moreover, because of plastic surgery boom, some Korean became so obsessed with only their appearances, becoming surgery addicts. They are usually motivated by celebrities on TV and lookism society, and they want to take after beautiful movie stars. The problem is that the more surgery they have, the more they want to have plastic surgery again. There was one Korean woman called ‘fan woman’ a few years ago. She was presented by a TV show because her face is so big and round just like an electric fan. She was addicted to plastic surgery but she had no money, so she inserted any liquid into her face using an injector.
Therefore her face swelled. According to this example, the side effects of plastic surgery boom can be very dangerous and severe. And lastly, this phenomenon also has negative effects on Korean culture because Korean women’s sense of well-being becomes dependent on appearance and beauty. Korean women will depend on superficial goals such as the perfect nose, bigger eyes or larger breasts to affirm their value in society. This mentality will undermine any social advancement made by women in a male-dominated Korean society, and women will be marginalized and focus their energies on superficial values such as beauty.
Personal thought about Korean plastic surgery boom Physical appearance is becoming ever more important in today’s Korean society. Good looking is one of the most important advantages in socialization and provides more employment opportunities for both men and women. Young people spend a lot on changing their appearance with the help of new technology, but in doing so they may neglect efforts to enrich their inner assets through intellectual buildup. It’s tragedy that Koreans tend to evaluate each other only by appearance.
I’m also worried about Koreans would lose their own perception of beauty. The idea that double-lids are beautiful and single-lids are ugly is reinforced by many television programs and beauty magazines. But, I don’t think Koreans should look beautiful in a Caucasian sense. Like the “Black is Beautiful” movement that African Americans went through in the 1970s, I believe that Koreans also need to go through a similar transition. Moreover, walking through the streets of Gangnam where almost every office is occupied by a cosmetic surgery clinic is very uncomfortable.
This hardly represents a normal society. It is shame that the nation is gaining a new reputation in Asia as a mass producer and exporter of artificial beauty. So, regarding to these negative effects caused by plastic surgery boom, we need to reconsider about promoting plastic surgery industry and reject the harsh lookism trend. Chisu Ko, “Peer pressure plastics”, Time magazine, Aug. 2002 Sandy Kobrin, “Asians Criticize Eyelid Surgery Craze”, WeNews, Aug. 15, 2004 Dennis Amith, “Oprah Winfrey’s Negative Remarks about Korean Women Spark Storm”, Chosun newspaper, April 6, 2008.