The Perception of Plastic Surgery in Korea
Though these might not speak for all Asian cultures, these are some of the comments that are considered as “compliments” in Korea.
You have really big eyes.
You have a small face.
The Rare Monolid Charm
Of course, these compliments are most representative of features that lacks Korean-ness. The average Koreans have relatively medium sized eyes. Low nose bridge, and prominent cheekbones…and none of these features are ever to be deemed ugly. But in today’s society, what seems to be causing trouble is the prevalent Korean-ness.
It is a challenge to find a monolid Korean female celebrity on TV. One thing that shocked me recently is when I came across a post titled “Korean girl idols who can still be pretty with Monolids.”
The title gives off the impression that despite having monolids, some celebs can pull off their charms and look beautiful. I found a lot of troubling logic in this trail of thought, and sadly, this idea is widely accepted in Korea.
And if it happens that you have monolids but still look “beautiful,” that is often considered just charismatic (In Korean, they say “매력있다”). If you have double eyelids naturally, you are automatically beautiful in most circumstances.
“K-Pop Idols With Charming Monolid Eyes That Pull Us In”
The Perception to Complications
Perception: A realistic excerpt / a supposed situation
Complications: Some common problems that arise in the particular perception
Ever since the East Asian Blepharoplasty (a.k.a. the famous double eyelid surgery) procedures became affordable and accessible to most people, there has been an ever-increasing demand for this procedure in Korea.
An 18-year-old female Korean student Jisoo, sits in front of the mirror before heading to school. She applies a special sunscreen that also acts as a tone-up cream (i.e. skin brightener or whitening cream), draws in her eyebrows, applys lip tint, and applies a thin layer of glue precisely 2 mm above her eyeline. Carefully, she picks up a plastic stick that is specially bent to match the curvature of her eyes and presses firmly. Her eyes now have the “double eyelid” just like most of her friends. Surprisingly, two of her friends have already gone through the surgery as their middle school graduation gift while the other two were naturally born with it.
Some boys come over to her classroom and make fun of her small eyes:
“Can you see the board with your eyes? Why don’t you just get the surgery like your friends?”
Jisoo’s parents are extremely against the idea of Jisoo having any sort of aesthetic surgeries.
Mom: “Go take the glue off your eyes or else your eyelids are going to sag by the time you are twenty”
In Jisoo’s room.
Jisoo is searching for authentic reviews of plastic surgeons online and on Instagram. It is difficult to find “real” reviews amongst a heavy pool of sponsored reviews from private clinics. Some reviews claim that his or her surgery yielded such natural result while some report that the surgeon forcefully recommended more procedures than what they initially intended to get. Jisoo looks at the overall price and decides to get a part-time job.
A few months after the Korean College Scholastic Aptitude Test (수능)
Jisoo heads to the plastic surgeon’s practice she found online after reading hundreds of approving reviews. In her tightly held fist is the bundle of money she made while working part-time. Good thing there is a 50% discount for any students who come in with their Aptitude Test completion sheet. There are opportunities for additional discounts if your results are phenomenal and presentable as a “before and after picture” for an advertisement. Jisoo feels grateful for the pay reduction.
Jisoo’s family and school environment are very typical of any female middle or high school students in Korea. By the time you enter high school, you can spot a group of friends who had the double eyelid surgery during the winter break. Many of those who have not had the surgery either commits to the enduring practice of double eyelid glue or tape application every day.
Many students are constantly engraved by their friends, family, and themselves about the ideal appearance, which ultimately leads to the eternal dissatisfaction of their own appearance. The double eyelid surgery often is the starting point of plastic surgery addiction as after the eye surgery, many see flaws in their nose, then in their jawline, lips, breasts, and continued…. It has now become a standard that double eyelid is a “must” for many female students, unless your monolid is considered “charismatic.”
Jisoo is now in college, and she is part of a group of friends who are famous Youtubers or Instagram celebrities. All her friends talk about is the recent non-invasive skin procedures, fillers for the nasolabial folds, obtrusive jawline Botox, and getting their double eyelid surgery retouched for the thicker folds.
Jisoo feels that after her double eyelid surgery, her flat nose is accentuated and draws in attention. Her friends also comment that she has a relatively chubby face for her slim body. She decides to get a liposuction on her face as well as a nose job.
At the plastic surgeon’s clinc.
The surgeon suggests her to get a Botox in her jawline along with the liposuction for an amplified result. He recommends a simpler procedure for her nose; instead of taking a cartilage from her ribs, he recommends the filler procedure, which is “not even considered a surgery” but just a simple non-invasive procedure.
Receipt for Jisoo (tentative cost):
턱보톡스 (Jaw botox) [$70]
안면윤곽주사 (Facial Contouring Correction) [$600]
지방 흡입 (Liposuction) [$300]
코끝 필러 (Tip of a nose filler) [$200]
Total: [$1,170 + additional fees]
Many Korean college students look into additional procedures to make “little changes” and cover up their imperfections in their faces. Though not as common, this is when many male students also start to take interest in minimally invasive procedures and other plastic surgeries as well. While the double eyelid surgery is not too common for male students, rhinoplasty (a nose job) is a popular option.
YouTube is one of the platforms that is booming with plastic surgery and non-invasive procedure reviews.
There are some sponsored reviews:
Plastic surgery review from a male patient:
Some non-invasive procedure reviews:
In Korea, the non-invasive procedures are also known as “petit si-sul (쁘띠 시술)” and this keyword will bring hundreds of review videos on YouTube.
These prevalent reviews can also be misleading to the younger generation who are also looking into plastic surgery. Personally, watching countless reviews on YouTube led me to think that it is very common for people in my age to pursue petit si-sul, and I got the impression that side effects are very rare from these seemingly-simple procedures.
Of course, there are plenty of other people who have not gone through any types of plastic surgery or non-invasive procedures in their early 20s and 30s. While I do not want to say that it is a problem because almost everyone is going through these surgical reconstructions, I do want to focus more on those who did make the choice to go through these surgeries and procedures, and what ultimately led them to that decision.
For many high school students in Korea, there are not only the constant academic pressure to attend renowned, “In Seoul” universities, but also the pressure to meet the societal beauty standards.
The same students grow up, glamorizing the society-engraved beauty standards and investing hundreds and thousands of dollars on plastic surgery.
What are some ultimate factors leading to this ever-increasing number of plastic surgery and non-invaisve procedures among 19 to 29-year-olds? What is its origin?
Though the quote above denotes “makeup” as the double-edged sword for women, the same ideologies apply to plastic surgery.
In the next series of "The Death of Korean Beauty,” there will be a post on Problems of Plastic Surgery: Advertisement
The death of Korean Beauty
Part I: The Perception of Plastic Surgery in Korea