"If you want to feel bad about your looks, spend some time in Seoul."
March 18, 2015 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Why is South Korea the world’s plastic-surgery capital?

Korean Plastic Surgery Reality Shows
* The show "Let Me In" is now in its 4th season. Seasons 3 and 4 can be seen at Hanbeat. They are in Korean, and not dubbed or subtitled.

* Kotaku covered the pilot of "Back To My Face" when it aired.

Additional Articles
* New York Magazine (July 2014): Is Race Plastic? My Trip Into the ‘Ethnic Plastic Surgery’ Minefield (Posted previously on Mefi)

* The Atlantic (May 2013): The K-Pop Plastic Surgery Obsession ("Inspired by pop stars and encouraged by culture that equates success with physical beauty, the "self-racism subtext" of buying an ideal Korean face")

* KoreAm (December 2012): Pretty in Plastic ("As K-pop continues its rise across the globe, some Koreans worry that the industry’s “pretty” idols are encouraging the rise of another phenomenon: teen plastic surgery.")

Video
* SBS Dateline (Australia): The K-Pop Effect. Related article.

* The documentary "Western Eyes" followed two Canadian women of Asian descent who were contemplating blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery.)
posted by zarq (46 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
But what about all the nose and boob jobs in America? It always seems a little hypocritical whenever this topic keeps appearing. Am I missing something?
posted by cazoo at 10:50 AM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


But what about all the nose and boob jobs in America?

The article mentions that, per capita, the US has fallen to #6 in the world's rankings of who-has-the-most-cosmetic-surgery.
posted by yoink at 10:56 AM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


But what about all the nose and boob jobs in America? It always seems a little hypocritical whenever this topic keeps appearing. Am I missing something?

Did you read the article? So many people are flying there for plastic surgery that some clinics are issuing identification papers in case people aren't recognizable on their return trips. Isn't that the sort of weird detail you enjoy learning? This is an interesting phenomenon to read about, let's not assume it's a nationalistic pot calling the kettle black.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:58 AM on March 18, 2015 [33 favorites]


But what about all the nose and boob jobs in America? It always seems a little hypocritical whenever this topic keeps appearing. Am I missing something?

There are a few issues, all of which were covered to some extent in the main article, and if not there then in the New York Magazine article:

* The industry in South Korea is largely unregulated and mostly undocumented.
* In some cases surgeries are performed by under-qualified medical professionals. (We're talking about incidents reported where students or nurses perform surgeries but patients are greeted by the surgeons they thought were doing their operation when they wake up.)
* Many people are getting multiple surgeries and making drastic changes to their appearances.
* Mainstream surgical procedures being performed are typically more extreme than those done in the US. The article notes that 'jawline shaving' or 'slimming' is very common. Such surgeries can undermine the integrity of a person's facial structure and affect function, or possibly lead to bone breakage. Which segues to the next problem:
* The frequency of botched surgeries is high.
* High levels of competition between surgeons and clinics seem to have resulted in some surgeons aiming for speed, rather than good surgical practices. Speed is used as a selling point to patients. In some cases, hospitals or clinics are imposing time limits on surgeries. This can and apparently does cause problems including botched surgeries, injuries or even deaths.
* Surgeons do not seem to be regulating patient expectations with regard to what kinds of surgeries are advisable for them, or whether they will look deformed or unnatural when their process is completed. (In some cases it appears 'unnatural' is what the patients are aiming for.)
* In the US, many surgeons will not perform an extreme surgery. It appears that finding a surgeon who will do so in South Korea is not difficult.

All of these things, coupled with a cultural attitude that embraces remodeling one's body to meet rather extreme, idealized beauty standards, are a bit problematic. In the US, having plastic surgery is still not admitted to openly by most people. There's a cultural taboo in place which helps curtail patients from going overboard. But that doesn't appear to be a limiting factor in South Korean culture for the moment.
posted by zarq at 11:08 AM on March 18, 2015 [27 favorites]


I hope it doesn't go into a "Asians want to look more Western" because that's not exactly true.

Sometimes I suspect white people read these articles to try to hate themselves less by thinking that all non-Western people want to look like them and it makes them feel better about themselves. And it's not true. It has nothing with looking like the average white person with Caucasian features. It's more complicated than that.

Having said that, I'll take a deep breath and RTFAs.
posted by discopolo at 11:12 AM on March 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


I was all ready to look for the urban legend about a husband divorcing his wife for having ugly babies (because the wife went under the knife), but snopes tells me it was fake (and the nationality was Chinese, not Korean)
posted by k5.user at 11:19 AM on March 18, 2015



But what about all the nose and boob jobs in America? It always seems a little hypocritical whenever this topic keeps appearing. Am I missing something?


Remember those shows "Extreme Plastic Surgery" and "The Swan." Remember Heidi Montag. There are plenty of plastic surgeons willing to do the work for money. Also, I recall reading an article where doctors who aren't plastic surgery board certified physicians are willing to do plastic surgery. Dermatologists do lots of non-invasive procedures and use Botox/fillers for reshaping the nose.

We still have Dr 90210 and other plastic surgery shows. There are also folks posing as nurses and doctors causing lots of damage. And Americans also go to South America and Mexico for plastic surgery because it's less expensive.
posted by discopolo at 11:19 AM on March 18, 2015


YMMV and everyone is free to do whatever they want to their faces and/or butts. That said, I think it's mostly a shame. I have a few colleagues who have started down the facelift/botox road and none of them look any younger, which is probably what they're aiming for. They just look like weirder versions of themselves.


Metafilter: YMMV and everyone is free to do whatever they want to their faces and/or butts.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:32 AM on March 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Sometimes I suspect white people read these articles to try to hate themselves less by thinking that all non-Western people want to look like them and it makes them feel better about themselves."

what does this mean?
posted by I-baLL at 11:37 AM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Blepharoplasties are pretty common among models and actresses, and so are nose tip refinements. For example, Jessica Simpson's eyes were suddenly larger in 2002. It's a blepharoplasty. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johanssen both have had nose tip refinements. Olsen twins have had blepharoplasties and nose refinements. I believe Tina Fey recently had an eyebrow lift.

The shaming of going overboard here doesn't nevessarily keep ppl with money from having it---they're just less likely to cop to it. In South Korea, it's just more visible and accessible. And I'll bet there are a number of Korean-Canadians and Korean-Americans who go to SK to get it done, because plastic surgeons who specialize in ethnorhinoplasty aren't easy to find here or might be too expensive or sometimes not as good (plenty of plastic surgeons advertise corrective plastic surgery, also see Tara Reid's abs).
posted by discopolo at 11:38 AM on March 18, 2015


"Sometimes I suspect white people read these articles to try to hate themselves less by thinking that all non-Western people want to look like them and it makes them feel better about themselves."

I don't think the kind of white person you're thinking of would find "they all want to look like me" a comforting thought at all. I do think there is a kind of white person who Would find it comforting; I do not think that kind of white person has self-loathing as a motivator.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:40 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


In January, I spent a couple of weeks in Seoul’s so-called Improvement Quarter. This area is in the high-end Gangnam district, the Beverly Hills of Seoul.

You'll never guess what popped in my head and got stuck there as soon as I read that.
posted by TedW at 11:41 AM on March 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


It has nothing with looking like the average white person with Caucasian features. It's more complicated than that.

Absolutely. From a purely scientific perspective, the desire for what's popular in Korean plastic surgery - big eyes, jawline slimming, smaller nose, smaller teeth - are part of neoteny, which, basically, is retaining the characteristics that make a species look juvenile (in this case, humans). It's observed in multiple species, and it's part of why we find kittens and puppies so adorable (along with baby elephants). It's related to the features of babies in particular, and a scientist named Lorenz theorized it's part of what causes a nurturing response in adults; thus it's an evolutionary tactic for survival of the gene pool. It's very interesting in that it's one of the few cross-cultural indicators of physical attractiveness that doesn't have a lot of variation, and it makes sense that neotonic features would, over time, be sexually selected among both males and females to a certain degree.

From a cultural/historic/psychological perspective it has to be more complicated than that, and not being Korean there's no way I could understand the impetus there. Although I have to admit the cynic in me sees a potential correlation between the rise of "baby" features - features which scream take care of me - and the following statement in the article: "It bears mentioning that, among the twenty-seven countries in the Organization for Economic Coöperation and Development, Korea, where the pressure to get married is significant, ranks last where gender equality is concerned." Although the article brought it up in a different and absolutely relevant context, I have to wonder if there's a relationship.
posted by barchan at 11:43 AM on March 18, 2015 [29 favorites]


"Sometimes I suspect white people read these articles to try to hate themselves less by thinking that all non-Western people want to look like them and it makes them feel better about themselves."

I don't think the kind of white person you're thinking of would find "they all want to look like me" a comforting thought at all. I do think there is a kind of white person who Would find it comforting; I do not think that kind of white person has self-loathing as a motivator.




As a non-white person, I've had to witness this on several occassions, as confessed self talk from white women who are discussing their body image issues. One liked to tell herself (and others) that she'd "go for a high price in the Middle East" as a prostitute, simply because she was white. As if that's all it took to be considered physically appealing/physically attractive in the non-Western world.

Also, does anyone remember the book "Prep" by Curtis Sittenfeld? I remember being immensely bothered by this one place where the white, lower middle class narrator wondered (of her rich white male classmate dating a beautiful Hispanic girl) how beauty could trump race.

And it's just a moronic way to talk about something really more complex. So I hope the whole "Oh the whole world wants to look white" isn't something people really believe.
posted by discopolo at 11:58 AM on March 18, 2015 [12 favorites]


We all want to look our best, but not since seventh grade had I been in the company of people for whom appearance mattered so much.

This. I was pretty much horrified by every paragraph in this article. It's not that I didn't know that so many people feel bad about themselves, and are encouraged by society to feel bad about themselves, but I didn't realize the full horrible extent, I guess.

“In Korea, we don’t care what you think about yourself. Other people’s evaluations of you matter more.”

I just don't have words for how fucked that is. I know nothing about life in Korea so I hope it's not really true.
posted by JanetLand at 12:02 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not mentioned in the article is the secret South Korean conspiracy to stay one step ahead of Google's facial recognition software.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:03 PM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Folks, I realize we've gone a little ways down that road, but maybe let's not immediately make the thread about how white people feel about things, or what plastic surgery is about in America?]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:11 PM on March 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


I hope it doesn't go into a "Asians want to look more Western" because that's not exactly true.

FWIW, the main New Yorker link and the Atlantic article both address and specifically debunk the idea. The New York Magazine discusses Asians using Caucasian standards of beauty as a metric, at length. I haven't watched most of the Western Eyes documentary yet but from the title alone, it was probably discussed.
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Best detail from the New Yorker article: April 31 Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. So now we're changing the structure of the calendar as well as people's skulls?
posted by infinitewindow at 12:19 PM on March 18, 2015


I just don't have words for how fucked that is. I know nothing about life in Korea so I hope it's not really true.

I felt the opposite way -- isn't it more honest and pragmatic? This quote, "He told me that beauty could be a big advantage for girls. For instance, when you go on a job interview if the interviewer saw two women who had similar abilities, of course he’d go with the better-looking one," certainly doesn't feel true only about the Korean job market. There's a kind of ruthless honesty in a culture that admits that your outward appearance is what most people use to make decisions about you.

I do wish they hadn't used a comedy writer for the New Yorker piece. Patricia Marx's tone was a little too arch for me on this subject.
posted by gladly at 12:31 PM on March 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


This quote, "He told me that beauty could be a big advantage for girls. For instance, when you go on a job interview if the interviewer saw two women who had similar abilities, of course he’d go with the better-looking one," certainly doesn't feel true only about the Korean job market.

You are quite correct, but I will never ever stop being angry about it and am incapable of calling it "honest and pragmatic." People should be better to one another. I know they're not, but they should be.
posted by JanetLand at 12:37 PM on March 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


Best detail from the New Yorker article: April 31 Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. So now we're changing the structure of the calendar as well as people's skulls?

I think that was supposed to be a clever name...
posted by cell divide at 12:38 PM on March 18, 2015


I'm a Korean male, and was shamed about my appearance by my family for most of my life. It's only recently that I've even begun to get over my lousy self-image. It's kind of validating to read this article and realize that it's not me, but them.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 12:39 PM on March 18, 2015 [31 favorites]


A few years ago I had a structured conversation with a young Korean exchange student as part of an ESL class. There was a brief list of banal topics we were supposed to discuss--Where are you from? What's the weather like there? What do you like to eat? etc. I don't remember how it came up, but at some point she mentioned that getting plastic surgery was one of her top goals. If I had to rate her attractiveness, I'd say she was already in the top 2%. It was a strange and depressing moment.
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:50 PM on March 18, 2015


April 31 is the perfect name for a plastic surgery center. On first glance it seems real, but on closer inspection you realize it's not.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:07 PM on March 18, 2015 [12 favorites]


One of my best friends is Korean, and she used to tell me about how her mother was constantly on her case about her looks, weight, fashion choices, etc. It got to the point where one night after a few drinks, she told me that she wished she wasn't Korean because "Koreans are the fat Asians."
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:08 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


One of my best friends is Korean, and she used to tell me about how her mother was constantly on her case about her looks, weight, fashion choices, etc. It got to the point where one night after a few drinks, she told me that she wished she wasn't Korean because "Koreans are the fat Asians."

I think I've had this "after a few drinks" conversation with every Korean friend I've ever known. The most heartbreaking was a friend who offered some of her clothing to her pregnant sister when the sister was in-between regular and maternity clothing, only to be laughed at and told, "are you kidding? I'm not as fat as YOU. Come ON." My friend weighed about 100 lbs at the time.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:19 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is why my girlfriends and I always give our Korean friend the prize when we play the "which Asian culture fucks up its girls more" game (usually preceded by "guess what crazy thing my mom said to me today?" drinks.)

My mom actually tried to convince me to fly back to Vietnam for some "minimal" procedures. I told her that I was happy with the way I looked, and she was puzzled by the concept. "But you could be even prettier," she protested. As if there's no reason to ever opt out of that.

It's frustrating, but then I remember that her childhood was shaped by abject poverty and war and being pretty was the difference between marrying well and having kids in America and bringing her family over, instead of dying prematurely and burying children of preventable illnesses like so many of countrywomen, and it becomes more understandable. So I've forgiven her for harping on my clothes and lack of makeup and social awkwardness growing up. But I'm still not gonna fly home for a facelift.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:35 PM on March 18, 2015 [30 favorites]


And it's just a moronic way to talk about something really more complex. So I hope the whole "Oh the whole world wants to look white" isn't something people really believe.


I don't believe it's a matter of caucasians thinking the whole world wants to look white. If they view those features as coding as "white," then they think people want to look like _hot_ white people. So if you're white and perceive yourself as unattractive, there's no real concept here.

Then again, people rationalize many stupid ideas, so I am sure at least one person has had the idea.
posted by mikeh at 2:40 PM on March 18, 2015


The obsession with plastic surgery is absolutely not one of the things that I miss about my homeland. My disgust with unnecessary plastic surgery is one of the few things that my parents and I agree with. I remember, when I was seven, my neighbourhood friend got the double-eyelid surgery. She was nine. Nine! I was told, through the grapevine, that she was being bullied by some other kids for being ugly, and thought that having bigger eyes would help her make friends.

Writing that made me really sad.

I can't imagine what it would have been like had I spent my teens in Korea. I was already depressed, and insecure about my looks. (I still am.)
posted by tickingclock at 3:14 PM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are a lot of complicated threads that go into this (not the least being gender-related issues), but one of the major ones is a medical culture that has developed where doctors here in Korea are constantly, consistently pushing patients towards the most expensive treatment options for any given condition (including the condition of not-liking-how-they-look), in order to maximize their revenues.

I've always had trust issues with doctors, but it's risen to a fever pitch for me in the decades I've been here in Korea, in part for this reason. There's not a problem that my wife or I have had that impelled us to go to a doctor (that was anything more dire than a common cold) over the years that didn't end up in the doctor in question suggesting surgery of some kind. Part of it is the sheer number of doctors on the ground, and their competition for patient (and national health care) insurance money. Part of it is underlying confucian hierarchy echoes -- doctors (and any 'figures of authority') are trusted and looked up to and rarely questioned, nor (although like much else, this is beginning to change) are second opinions sought. Part of it is a culture that still, unlike the US or Canada as things have gone in recent decades, distrusts pharmaceutical treatments to some extent, and stubbornly places the responsibility for knowledge about them on the doctor. Part of it (I think perhaps to the low cost of doctor visits due to the national health insurance program) is a tendency to seek medical advice for what would be very minor ailments in Canada or the US that might be self-treated with OTC medications, which thanks to the US Free Trade agreement are becoming more common here, but nowhere near to the extent that they are in North America.

So a whole constellation of trends prop up surgery-as-first-line-treatment here, which is (to me, at least) a shockingly common thing, and this in turn feeds into the plastic surgery boom as one supporting factor.

All that of course leaves aside the (improving, but still dire) gender imbalances in modern Korea, where the way a young woman (and a man, but much much less so) can be hired as much for the way she looks as for her abilities (even if this isn't as openly discussed by the employers as much as it was even 5 or 10 years ago), and all the other issues around appearance that are unique or not-so-unique to Korea.

Oh, and just to address the 'looking white' strand: well, there's an element of that in play, at least in terms of coloration, but I don't think it's really a race thing, for most people here. What it is, is an encoded wealth thing, at least when we're talking about the enormous profusion of lotions and serums that claim to lighten one's skin color here in Korea.

Korea was considerably poorer within the living memory of many, and considerably more agricultural. When you're poor, and when you're a farmer, you tend to spend a lot more time outside in the sun, and your skin tends to tan and darken. Koreans here still characterize other Koreans with a darker skin tone as 'country folk'.

The idea here (even if it's not consciously understood) is that paler skin means you're able to lead a life of leisure. You can stay out of the sun because you aren't a laborer. It's very much the same idea that had currency in European countries, centuries ago. Now of course, in western societies (at least in the 20th century), that kind of flip-flopped, and a deep tan meant you had time to laze by the pool and hang out. But sunbathing and sunworship in general never really caught on all that much here, so the marker of 'sun damage = low caste' persists, at least unconsciously. Interestingly (and sadly), I think this feeds in a stealthy way into some unpleasantly common ideas about race here in Korea, as well, but that's straying a bit far afield, perhaps.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:00 PM on March 18, 2015 [19 favorites]


But what about all the nose and boob jobs in America? It always seems a little hypocritical whenever this topic keeps appearing. Am I missing something?

One other thing you're missing is that this is (purportedly) not a USA only website.
posted by wilful at 4:56 PM on March 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


I hate articles that are just, "yo, check out this fucked up thing this other country does! Must be their fucked-up culture, I guess." Except when it's from the New Yorker! So calm, so smart; I didn't see any particular insight aside from "they're all conformists" (just like all the Korean people in our lives, amirite), but that's probably my fault because, hey, it's in a tasteful and calming serif font.

I look forward to a Korean article that cites some alarming American shooting stats, gets some quotes from some Texas gun range guys, a professor that goes, "Individualism, man. BTW, I'm a professor." Closer: reporter gets some cute advice about what kind of gun to buy.

Over on korea.metafilter.com, commenters conclude: Yeah, they're all fucked up over there. Close tab.
posted by ignignokt at 5:13 PM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


none of them look any younger, which is probably what they're aiming for. They just look like weirder versions of themselves.

That's happening to me without plastic surgery.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:38 PM on March 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


I hate articles that are just, "yo, check out this fucked up thing this other country does! ...I look forward to a Korean article that cites some alarming American shooting stats

Eh, cultures are different. Something that seems only mildly concerning inside a culture can seem very strange outside that culture. I don't know about Korea, but articles about American gun deaths are absolutely upsetting to European readers. Should they temper those articles with reassuring explanations of how all those gun deaths are totally fine if you understand the issue from an American perspective? Why should they? In fact, one of the only valuable and interesting things about a Swedish magazine writing about gun deaths in America would be to see that aspect of American culture through a Swedish perspective.
posted by the jam at 6:19 PM on March 18, 2015 [9 favorites]



I do wish they hadn't used a comedy writer for the New Yorker piece. Patricia Marx's tone was a little too arch for me on this subject.


She is the one regular author in the New Yorker whose work I usually skip. I dislike her style and tone, and I find her articles neither funny nor interesting.

When plastic surgery is visible it is usually awful, but I am sure I meet people all the time who had subtle work done and I would never know.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:48 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The articles are all wrong.

The main reason the ROK leads the world is that I have at least six procedures a day and have done so since July of 2002 when I first arrived on these glorious shores.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:36 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eh, cultures are different, but facile "perspective" anyone could handwave are still unhelpful.
posted by ignignokt at 9:42 PM on March 18, 2015


"Job applicants are typically required to attach photographs to their résumés."

As a recruiter I know first hand that even in the U.S. looks and youth can mean the difference between getting hired or not. Which of course lead to this:

"Remarks from relatives, such as “You would be a lot prettier if you just had your jaw tapered,” are considered no more insulting than “You’d get a lot more for your apartment if you redid the kitchen."

Just like that apartment, here- "prettier" means you will have more economic value "if you just had your jaw tapered."

Affordable and easy access to beauty may be a very good thing for the world eventually. No matter how much we try to teach ourselves that it's what's inside that counts, the fact remains that our brains are literally pre-wired to favor more symmetric and beautiful people. Beauty isn't entirely in the eyes of the beholder. Therefore the only way people will finally start favoring people based on their inner qualities is when everyone gets to be beautiful. It will happen one day. A couple of generations from now everyone will have virtual avatars that are all 21, lovely and fit and everyone will go to their job interviews and daily interractions in their avatars. A man could be married 10 years to another hot female avatar never realizing that the real person behind it was a 50 year old fat dude. Then there will be fairness.
posted by rancher at 10:14 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a Korean I have been tempted on numerous occasions to consider the 'double eyelid" surgery. The main trigger? Reading makeup tutorials that always begin with "contour your crease". With a monolid you're like, "what is crease?!?"

Luckily now there's actually a few YouTube tutorials and beauty bloggers that have monolids - although they are still vastly outnumbered by the ones with double eyelids,: fake (made using double eyelid tape), post surgery or natural. Every single example in this Buzzfeed article has the double eyelid.

My mom used to berate me for dying my hair, but a few years back she asked if I wanted some of the small moles on my face zapped at some Korean lady's house in San Francisco, at $50/mole.
posted by like_neon at 2:40 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


people hate on plastic surgery so much, but isnt it really just endgame western humanism? i doubt anyone here would be okay saying "you are the circumstances of your birth and should accept that". nah, if you want to change your hair color, change your hair color. if you want to change your nose, change your nose. if you want to change your gender change your gender. be "you", and the cosmic dice roll be damned.
posted by young_son at 6:00 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


people hate on plastic surgery so much, but isnt it really just endgame western humanism? i doubt anyone here would be okay saying "you are the circumstances of your birth and should accept that". nah, if you want to change your hair color, change your hair color. if you want to change your nose, change your nose. if you want to change your gender change your gender. be "you", and the cosmic dice roll be damned.

It is one thing to want to change one's body in a carefree fun way, to play with your look the way an otter plays in water, to see yourself as a canvas to paint or a block of stone to sculpt in whatever way your joyous creativity flows, and it is quite another to live in a society that tells you that you are only valued by how you look and that if you do not measure up to a specific standard, whatever the standard, you are a worthless waste of space. "Looking good" should not have to be the price you pay in order to enjoy the world.
posted by JanetLand at 7:16 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd be kind of on board about the equalizing potential of plastic surgery except it costs a lot of money. Like great, so its ok if you're not born beautiful as long as you're rich.
posted by atoxyl at 9:36 AM on March 19, 2015


As a Korean American woman who lived in Seoul for 5 years , did a masters degree in Korean Studies at a Korean university, and worked in Gangnam for most of that time, I feel so many FEELINGS at this kind of article. Yes, I was also startled at the emphasis on appearance (especially since I came from the land of hoodies aka San Francisco). Yes, I marveled at the unswerving dedication to getting the perfect "sel-ca" (aka selfie). But I don't enjoy this style of sociology-lite "drop into town and talk to 10 people and now I understand everything" article. The psych professor who said “In Korea, we don’t care what you think about yourself. Other people’s evaluations of you matter more” is probably annoyed at the writer for taking a statement about the importance of group relations and making it about appearance. But I'm more annoyed at the writer for not talking to people (or if she did, not including them) who complicate the story -- media activists, feminist groups, and the young Korean women who are kicking ass at the bar exam and surpassing their male peers in educational achievement.

When I first moved to Seoul and spent way too much time bellyaching about the saccharine tones of sitcom actresses and how they all have the same noses, my mom snapped at me. "Do you judge the entirety of American culture on what you see on TV? No? OK. There's more here than what is obvious." This is my mom who grew up in post-Korean War Seoul and chose to skip lunch some days as a college student in order to buy imported fabric for a new dress. This is also my mom who stands at the edge of the DMZ and yells for family reunification, who joins in a site-specific performance by a Korean adoptee artist and then stands up for the artist after a passer-by yells at her for "taking up too much room." Though I don't live in Korea anymore in part because of my discomfort with the persistence of gender bias (but mostly because of its f-ed up workaholic work culture), I have learned that first impressions are often erroneous and betting 100 won that a pretty girl only cares about her appearance will make you broke.

I'm tired of articles about plastic surgery in Korea that start the same goddamn way, with a scene "setting" that describes all the plastic surgery ads in the subway station. I'm not saying that plastic surgery in Korea isn't worth writing about, but this one was incredibly frustrating to me.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:30 AM on March 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


"..it is quite another to live in a society that tells you that you are only valued by how you look and that if you do not measure up to a specific standard, whatever the standard, you are a worthless waste of space."

imo this is what every woman in the world over a certain age feels like anyway. It's not a thing exclusively experienced by young female/male Koreans.
posted by rancher at 5:28 AM on March 21, 2015


1. Several years ago, I did some part time work on an ID card program. For the first time, people were supposed to send in their photos online several months before arriving here. I rejected one Korean girl's photo for having a colored background (a no-no) and she proceeded to write me a very long screed about how she had had the eyelid surgery and could NOT provide a photo of herself before arriving here that wasn't going to be all messed up, and she was getting new hair, and blah blah blah...basically she was going to be utterly unrecognizable when she landed in America. And she couldn't get a new free ID if she waited on the photo and god forbid you pay $15, so I eventually threw up my hands and said fine, whatever, you can keep your blue, totally inaccurate photo because there is nothing to be done. I know some folks probably love the idea of getting a makeover and starting a new life, but I just felt sad at the time that she felt she had to do all of that.

2. After that experience, I switched to a different part time service job. If there's anything I've learned in that job, it's that "Other people’s evaluations of you matter more.” Not just in your looks, but in life, you'd better by god appeal to people and not piss them off and be giving them what they want. And in Korea, I guess the number one thing is pretty...but that's pretty high up there for every other country too.

"being pretty was the difference between marrying well and having kids in America and bringing her family over, instead of dying prematurely and burying children of preventable illnesses like so many of countrywomen, "

And that's a good point too.

3. "Therefore the only way people will finally start favoring people based on their inner qualities is when everyone gets to be beautiful. It will happen one day."

There is a book series you might want to check out.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:25 AM on March 21, 2015


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