When Plastic Surgery Is Performed for the Wrong Reasons

Why is facial plastic surgery so wildly popular in South Korea?

While in the United States, reputable plastic surgeons have found ways to maintain the individuality of their patients as they correct flaws or disfigurements, plastic surgeons in Korea seemed to have moved in the opposite direction. Observation of the population, particularly the wealthy population, of Seoul gives evidence of the fact that numerous “cookie cutter” surgeries have turned out an astonishing number of women (and men) who look like anime princesses.

Expecting people to measure up to a specific  standard of beauty appears to be encouraged not only by the media in Korea, but by the government as well. Full-length mirrors dot subway stations for riders to check themselves out. Job applicants are routinely asked to submit photos with their resumes. Perhaps even more astonishing, family and friends seem to have no compunction about commenting that you would look much prettier if you had eye or jaw surgery.

According to some estimates, South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world. The United States is now down at number six, though we still have the greatest total number of procedures, partly because of our enormous population. Estimates of how many women in Seoul have had plastic surgery vary; the BBC puts the figure at 50 percent or higher for women in their 20s! Men are believed to make up about 15 percent of the plastic surgery patients in South Korea. As a matter of fact, a male former president of the country underwent double-eyelid surgery while in office.

The media appears to fully support the idea that everyone is a good candidate for plastic surgery. Giant subway ads show before and after images. One ad reads, “This is the reason celebrities are confident even without their makeup.” Another states that “Everyone but you has done it.” In the wealthiest section of Seoul, it is common to see people with bruised and slightly swollen faces going about their business after facial surgery. Within one square mile, there are between 400 and 500 clinics and hospitals offering plastic surgery procedures. The clinic names include “Magic Nose” and “Cinderella” — titles not conducive to medical rationality.

In South Korea, a typical high-school graduation gift is either a nose job or a double eyelid procedure. Jawline-thinning surgery is also very popular. “Baby faces” in which fatty deposits are placed in the cheeks to make for an “adorable” appearance are also in great demand. Many plastic surgeons in the country are willing to try to make their patients look like certain celebrities or even animated characters, a practice frowned upon by reputable surgeons in the U.S.

Experts speculate that reasons for the tremendous number of plastic surgery procedures being performed in South Korea include:

[1] Cultural acceptance of changing one’s nature to become successful; children are commonly forced to play sports, study subjects or play musical instruments for which they have no interest or perceptible talent with the idea that working harder is the most important attribute and that perfection is attainable.

[2] After the Korean War, American occupational forces provided free reconstructive surgery to maimed war veterans. David Ralph Millard, the chief plastic surgeon for the U.S. Marine Corps, responding to requests from Korean citizens wishing to change their Asian eyes to Occidental ones, perfected the blepharoplasty. The surgery became immensely popular, particular for women who wanted to attract American GIs.

[3] External aspects, such as social status, clothing and appearance are weighted more heavily in South Korea than in Western cultures. What others think of you is considered more important than how you feel about yourself.

Clearly, cultural differences between South Korea and the U.S. make for very different approaches to plastic surgery. Where in South Korea such procedures are considered a necessary means of conformity, in our country plastic surgery is chosen as a highly personalized means of self-improvement. If you are considering plastic surgery to make you feel more comfortable with your appearance and improve your self-confidence, you should consult with a highly skilled professional in the field, one who will take your goals seriously and not perform surgery for frivolous reasons.