Korean Beauty and Plastic Surgery

I already knew about ideal Korean beauty and that plastic surgery was rampant in the country. I saw pre and post pictures of surgeries and watched YouTube videos about  학생 (students) and teachers talking about the ideal Korean face; pale, v-shaped, big eyes (usually double eyelided), high noses.

But nothing prepared me for the slew of blunt advertisements I saw in metro stations and billboards. Translations are under the pictures in parenthesis.


(If you think about it one more time, you’ll get *face lift*-in other words, plastic surgery)


(above the line: Mom! Why isn’t my nose like yours?

below the line: What? It’ll be better when you grow up, you’ll be prettier)


(Do you want to have a prettier body?

in the text bubble: from breast implants to breast augmentation)

And the one that shocked me the most was a mirror in 압구정, an area in Seoul that is famous for having plastic surgery offices lining the streets:


It’s kind of hard to see, but the hard black line is the ideal v-shape that Koreans long for and outside the outline is a dotted line where people are supposed to put their faces to see how their faces don’t match. The red points are to point out specific parts that need help.

Okay, I get the thing of people wanting plastic surgery on their own behalf but now offices put up mirrors in subway stations where people walk by daily to MAKE THEM INSECURE AND GET SURGERY?!?!?!

*breeeaathe Ashley……*

(Before I launch into the rest of the post, let me warn that this will be a bit more leaning towards a rant and will probably change direction quickly and spontaneously. And  I apologize if it comes off as too strong, I tried to say it in the best way, and this is my raw mind, as it says on my page)

It just…frustrates me so much to see such blatant ads! And the pictures I took aren’t even close to all of them that I saw. Another one was showing a girl before and after and showing how the circumference of her face shrank by I think 3 or 4 cm. And all the pictures of before and after, usually with the girl looking depressed before and then like the lottery winner after. And usually in the girl’s after picture, she’s wearing makeup that makes her look even nicer.

Which makes me wonder, I mean, why not turn to makeup? I’ve seen the wonders of makeup and contouring and it’s pretty, well, wonderful.


But then again, my friend brought up the point that sometimes people don’t want to have to daily apply the makeup to make a mirage of the ideal face when they can get it fixed permanently. Which, makes sense.

But it’s not necessarily the process or the trend that troubles me. It’s the underlying reason why.

As I said before, Korean girls (and guys too, actually)  go into 성형, as they call it, to get a step closer to the ideal Korean beauty standard of big eyes, a straight nose, and a v-shaped face. It’s kind of like they want to look more Western, or acquire the Western distinctive shapes. This work done by CYJO, a Korean American photographer, shows the difference between Western and Asian noses and eyes:


Why can’t Koreans be okay with their features? I mean, let’s put it this way, they’re the only ones with those features. Personally, I love the monolid look because it’s very Asian. Not to say that I have anything against Asians with double eyelids, but sometimes I do think that people with 쌍가풀 (double eyelid) surgery don’t look as…authentic?

I think that it’s safe to say that everyone has insecurities, especially girls. Girls are haunted by the high standard of beauty set by the media and wrestle with physical insecurity for a part of their life, if not all of it. But not every girl will go out to get surgery to fix their flaws. Then again, plastic surgery has become so available in Korea, so that probably adds to why it’s more common in Korea.

But it leaks beyond just getting the surgery. From this one video that I saw, a teacher was saying that parents would reward their daughters for getting good marks with an appointment with the plastic surgeon. In another video, when a girl was asked about what she thought about PS (plastic surgery), she thought it was a well made procedure and liked how it was so available to everyone. And in some dramas, plastic surgery was directly brought up for and against characters. And in the Kpop world, there are many accusations and confessions among the idols.

From my perspective, it just…hurts to see so many people that upset with their face or body to go under the knife. I see it as a lot of insecurity, a lack of self confidence. It’s frustrating because at least in the West, we don’t have one exact standard of beauty; you can be Asian, Caucasian, Latina, or African and still be beautiful. Not so for Koreans. Korea is such a homogenous society that they have only one ideal, and it’s one that isn’t even a homegrown idea as it has Western features melded with their own.

Then again, like my friend brought up, sometimes the one procedure to get the double eyelid will be enough to make the person happy. Which I get. But then…what if it isn’t? What if it fuels an obsession, like how people get addicted to getting tattoos or piercings, and next thing you know they get their nose fixed, then they fix their jawline to get the v shape, then they get their breasts fixed…

Instead of trying solve the symptoms, why not try to cure the sickness itself? But that’s much harder, isn’t it? How do you get a girl to believe that she’s beautiful the way she is? How do you get a girl to look in the mirror and be proud of her features?

And the media doesn’t help, either. Kpop is filled with perfect goddesses of beauty without a single pimple or muffin top. And it’s hard to find a picture of the idols without makeup (while they’re smiling, too!-). Korean girls want to be like their idols, and their idols are sporting the ideal beauty features, whether natural or fixed, and they want to be like them.

Why can’t a girl idol or idol group promote some confidence into girls without promoting sexiness? (going on a rabbit trail here) Every time they try to promote girl power, it’s while promoting lots of skin and the power to seduce a man. Why can’t there be someone like Little Mix or Colbie Calliat and her song Try?


Girls need to know that they are beautiful. We need to know that we are wonderful the way that we are. I personally believe that we aren’t a mistake. We have whatever features we do for a reason, God doesn’t make someone and then say afterwards, “On second thought, maybe she needed a double eyelid”. Now, if someone gets vicious burns and has to get plastic surgery, I understand. But if it’s out of insecurity then I worry for them. Because from my stand point, maybe what they need isn’t the double eyelid procedure or a v-shaped face; maybe what they need is someone to look them straight in the eyes and tell them that they’re beautiful.


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