Plastic Surgery in Korea: To Do or Taboo?
It is no secret that Korean culture seems to hold beauty in such high regard to the point that it is common practice for young women and even men to alter their appearance in drastic ways.
It is normal for people to want to look their best, it is just our nature. For example, let’s say you’re food shopping, you’re going to pick the nicest, juiciest looking apple over one whose colour is dull or has a few marks on the outside – it is hardwired into us to strive and want perfection in everything, so naturally that transferred to our aesthetic appearances.
Korean culture seems to take this idea to extremes at times, with South Koreans having more plastic surgery per capita than residents of any other nation. But looking into the types of surgery reveals differences in what is considered ‘desirable’. Whilst nose jobs, double eyelid surgery and jaw shaving are popular in Korea, countries like America and Brazil have surgeries such as eye lifts, liposuction and breast enlargements as their most popular surgeries. Popular Korean surgeries seem to be all about the face, and making it fit into a very narrow perception of what is beautiful; straight nose, big eyes and a small face.
The K-pop industry and the idols themselves have been blamed for causing the boom of surgical procedures to alter the face in South Korea. The perfection that surrounds each and every member of both boy and girl groups in k-pop has helped to lead the youth of Korea to aspire for and to attain an unrealistic standard of beauty. For some, the problem lies with this almost forced message of what is considered beautiful and the pressure that follows it for women to get cosmetic surgery which would essentially lead to everyone having the same face. For others, it is not that idols and regular women get surgery, but the lies that conceal the truth to their beauty.
Almost every woman in both the western and eastern culture has, at some point, altered their natural appearance, be it by wearing make-up, having a manicure or dying/cutting their hair. Some women will wear make-up every day. The reason for why we all do this is fundamentally the same: to be more beautiful. Being perceived as beautiful by society improves self-confidence and the quality of life for most people, and cosmetic surgery offers this feeling permanently – yet it is seen as taboo.
Unlike make-up, the effects of surgery is not washed off at the end of the day and therefore gives a longer lasting feeling of confidence, but it is seen as shameful in Korean society to be found out to have had cosmetic surgery. Women who wear make-up are not condemned for doing so, despite the obvious reasons for wearing it, so why should women who have had cosmetic surgery be made to feel ashamed of the truth? The answer to this question could be in the cover up of who in the k-pop industry is or isn’t a natural beauty.
If those K-pop stars that have had plastic surgery stood up and owned it, rather than cowered in fear of criticism, the apparent pressure could be off of the Korean public. The result of not being honest about their beauty leads to Korean women believing in a false standard of natural beauty. An amusing look into this double standard of beauty and surgery is embodied perfectly by Brown Eyed Girls and their parody of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’. In the video, the girls proudly admit to having surgery and point out that it is no big deal that their faces aren’t natural, as they are happy and more confident as a result of it.
If the K-pop industry was more honest and open about plastic surgery, maybe Korean women wouldn’t feel such a pressure to obtain a standard of beauty that very few of us are naturally and genetically blessed with. One k-pop star who is honest about his appearance, and doesn’t seem to want to change his natural face, refused plastic surgery. PSY, who refused a face lift after his record label suggested he get one flies the flag for the opposite side of the plastic surgery argument which states that you should be proud of what you look like.
In my opinion, people should be able to have plastic surgery if they want to and if it makes them happy, without being condemned for it. I just hope that the K-pop industry adopts Brown Eyed Girls’ honesty about it, before plastic surgery morphs from a solution to low self-esteem to a devastating epidemic of a requirement to fulfil a false beauty standard.
This is part of a series of posts about body image in K-pop and Korean society.
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