By Robbie Short
Some blame it on K-pop. Others point to foreign doctors working after the Korean War. Maybe it has to do with a growing materialism in the culture. Sexism definitely shapes it. Whatever the true cause(s), the fact remains: South Korea, like it or not, is the world’s plastic surgery capital.
We can’t be sure of the numbers, but here are a few estimates: Somewhere between a fifth and a third of South Korean women have had work done. The rate may be even higher among women in their 20s. South Korean men go under the knife less often, but they might make up 15 percent of the market. The market itself is worth $5 trillion. In terms of overall surgeries, South Korea, the world’s 27th most populous country, comes in behind only the US, Brazil, and Japan. In terms of surgeries per capita, it comes in first.
The most common procedures are blepharoplasty and rhinoplasty. The Korean words for these are sang-keo-pul and koh-seong-hyeong. In English, we say double-eyelid surgery and nose job. Double-eyelid surgery adds a crease to the patient’s eyelids to make their eyes look bigger; nose jobs, as they often do here, sculpt the patient’s nose to be smaller, higher, and straighter.
In Seoul, entire neighborhoods thrive on the business of look-remaking. A South Korean teen might receive a surgery as a high school graduation gift. Advertisements for clinics cover the walls in subway stations and along sidewalks. Some young people chat about wanting to look like their favorite star. Others—often those not as onboard with the phenomenon—talk about just wanting to fit in with a new norm.
“It’s not that you’re trying to stand out and look good,” a South Korean private-equity fund manager told The New Yorker. “It’s that you’re trying not to look bad.”
Robbie Short is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact him at email@example.com.
Tags: Issue IV