By Erin Yi

“Just wait until you’re 18. Then I’ll fly you to Korea and we’ll get your eyelids done.”

As a young Korean girl, this phrase was repeated to me several times growing up. I was born with monolids, eyes that appear to have one eyelid fold rather than two. This feature is typically only seen in Asian people, especially Korean people, while 쌍꺼풀 (ssangkkopool), or double eyelids, are seen more in western cultures. Double eyelids are so heavily admired in Korean culture that it is almost traditional for girls to receive double eyelid surgeries as presents when they graduate from high school. 

Here’s an image depicting monolid eyes beside double-lidded eyes. As you can see, there is a deep crease in the second photo that isn’t there in the first. (Source: Twitter)

With the highest rates of plastic surgery globally, South Korea has been dubbed the plastic surgery capital of the world.  Some estimates have suggested that ⅓ of South Korean women between 19 and 29 have had plastic surgery and others have put that number at 50% or higher. All of these lead to the conclusion that South Korea is considered to be the country with the largest cosmetic-enhanced population worldwide. 

It’s natural for people to want to fit the beauty standard, but why are cosmetic surgery rates exceptionally high in Korea? In addition to celebrities, it is actually the general public that is actively pursuing plastic surgery. On closer look, we can find there are deeper economic motivations that fuel high plastic surgery rates in South Korea. 

For one, appearances play a huge role in Korean culture including jobs and overall livelihood. South Korea has a cutthroat job market, and many workplaces will even take an applicant’s appearance into consideration for hiring. As applicants’ qualifications and abilities rise, many believe that enhancing their looks will give them an edge over their opponents. People in the public eye, such as politicians, will get cosmetic surgeries because people with small eyes are perceived as sneaky and less likable than people with big round eyes. 

Because appearances can have such a great effect on a child’s career, many parents will not only accept but encourage plastic surgery for their children. As surgeries become more common, parents become afraid their children will fall behind not only academically but visually as well. Not to mention, double eyelid surgeries and rhinoplasties (two of the most common cosmetic surgeries in Korea) are relatively safe, inexpensive, and accessible with over 500 cosmetic surgeons in the city of Seoul alone. Parents encourage their children to get plastic surgery with the mindset that it will help them in the long run. 

This especially applies to women in Korea. South Korea still has a highly patriarchal society where getting married to a financially stable man is a huge priority and source of mobility for most women. Women who are looking to marry are pressured to fit the beauty standard as best as they can. Some dating agencies will not accept members who are not considered above average in appearance. This has contributed to great increases in plastic surgery rates as surgeries are now viewed as an investment in a woman’s future.

Another factor is the wider social acceptance of plastic surgery in Korea. In the 2013 Miss Universe competition, Miss Korea’s old photos revealed that her current face was not “natural”. Her success sent the message that cosmetic surgery is something to be rewarded. Not only did her status as Miss Korea represent Korean beauty, but it represented Korea’s prowess in cosmetic surgeries. Rather than something to be looked down upon, plastic surgery was presented as something to celebrate.

Source: Channel Korea

Pictured above is 2012 Miss Korea, Yumi Kim. After photos from her youth came out revealing that she has had cosmetic surgeries, she stated on a tvN entertainment show, “I had a feeling that my pictures from the past would surface but I was shocked that the papers made it out like I claimed to have been a natural beauty… From now on, I hope to make a name for myself for my inner beauty rather than my outer beauty.”

In the end, whether cosmetic surgery is “good” or “bad” is not a clear-cut issue. Beauty is subjective, fluid, and personal. When we look at Korea’s high plastic surgery rates, we can hopefully see the many factors behind this and try to understand the differences in what beauty means to others.

No responses yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *