The Plastic Surgery Trend In South Korea


In a recent Buzzfeed video, three South Koreans saw what they would look like if they conformed to the nation’s physical ideal, via plastic surgery. South Korea is considered the plastic surgery capital of the world. Why is it such a big thing over there, and why do so many citizens feel the need to alter their appearance?

As of 2014, South Korea has the highest plastic surgery rate in the world per capita. This concentration is due to the fact that the country has the most plastic surgeries per capita on earth, with over 980,000 recorded operations in 2014. It was estimated that as of 2012, 20% of women in Seoul had had some form of cosmetic surgery.

The reason most often given for their plastic surgery is that it’s considered a good career move. In South Korea, looks are considered highly important throughout the country. In most job applications a photo of the employee is included, indicating that appearances are considered very influential in whether an applicant will get the job or not. If the job is between two people of the same calibre, it is assumed that employers will hire the person considered most attractive.

In the recent Buzzfeed video, three people, Maggie, Ashly and Eugene, all of whom have South Korean heritage, discussed the plastic surgery trend and how it has affected them. Ashly regretfully admitted that ‘everyone there talks about beauty constantly and they tell you straight to your face that you’re ugly or that you should get plastic surgery’. While that kind of attitude may seem unusual and shocking to some of us, for South Koreans it’s simply a reality.

In the video, they consulted a surgeon who told them which surgical procedures he would advise in order to conform to conventional South Korean beauty standards. Using computer software, images were shown on screen, to show what each individual would look like if they chose to go under the knife.

The surgeon recommend a standard double eyelid operation for all 3 participants and suggested the additional following for each individual:

Maggie: jaw shaving.

Ashly: shave down ‘the hump at the top’ and alter the tip of the nose and remove the fatty tissue on the lower part of her face.

Eugene: alter the distance between the eyebrow and lash line, thin the nose and make the jaw smaller.

The verdicts:

Maggie firstly described the transformed version of her as ‘derpy’ as she laughed at the image. She didn’t think it looked like her at all, and said it was like an ‘evil doppelganger’.

Ashly said that she thought she would have looked hotter, and said she didn’t want to risk the surgery to look ‘5% more hot’. Ashly said that when she was previously in Korea she had thought about plastic surgery, but after seeing the transformation she realised that the things about her that had been changed were what made her unique.

Eugene. Credit:

Eugene decided that if it meant someone was still recognisable as a person, then there was nothing wrong with the plastic surgery. However, he raised the problem that perhaps Koreans were changing the way they thought they should look, and that he didn’t think they should believe that the altered version of himself looked better than the natural version.

Overall, Maggie, Ashly and Eugene decided that ideals of Korean beauty needed to diversify, and that people needed to get used to recognising the unique features about themselves.

But it’s not just South Korea that has a high rate and focus on cosmetic plastic surgery. Across the world, places such as Dubai, Thailand, India, Brazil and Iran are notably focused on plastic surgery too.

Within the US, the ideal is considered the ‘mommy makeover’. This includes a whole list of procedures, such as tummy tucks, breast implants and liposuction, which are all designed to return women back to their pre-pregnancy bodies.

In India, the procedure on the rise the most is limb lengthening. This painful procedure can add as much as 3 inches to a person’s height, and is thought to increase marriage and career prospects. The industry is unregulated, and if the procedure is done wrong, it can cause bones that refuse to fuse together which leads to amputation of limbs.

Brazil was one of the biggest performers of plastic surgery in 2014, and the majority of plastic surgery operations focus on the ‘bum, tum and boobs’ combination, a very common ideal across the country.

In Iran, 60% of the 40,000 annual cosmetic procedures are nose jobs. This is likely due to the more modest clothing trends in that country, meaning that accentuating facial features is one way to increase beauty.

However, in the UK, plastic surgery declined in 2014 for the first time in 10 years. Breast enlargement surgery fell by 23% in 2013, probably caused by the PIP scandal. The UK differs from South Korea in the attitude towards plastic surgery; rather than wanting people to notice the differences, it’s more about subtlety.

What this all really means is that beauty is less about being unique and more about conforming to stereotypical ideals. Rather than appreciating the differences between one another, there is a culture of anxiety surrounding looking like specific models or having a certain type of body or appearance. Really, it’s sad that society no longer values our uniqueness. We need to start appreciating those differences, and recognising that those are what make us beautiful, not conforming to an image of what we think is beautiful.


English and History student.

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