If you want to be beautiful, you’ll have to buy a new face – On Plastic Surgery & Self Esteem in Korea

Are you looking for a change in your life that can mean a new beautiful you? An Asian eyelid surgery can just be the answer. An hour of surgery can make a huge difference in the way you look, all thanks to the simple reshaping of your eyelids. – Seoul TouchUp (Source)

Most women have insecurities (unless maybe you’re a Victoria’s Secret model). In America, our insecurities usually draw us to fad diets to lose weight or spend too much money on the latest fashion trends. Our insecurities usually lead us to certain vanities that only change our external selves temporarily and usually do very little to change the real problem – the internal problem.

VS Angels

But seriously – who DOESN’T want to look like them? (Source: SMSCS)

In other countries – like Japan and Korea – women’s insecurities have resulted in a massive, growing industry: plastic surgery. This extreme and very permanent measure is now the norm in Korea where 1 in 5 women have already had work done.

If you ask an American girl why they want plastic surgery, they might say their boobs are too small, they don’t want wrinkles, they’re too fat, or they want big, full lips.

korean plastic surgery


If you ask a Korean girl why they want plastic surgery, it’s an entirely different story. Yes, they want to be “prettier” but for more reasons than the alleged confidence-booster. They want a husband. They want more job prospects. They want to be more accepted in society. They want their parents to think they’re worth something. Because the sad truth here in Korea is that a nose job and a “double eyelid surgery” will get them those things.

double eyelid surgery

Blepharoplasty before & after (AKA double eyelid surgery – adding a crease in their eyelid to give them “double” eyelids) (Source: KennethKimMD)

Reality TV shows parade “ugly” Korean girls transformed via boob/chin/eyelid/nose jobs up and down a runway and brainwash little girls into thinking plastic surgery is the only way to be happy. K-pop stars and other Korean celebrities talk openly about the work they’ve had done, stripping away any stigma attached to plastic surgery, and the media portrays them as “ambitious” women and men who are investing in their futures. Hundreds of cosmetic surgery websites boast the “best prices” and encourage both men and women to undergo these “standard” and “necessary” procedures.

It starts when they’re young. Mirrors are in every room of the school I teach at so students and teachers alike can perfect their hair and makeup at all times. It’s not uncommon for half of my female students to be holding out a compact mirror in one hand and combing their hair with the other during the majority of class. A common graduation present or a “sweet sixteen” gift is the double eyelid surgery to turn naturally narrow eyes into large, anime-looking eyes. These mothers tell their daughters that they’re ugly and are more than happy to pay for the reasonably-priced surgeries.

(Source: Buzzfeed. Interesting documentary about high school life in Korea. Skip to 5:18 for section on “Beauty”.)

As plastic surgery gets more and more common, the pressure to conform to the same face – literally – is rapidly increasing. Koreans aren’t shy about telling each other (or us, foreigners) that you’re fat or ugly. Want people here to think you’re beautiful? Just get your average chin-shave, nose job, boob job, eyelid surgery and jaw restructure so you can look like every celebrity and maybe even possibly get a husband.

under the knife

(Source: The Atlantic)

As I started learning more about the prevalence of plastic surgery in Korea, I was judgmental. It seems so vain to care that much about what you look like. But then I realized that these women don’t feel like they have a choice. As they’re surrounded by more and more people who are all getting these procedures done and looking more “beautiful”, what choice do they have but to keep up and get the identical surgeries done as well? And now of course little girls growing up in this kind of society don’t know any better. Nobody is here to tell them about “inner beauty”. All of the celebrities look the same so they don’t have a different Korean face to idolize. And if everybody else looks “beautiful”, then men wouldn’t bother giving a plain face the time of day.

Who am I to judge people who live in a world like that?

“You want to get married?” [the doctor] asked. “Then you have to do this, you have to take the risk.” – SourceNYtimes



  1. Yvie Sismee · · Reply

    That eyelid picture is gruesome. Sigh! To be honest We all have our shallow desires. Of course, they range in scale of extremities 0-10. Although under the knife is extreme for me personally, it’s become so common that it is somewhat of a norm except for countries who are dealing with essentials still(underdeveloped).

    Also if an older person pursued it, I wouldn’t be surprised. What is shocking is the youthful consumers who seek the procedure. The environment and support system we have is a significant factor in the importance of fulfilling certain desires. For example, if my mom raised me with positive reinforcements, chances are I’ll be an adult with a healthy self esteem and confidence. If I desire larger breasts, I will go day by day in my healthy self esteem knowing that if I was meant to have it, I would and if I’ve done well this long without it, it’s not important.

    It’s sad this exists but what can you do?! Hand out compliments when you think it!


  2. It’s hard to know where to stand with this issue. I’ve been watching a lot of Korean films to prepare moving in the new year and I’ve yet to see a Korean actress who doesn’t have double eyelids. Now, of course, some Asians are born naturally with the “double eyelid” thing but you do have to wonder how many have had surgical procedures, and it’s no wonder society’s getting a certain idea of what it means to be beautiful.

    When I lived in Mexico it was the same. All the women on TV, in films, modelling, in magazines, were all the most European, fair-skinned looking women. It’s no wonder there were so many “whitening” skin products and so many people bleached their hair.


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