Korea's Plastic Surgery Culture
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Korea's Plastic Surgery Culture

It's not a vanity- it's a way of survival.

Korea's Plastic Surgery Culture

Hailed by countless multi-story buildings advertising "harmless" procedures resulting in flawless facial features as well as perfectly proportioned bodies and bombarded with promises of a "much better life," a walk through Apgujeong in Gangnam, Seoul, will appease any doubts about South Korea's famed plastic surgery culture. Yes. Culture. Though plastic surgery may merely seem to be a vanity, in South Korea, it reflects a phenomenon that has resulted from competitiveness that is deeply ingrained in its society.

As statistics show that one in five women in Seoul have had plastic surgery and nearly fifty percent of women as well as fifteen percent of men have undergone some form of cosmetic procedure, it is no surprise that South Korea is considered the "plastic surgery capital of the world". Among the most popular procedures are double eyelid surgery, v-line jaw reduction, epicanthoplasty (eye widening surgery), rhinoplasty (nose jobs) and forehead augmentations.There are many reasons as to why plastic surgery has become so commonplace in Korea, but one of the main reasons is pure competition.

Korea is among the most academically strenuous nations today. Even from a young age, students are exposed to a highly competitive learning environment where every point counts. In addition to an eight hour school day, most enroll in hagwon, private academic after-school classes, which add another two to three hours of studying. Furthermore, students do not get to throw their books down and forget about school until the following Monday, for even after five rigorous days of work, work and more work, there are still half-days of school on Saturdays. Such behavior can also be attributed to "competitive parenting", an idea that Shin Dong Pyo, the head of an English hagwon, describes in the following scenario: "You see your neighbor’s kid speak better English than your kid, and you try to figure out what kind of English program he is getting and what kind of kindergarten he is attending.You have figured it out, and you send your kid to the same kindergarten," which of course, adds to the tensions of academic competition and rigor. All of this studying eventually leads to a single college entrance exam called suneung, a test that students have essentially slaved all of their childhood for, a test that will determine not only their college, but also, as most people perceive, their future.

But that is not where it ends. Let's say you got into the first college of your choice, have successfully graduated, and are now looking for a highly esteemed, highly desired job. You would think you have great chances. After all, you did graduate from a top university with top marks and flying colors... but then again, so have all the other applicants. Thus, you need every edge you can get, anything to convince employers that you are better than everyone else, despite being on equal ground. That is where plastic surgery comes in. Employers will often ask applicants to hand in a picture along with his or her resumes or CV's. When two applicants are both equally qualified for the job, the more attractive applicant is likely to be chosen. The cutting truth is, South Korea has a very high population density but is limited in desirable jobs. So, no matter how "qualified" you may be, there is no guarantee that you can make it to where you want to be.

Plastic surgery has also become mainstream through constant advertising and promotion through social media as well as another significant source of influence: the entertainment industry. K-pop has become increasingly popular and the "idols" or Korean celebrities, have become the icons of perceived beauty. Most hold the standard of beauty to that of popular figures, many of whom received plastic surgery themselves. As Korea's entertainment industry continues to grow in popularity and pervade nearly every aspect of Korean popular culture, so does the appeal of plastic surgery.

Another point to consider is how plastic surgery continues to become increasingly affordable and sophisticated. Recent years have seen the rise of more and more plastic surgery clinics, inducing competition and resulting in less costly procedures. Sophistication and active practice have also contributed to easier and low risk surgeries. In fact, statistics show the cost of having plastic surgery in Korea is nearly thirty to fifty percent cheaper than in America. This is just one of the reasons why plastic surgery in Korea has attracted customers internationally.

Plastic surgery has become a definite part of Korean culture. It comes from a competitiveness etched into Korean society, resulting from factors such as population density and limited opportunities. However, as it becomes more mainstream, an arguably harmful sentiment does as well, that how others perceive you is more important than how you perceive yourself. That what matters is how you can get an edge to outdo all others, that the most important thing is what you can do to get into an esteemed college and obtain a respectable position in society, rather than looking for a college or job that is right for you. Korea's plastic surgery culture appears to reflect a generation of people who look to mold themselves into the ideal image of "success" or "excellence" that seeps through the pores of all aspects of society, rather than to mold society to fit a personal and genuine "greatness" and seek to portray one's inner beauty.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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