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Plastic Surgery and Lookism in South Korea
Written by Seoyun Kong | Published. 2017.08.31 12:33 | Count : 4347

It’s quite common to see electronic displays lined along the pathways of subway stations and central commercial areas in Seoul. These displays promote plastic surgery and encourage people to look more like a particular face image. Light jokes about “ugly” people are rampant in commercials, sitcoms, and other mass media. Young dreamers undergo plastic surgery to meet the requisites of certain professions, such as flight attendants, newscasters, or ‘idols’. These situations are ordinary but are noxious examples of lookism. Lookism is the term that describes any form of prejudice or discrimination based on physical appearances, which enslaves people to follow the beauty standards and make them feel insecure if they don’t.

(Image of plastic surgery ads in a Korean subway station. credit: http://www.abc.net.au/)

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, South Korea is now the world's highest per capita rate of plastic surgery procedures, marking over 980,000 operations during in 2014. The research affirms that for every one in 72 South Koreans, one person has undergone some kind of plastic surgery. This behavior trend has resulted the rapid increase of the Korean plastic surgery market. As stated in the research of the Korea Fair Trade Commission, the economic value that South Korea has in terms of plastic surgery is more than 5 trillion won (about US $4.38 trillion), occupying one-fourth of the world’s plastic surgery market. As Korean plastic surgeons achieve prominence worldwide, foreigners mostly from East Asian regions such as China, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong has been coming to Korea for the sole purpose of undergoing plastic surgery; thus, the term “plastic surgery tourism” was coined. 

But should we, as citizens of South Korea, be proud of these massive rates of plastic surgery procedures, the skyrocketing value of the Korean plastic surgery market, and the “tourists” from different countries visiting Korea to get plastic surgery? Why is South Korea particularly strong in the field of plastic surgery?

“Look around! It’s obvious,” said Ji Hyun Lee, a friend who is currently a junior in Anyang Arts High School. “My mom always forces me to have double eyelid surgery because I don’t look attractive without it. My friends have constantly been telling me that I’ve gained some weight and that I should go on a diet. The mass media show us celebrities with big eyes, long and sharp nose, fair skin tone, and a slender body. The world around us, even our friends and our family, force us to meet these beauty standards. They don’t fight against lookism but surrender to it, and also realign themselves to make it stronger, even with the knowledge that it’s fallacious. Consequently, many people go through plastic surgery, especially the young and insecure girls go through the surgery. And this is why the industry prospers.” 

(Picture of Ji Hyun Lee)

The prevalence of plastic surgery in South Korea is a bitter repercussion of lookism. As the members of the society in South Korea, we can be proud of the prospering market of plastic surgery and the advances of our medical technology. However, we cannot be proud of the excessive use of plastic surgery, the fixed notion regarding standard beauty, and the environment we confine ourselves into. The people in Korea must learn to accept that each is beautiful in his or her way, and that people have no right to discriminate others based on physical appearance. 


Seoyun Kong
Grade 11
St Paul Preparatory School

Seoyun Kong  student_reporter@dherald.com

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