Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plastic Surgery in Korea

I am currently in Seoul for the weekend.  Whenever I get bored in Gwangju, and feel like spending time alone, I'll hop on a bus, and enjoy a weekend of walking the streets of Seoul with my headphones and my ipod.  I am currently in a coffee shop in a district called Gangnam.  From what I've read, it is a district where the most affluent of Seoul live.  Upon walking the streets, that definitely becomes apparent.  The women are all extremely fashionable.  The men here carry themselves as one would expect from a person of wealth and status.  The latest and the most expensive of everything seems to be the norm in this area.

Generally speaking, Koreans are wealthy people.  Korea is among the top twenty economies in the world, and it is among the top twenty five nations in per capita income.  Obviously, as is the case with all people who are wealthy, generally speaking, Koreans have a significant amount of disposable income.  And as do women of all nationalities, backgrounds, and income levels, a huge amount of Korean women have issues with their self image.

I teach students ranging in grade levels from the second through sixth grade, and these problems with a negative self image are definitely prevalent, even among them, and it is especially evident among my sixth graders.  On the bimonthly written tests that we give our students, one of the questions for a test given to one of my sixth grade classes was, "What do you like about yourself?"  

One girl wrote, and I paraphrase, "I like the fact that all my friends are very pretty."  She continued, "I don't understand why they are friends with me, because I don't think I am pretty enough."     

I also hear rumblings, and rumors of various female middle school students in my school who don't like the way they look, so they have verbalized a desire to get plastic surgery when they get older.  I hear of Korean high school girls, who upon graduation, have their parents pay for double eyelid surgery, a procedure done to make the eyes appear larger, as a graduation present.  Many Korean girls also have surgery to enlarge their noses, and some have procedures to make their cheeks appear smaller.

Quite frankly, it's sad.  It's upsetting because it's evidence of a problem, and that being that Korean society, like many other affluent societies in the world, places an excessively high emphasis on the importance of vanity, which causes girls of all ages to have a negative self-image.  This is especially true with the prettiest.  It's the norm for Korean celebrities to have such procedures, and it puts a positive spin on something that is negative, and it has sadly perpetuated the epidemic.

It saddens me, because, especially in my youngest students, I see so much beauty and potential in each of them, as individuals.  And much like English, they are being taught, at a young age, this unnecessarily excessive importance of vanity.  It saddens me because many of these students, especially girls, as a result, will grow up to have a negative self image, and will sadly hear the lie that plastic surgery is the answer.  As an authority figure in their lives, I feel that I have a moral obligation to nurture their growth as people, to guide them, and to enable and empower them to become productive citizens in society, and these negative self-image issues are definitely a hinderance. 

Obviously, girls in the west suffer from this as well, and it is an area where husbands, boyfriends, and mothers in these affluent societies have failed.  Especially in Korea, a society where people are driven so hard, and have so much pressure applied to them at such a young age in order to better themselves, a significant amount of girls are never told by their fathers that they are pretty.  Wives and girlfriends are encouraged by their significant others to have cosmetic surgery, instead of being comforted, and reassured that they are beautiful as they are.  Many of these young girls are told by their mothers, "you have to do 'this and this' to become more beautiful," instead of being told, "You are beautiful as you are."

It is a failure in our world's medical industry.  Instead of being driven to become orthopedic surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons, and/or even neurosurgeons, many young med students in Korea are choosing to become cosmetic surgeons in order to make young Korean and Japanese girls' eyes and noses appear larger, not because these girls are victims of car crashes or birth defects, but because these girls are victims of this notion that they are not beautiful enough.  Instead of working more vigorously to find a cure for such horrible deseases as aids and cancer, many doctors in America are figuring ways to perfect breast augmentation procedures on young healthy women, who instead being victims of breast cancer, are victims of this belief that they are not pretty enough, and that cosmetic surgery is the answer. 

This excessive emphasis on vanity in these affluent societies is a problem that can only be solved by the men of these societies.  We, as men, must be the ones to take a stand and declare that this is wrong.  We must do so by being better fathers.  We must tell our daughters that they are beautiful as they are.  We must do so by being more effective examples for our sons, and show them how to be better husbands, by loving our wives as they are.  We, as men, must learn to be strong, and tell our significant others and daughters, "No."  We must show the girls in our society that they are pretty enough, and do so in such a way that when they see an advertisement for a particular cosmetic surgical procedure, they will be inclined to confidently state, "I'm glad that I will never need that."                   


  1. Nicely put. I agree completely.
    I almost fell off my bicycle this afternoon cycling past a woman who had clearly had no cosmetic surgery at all. Oh wow, was she beautiful? She was gorgeous! And yes, I guess she was Korean, with what I take to be very traditional features.
    I had dinner tonight with two young Korean female friends. Neither have had that bizarre double-eyelid surgery thing, or any other form of cosmetic surgery that I can tell, and, they are both completely lovely and very attractive. I would still be with them now, if it were not for a bit of homework to do and their wanting to go eye-shopping...

  2. Reminds me of a song I once heard. "What makes a man, is it the woman in his arms just 'cause she has big titties? Or is it the way he fights everyday? No it's probably the titties. Now your a man. A many many man."

    Hope all is well. Crawfish boil is March 24. FYI.


  3. Chris what an awesome article. I'm glad to hear such refreshing views on this, as it also grieves me to see how much some Korean girls-and guys, care only about their outside image, especially some of our brothers and sisters in Christ! I will join with you in being that positive voice :)