Why do Koreans go under the knife so often?

Plastic Surgery Korea

It is not a secret that South Korea is famous for its cosmetic surgery procedures. Based on a report from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic surgery, South Korea had the most cosmetic surgical procedures performed for every 1,000 population in 2011.

Why does this country in particular have such a high rate of cosmetic surgery compared to other countries worldwide?

It is certainly not linked to their cultural traditions: cosmetic surgery was once considered taboo in traditional South Korea. Altering the body bestowed by a child’s parents was a violation of Confucian precepts that also discouraged cremation and, later, organ and blood donations.

Recent history may have had something to do with their predisposition for cosmetic surgery – throughout the past decades, South Korea’s economic prosperity has evolved at a dizzying pace. Physical manifestations of wealth have become more important, and one of the attributes at the top of the list is a perfect physical appearance.

One of the other driving factors is the ‘Korean Wave’ craze, made up of K-Pop, movie-making and fashion. With celebrities plastered on every billboard looking ‘perfect’ through a blend of cosmetic surgery and photoshop, society has scrambled to stay up to date with the latest trend. 

Blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) has become such a norm that many women you see on the streets of Seoul seem to be have been born naturally with a double fold eyelid, whilst the truth is the opposite. School children are encouraged to get surgery whilst still at high school, so that they can grow into it.

As cosmetic surgery was originally associated with richer people in society, it is now considered a must-do for anyone (men included) who wants to do well in her career. The women, and their parents, believe that the prettier you are, the more benefits you will reap. In fact, some Korean parents even promise their daughters or sons an eye/nose job if they pass their college entrance exams.

With that kind of pressure on young people everyday, it’s no wonder that cosmetic surgery has become so accepted and rhinoplasty or blepharoplasty are considered commonplace. Even extreme cosmetic surgery, such as double jaw surgery originally developed to repair facial deformities, is undertaken lightly. In recent decades, cosmetic surgery has become a weapon in Koreans’ efforts to impress others, like buying a branded bag.

It has become so common in South Korea that much of the stigma regarding having the procedure done has slowly dissipated, while celebrities and beauty queens openly discuss the procedures.

Cosmetic surgery allows Koreans to transform themselves into business women or men set for success and create their own identity. It is certainly easy to decry the widespread popularity of the procedures, but another altogether to live there and not fit in.

Bio: Charlie G. is a content editor for Beverly Wilshire Medical & Dental Centre, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She is a contributor to Beverly Wilshire Medical Centre's blog and passionate about advocating for cosmetic surgery.

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