Plastic Surgery in Korea: A Necessity to Survive?

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By Tyanne Conner

Baby, You Are Too Ugly to Survive

As I sit on the subway, gazing happily at the beautiful little child across from me, I see the love in her mother’s eyes.  Mom glances over at me, sees my White face and begins to speak English to her daughter, which the child mimics perfectly.  “One, two, three, four…”

They play together as if there are few cares in the world.  The beautiful image strikes a chord in me and I imagine them going home together.  In my imagination, they live in a modest high-rise apartment.  The living room is littered with educational toys, blocks, and dolls.  Dad arrives home, exhausted from work, but excited to play with his child.  Picking her up and tossing her in the air, eliciting giggles, they join Mom in the kitchen where they prepare dinner as a family.  This scene, I admit, is a bit idealistic.  But the sweetness and love radiating from the mom and her child have taken my heart for a few moments and transported it to a place that is safe and joyous.

My heart is not long in that peaceful place, however.  Soon my thoughts turn to the realities of life in Korea today.  Many people are choosing to have very small families because of the high cost of education, to name only one economic pressure.  At very young ages, children are placed into hagwons or private academies for language, math, science…you name it… anything that will give that kid an edge later in life.  And these academies are a huge money-suck for Korean families.  The returns for this investment are not very good, but parents insist that it is the only way to be successful and to find a good job.

There is something else that many parents insist is another key to success.

My mind wanders back to that family and I imagine them a few years into the future.  The little girl has blossomed into an even more beautiful person with her own thoughts, ideas and dreams.  The topic of plastic surgery, as casual and ubiquitous as conversations about the weather, comes up and the family talks together and makes a plan for changing their daughter’s face.  The face that if left untouched would reveal a certain history, invoke memories of the ancestors, and show the unique and beautiful gifts from her parents.

“Well, her Asian eyes have to go.  They have to look bigger and more open if she is to be beautiful.  And her nose is ugly.  She needs a bigger bridge and we could make it a bit more narrow.”  The family then decides what percentage of the annual budget will go to the plastic surgeon, where they put many of their hopes for their daughter’s future.  It has been said, and perhaps it is true, that their daughter will not get a good job unless she has a small, v-shaped face and big eyes.

I have talked to Korean parents who speak of plastic surgery as if there are absolutely no other options.  My students talk of it as if it is as essential as oxygen or food.  One student said to me when I expressed confusion as to why she would want to change her gorgeous Korean face, “I am ugly.”  The conversation continued and I told her that I have eyes and I could see that there is nothing ugly about her.  Not one. Single. Thing.  I then asked her about standards of beauty and how those are decided.  “What is beautiful?” I inquired.  “Western face,” she answered matter-of-factly.

I wish I could say that I was shocked.  But I have seen the damage and devastation that the West has brought upon nearly every inch of this planet.  I know a bit about history.  And I can attest to being subjected to unrealistic and unfair beauty standards.  There has never been a single time in my life when I have looked in the mirror and thought that I was perfectly acceptable.  There is always at least one thing I’ve looked at and deemed was awkward, imperfect, or downright ugly.  In my head, I know this is all bullshit, these standards of beauty that .001% of the population actually resembles.  And yet I am still affected by it. So on some level I understand that every single woman feels inadequate.

But it is just too painful to imagine that perfect little girl on the subway and what her parents see when they look at her.  It is just too heartbreaking to picture having a daughter and feeling pressured by society to have to tell her, “Baby, you are just too ugly to survive.”

Here are some more thoughts on the topic…

http://tyannesometimes.tumblr.com/post/53354977664/a-child-a-villager-and-some-plastic-surgery

 Tyanne Conner is a teacher/writer/photographer/sociologist/dreamer.
You can read more on her personal blog at: tyannesometimes.tumblr.com
You can view her photography at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tyanne_conner/

54 thoughts on “Plastic Surgery in Korea: A Necessity to Survive?

  1. More obsession by Kimchibytes to talk about plastic surgery when in reality it is practiced by a very tiny population of Koreans. Not much more than the tiny percentage of people practicing it in the western countries. Tabloid blogging to get eyeballs. It says a lot more about the foreigners who write in Korea than the people they are writing about. How little they know what is really going on and what are the real issues are and what matters to Koreans.

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  2. Hi Jo,
    Thanks for your response. Can you tell us more about your experience in Korea? My students talk about it constantly, plan for it and then actually go through with the surgeries, especially the eyelid surgery. The mothers and Korean women teachers I’ve talked to suggest that it is essential to success in business because you will not be hired if you are “ugly”. Please tell us more about yourself and your experience. We appreciate dialogue between people of differing opinions.

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  3. I don’t feel that Kimbytes is trying to be sensationalist in writing about cosmetic surgery in Korea, but I do agree that it has become widespread in many other countries, too, compared to the past, and this can’t be ignored. Yet, my own impression when I lived in Seoul was that there was a lot more pressure to look a certain way than I have ever felt living in the US or the UK. I had numerous university students return to class after the vacations with brand new ‘double eyelids.’ I listened to a friend suggest in earnest that another friend should get his legs stretched because he was ‘so short and ugly.’ Once, a student was absent for a while, and returned with facial bruising. I expressed concern, only to be told ‘Oh, I just had (pause while she consulted a dictionary) rhinoplasty.’ Oh, that’s all? I lived with Korean in-laws for several years, and the constant talk of how so and so was too dark, or her nose was too wide ‘like her father’s’ and how she should change it while she was older, and many other such appearance-related comments really shocked me. I know that there are plenty of Koreans who do not get cosmetic surgery and have no intention of altering their appearance physically, but I met far more people in Korea who did have cosmetic surgery (or were considering it) in the 9 years that I lived there than I have elsewhere.

    It’s just one aspect of Korean society, but I think it interests many non-Koreans living in Korea because it’s so different from their own views on appearance that they have. Most of us have insecurities about aspects of our appearance, but find ways of ignoring those aspects or hide/enhance them, and are encouraged to forget about them. I think many of us tend to think of changing our appearance in terms of a new haircut or hair dye, or a new outfit, rather than through surgery, so the open talk of cosmetic surgery to deal with imperfections really intrigues.

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  4. If a blogger lived in Hollywood and saw that same level of plastic surgery used around them then should the writer characterize Americans are so into plastic surgery? It shows how ignorant the writer is of the entire Korea. And yet I would bet that the same writer would criticize someone else if someone wrote something that generalizes about a whole country or people or a region. If someone saw a black person do something and then characterized black people somehow, then I wonder how upset this writer would be about that. Also Koreans think and talk differently than Westerners. Isnt it arrogant to think that if people dont talk or think or act like Westerners then it somehow is wrong? Koreans generally talk in practicalities and what is really going on in front of them. Sure thats a generalization but the point is Koreans are different. Westerners believe in being positive and making your own reality. Is that real? Pretending things are not bad may make you feel better but that does not change the facts. Why is it wrong to talk about looks (because it does make huge differences in the lives of most people) and then act on them? Who can decide for the entire planet that everyone should think and talk like Western people? Do some people do drastic things because they are stressed about looks? Of course they do. But so do many in America and other western worlds and they supposedly are not supposed to talk about looks in the way Koreans talk about looks. And its ok for Westerners to talk about the clothes they wear or hair color or how much muscle they have or..? You get the picture. Because someone has decided what is acceptable level of focus on looks and what is acceptable action and what is not? Ignorance and Arrogance. Those are the two words that come to mind.

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    1. Jo,
      You bring up some great points. And you actually hit on the points I was making about standards. I think it is essential to look at where ideas come from and how they affect people. Who does get to decide the standards of beauty (or any standards)? And more importantly, what are the effects that these standards have on people? Is it ok for a person of any culture to feel that they are never going to be good enough? Who does it serve when people (of any culture) are focused on beauty/power/esteem etc… to the point that they go into debt to buy things or to pay for surgery? How can people make conscious choices to change the things that harm us and others?

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  5. I think you are quite right when you say that the level of cosmetic surgery in Hollywood would be far from representative of attitudes to and prevalence of cosmetic surgery in the US as a whole. I think it is very sad that people in the entertainment industry/fashion feel that it is necessary to have surgery in order to get ahead in their careers, and are even asked to make such changes to get work. It’s also possibly true that living in Seoul and teaching English I met a somewhat limited cross section of Koreans, and had I lived elsewhere I might have come across less people having cosmetic surgery. I don’t know for certain.

    Sure people can talk about their appearance (I sometimes hate the bump on my nose, my crooked face), but coping mechanisms other than radical surgery seem a lot healthier to me than risky surgeries that may go wrong. But if surgery makes someone feel better, of course it is their choice to have it. As long as it is something they really want to do to make themselves feel better and not because just of external pressure from other people are telling them they should do it to look better. I just can’t thinking that it would be nice if people were able to be themselves without worrying what others think about their appearance to the extent that they feel a radical change is necessary. I feel this in general, not just with regards to Korea.

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  6. The point is that those who do take drastic measures are so few and far in between that they should be ignored when trying to tell a story about Korea. Unless you specify that it is a very specific fringe part of Korea. But you use words that generalize as if it is pervasive. Eye lid surgeries are non life threatening and relatively inexpensive and do not compare to the tabloid commentary activities like going into debt for surgery. To mix them together into one is again not genuine and instead you are grasping for eye balls (money) or maybe attention at the core of it. The critical thing is that if you value respect then you must show respect to others. Rather than paint a horrible picture as your title of the article does you should have a tone of question. That you do not understand it but that people who do it must do it for a good reason you don’t understand. How arrogant of you to think that people are ignorant and you are so wise on a subject obviously you know so little about. The focus on looks in Korea has less to do with insecurities of self but more to do with competing for the few opportunities available for so many.

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    1. Jo, I’m not quite following your logic. You insist that Koreans who do pursue or desire plastic surgery is a fringe society, but you then you argue that eye lid surgery is safe and cheap (implying that it is very accessible). Also, it’s funny that you ask for awareness and respect, because you could use some yourself.

      That said, I do think that plastic surgery has every bit to do with insecurities. Plastic surgery as a tool for competitive advantage seems like a total cop out to me. Or, it is an issue in and of itself. (I don’t see why resumes in Korea and Japan require photos.) As an American living in Korea I do feel like there is more much judgment, more comparison to others, more competition. I from Los Angeles (which is near Hollywood), and I can say that at home I feel free to be however I choose to be. But here, in Korea, there is something that makes me feel more self-conscious. I feel very bad for young girls and women growing up here. I wish there was more self-acceptance. I especially wish that people would give more respect to their own healthy bodies, which are gifts from their parents and God.

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  7. Great comments – dialogue is the sign of a good article and I respect Tyanne’s experiences. Seoul might be a limited sample representation of Korea, but doesn’t around 30% of the population live in the greater Seoul Area? 30% of the population does not live in Beverly Hills in America – that’s a horrible comparison. Plus, Tyanne lives a good hour or two outside of Seoul. Maybe if she lived in Gangnam the criticism would be valid, but I don’t think she even lives in a wealthy area. I hear my elementary students talk about about plastic surgery at alarming rates. My coteachers and Korean friends also inform me about the social pressure to be beautiful and the commonplace of plastic surgery as a high school graduation gift. The abundance of plastic surgery also drives down prices and increases the quality of the procedures. Why else would “medical tourism” be so prevalent in Korea. I don’t think it’s because only a very small part of the population receive plastic surgery.

    I have no problem with plastic surgery – I’m considering getting a hair transplant in the future. However, to hear a student say they are ugly and for them to think they are in need of someone changing their face simply breaks my heart. I wish Tyanne or I were making these stories up, but we’re not. We both also hope what we are seeing is a limited and untrue representation of South Korea.

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  8. On many levels I must agree with comments Jo has presented thus far. The title of this particular article very quickly makes villains the parental unit of Korean society as a whole with very little evidence other than a handful of testimonials by people that the writer interacts with. Then further insults the society by fabricating more pitiful scenarios to further convey what the writer thinks about Korean standards of beauty. My point is, it is really poor taste to make such broad generalizations of a country and its people – especially as a person who has not been a member for very long and may not be a permanent one.

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    1. Hi, I run Kimchibytes and I’ve been following this article today very closely. I certainly don’t know or understand the whole of Korea, but a person can only express their opinions on what they experience. With that said, several foreigners experience the same scenarios thus articles like this one are created all the time. I would more than welcome a counter article from someone who is “in the know” to set the record straight. However, people usually complain and never take action. I personally want to know more about how Koreans feel on this topic. I’ve encountered many Koreans who share the same opinion as the author but I’ve also seen some tweets and offshoots of a totally different opinion.

      I do disagree that you need to be a “permanent member” of a society or live somewhere “long enough” to form an opinion – that is homogenous thinking at its worst. I don’t think anyone needs to live in America to form an opinion about the country.

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      1. We are talking about the tone of the article. What the author is implying. There are many ways to speak about what a foreigner saw. The writer could say the exact same thing in a condescending, demeaning way or in a way that respects a different way of life the author knows little about. Only a wise person would know the difference and how important that difference is and would know how to go about describing it.

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        1. Jo- Why do you think people in Korea get plastic surgery? Didn’t you tell me to help them compete aka “survive.”

          The title is a play on words – something reputable magazines do all the time.

          We’ll continue to respond politely. Accepting criticism is a skill that is learned, not one that comes from being “wise.”

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      2. Agreed. Have an opinion whether you are foreign to the land or not. The writer’s opinion on plastic surgery in general is actually quite similar to my own and so I mean not to attack it. I am simply saying that it is in poor taste for this article to make broad generalizations about Korea and its families with the overall tone that Korean parents attack their children’s sense of self-worth based on a very small sample size and by a person who may not have an extensive grasp on the culture.

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      3. Learning helps you become wiser so its a good step. Play on words that disrespect the country? Reputable publications do that? Astonishing.

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        1. The words don’t disrespect the country – but they might paint an ugly truth. Do people need to have plastic surgery to compete and survive?

          We learn by sharing opinions and reading other points of view – not by calling names.

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      4. People talk about surgery but very few actually go the length of doing surgery. And when they do its usually the eyelid which does not cause them to go to debt. Foreigners make it sound as if Korea is obsessed with surgery and America is not. Meaning Koreans per capita have surgery many times of that of the US. But the fact is its just a little more (30-50%). What it means is people talk about it but its not the kind of awful problem that the foreigners like to paint the picture as. Kids will talk about it and then they grow up and move on worried about real world stuff while the foreigner is still assuming it had a devastating effect on the kid. Foreigners think OMG eyelid surgery! But is it such a horrible thing as to go OH POOR CHILD~~~? If the worldwide standard says eyelid surgery is a horrible thing then Koreans are guilty as charged. But western people may want to ask the other 80% of the world population if they think its such a horrible thing. http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/04/daily-chart-13

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        1. “But cosmetic surgery isn’t an urban, cosmopolitan phenomenon in South Korea. It’s becoming a nationwide obsession.”

          “What is considered a heavy-duty operation in the maxillofacial dental world is considered a common everyday, operation in Korea, and the altered face shape has created a distance between the women and their ethnic background.”

          “Korean youth already were being brought up on a diet of surgery, so the idea of an operation to look like their favorite starlet is socially acceptable. Children are considered an embodiment and reflection of their parents’ status, and to this end they are shaped and molded — through intense schooling, but also through surgery to be the best they can be. Notions of beauty and productivity are married together.”

          http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/the-k-pop-plastic-surgery-obsession/276215/

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      5. When words are insulting then one should expect return in kind. And if you can’t distinguish what is insulting and what is not then the real problem that the author should be writing about is something other than what kids are saying.

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      6. Its disturbing to see that the editor or the owner of a blog site cannot distinguish what is insulting to someone or not. How can he confuse the issues as such. The insult is not about me. The insult is when the writer condescendingly paints a picture of a negligent society who seems not to care about the well being of the child. And then automatically assuming that an eyelid surgery is so sad implying that the mothers are too stupid to know what is good for the child. And what does it matter if the person is a teacher or not. Everyone should look at the child and before coming to the condescending conclusion that the child is doomed the observer should instead try to figure out if maybe that is ok and then ask questions about why the society thinks it is acceptable. If it was something so horrible then wouldn’t the parents and people of Korea be up in arms to make a change? Or does the author think the Koreans are so ignorant and negligent about what is good for their children and society? There are certain Koreans (a minority) who thinks everything about the west is good and that Koreans should act and think like the west. They are the ones who usually talk to the foreigners. And so foreigners think they represent Korea. But Korea is a very diverse country of beliefs. If you ask Koreans who do not buy into the idea that the western way is the best way they will tell you there is much wrong with the western ways and they are arrogant and condescending. Before you get all righteous about eyelid surgery they will ask you about the teen pregnancy and gun violence and bulimia and drug addiction and poor education and poverty in a country of greatest wealth and wonder where do you get this attitude that you represent the only way a people should think and live? When you say Korean do you have any idea which Korean you are referring to? If you are just an observer then you should know what attitude an observer should have. The problem is writers of this blog site and many others do not know what that is. When we look at all that is wrong in the world due to the different ways people think and live its the attitudes like that of this blog site that fuel what seems to be never ending conflicts.

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        1. Most of the accusations you make I do not see in the article and reducing plastic surgery in Korea to only eye-lid surgery is dishonest and foolhardy.

          To rant on about not criticizing the west is also out of place. In fact, if you actually read the article the author blamed the influence of the West as a major part of the problem.

          However, I’ve come to the conclusion that your anger and passion about the topic have severely distorted your perception of a simple story and concern between a teacher and some of her students.

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          1. Just have to say first, I think the threading on comments on here should be opened up to about 5 or 10. Makes discussion on here really difficult. I don’t know if wordpress.com allows it, but wordpress.org has the option under the settings section, discussion. Should help make commenting easier.

            That being said, I think the argument that the west is a driving influence in this is rather… I don’t know, arrogant? History shows that Asian culture has idealized pale skin and petite features for centuries. Ladies of the court wore the most ridiculous outfits to restrain movement and growth, and rarely went outside. Dark skin and small eyes were a sign of working class, and that thought continues to this day. The only influence the west has made is that we have the tools to make genetics not matter and can remove the traits that define regional types of Asians. Which is a shame. To think that we westerns came in with out fair skin and bigger eyes and that is what made people change their aesthetic to wanting pale skin… It feels like we’ve just added an unnecessary layer to the “white man’s burden” or something.

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            1. I don’t really think that’s the point of the article. It’s not that the west influenced things, but the author took the time to mention the west has screwed up a lot of things. Anyways, that was a really small detail.

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              1. Oh, I know it’s a small detail. I wanted to reply to the specific comment I saw it in, but couldn’t because of the threading. So that’s why I mentioned that first. It’s a tiny detail, but it is one I think a lot of people forget. Just because our students want to be white, it’s got a much longer history than our cultures being together. There are entire masters papers on it.

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                  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Man%27s_Burden

                    It’s the concept that the old imperial powers felt that it was their duty to go into lesser countries and “fix them”. Then, if ever anything seemed “broken”, it was their fault because clearly we had been such an overpowering influence that we destroyed their original way of life. In thinking that Asians aspire to be pale/big eyed/small faced so they can be white, you’re assuming that they want to be us, and that the western world should feel guilty that our presence has made an entire society want to be something it’s not simply for our presence. They simply took the technology that we have and use it to further their own ideals they’ve had for centuries.

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                    1. Rebecca,
                      Thanks for your clarification. I’m familiar with the term, I was unsure in exactly what context you meant it. I can definitely see how what I said might be viewed that way, but I really think we can’t discount the effect of the West on the entire world, from capitalism and consumer culture, to standards and expectations. I don’t think anyone would argue that countries or groups do not have or maintain their own values, customs, ways etc.. but I think it’s still a valid exercise to think about the ways in which outside forces affect people. We cannot argue that globalization doesn’t affect all parties involved, just as we cannot argue that countries are changed completely by those same forces.

                      I really appreciate your thoughts and responses.

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        2. Jo, with the amount of time you have spent making comments you are more than welcome to write an article on the topic. I disagree with your opinion, I’m sorry if that makes me unwise or a horrible person. However, I would be more than glad to post an article you write on the subject. That’s as fair as I can be. You don’t seem to respond to any of the criticism of your point of view.

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      7. Jo, you make a lot of assumptions about the article that seem to be more related to your personal experience with other things. Can you tell us more about what this article brings up for you? How is it familiar?

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      8. When you talk about surgery and this is the key part of your argument, what percentage of all the people doing surgery does only eyelid surgery? If you are talking about problems due to surgery in general terms then you are really talking about eyelid surgery because that by far exceeds other types. If you are talking about the serious problem of jawbone surgery then that is a whole another matter and the article made no attempt to address the complex issues regarding that. I was not suggesting to criticize the west. I was talking about the attitude of the article and the attitude of the responses. Articles such as this is not a simple article. Again shows the limited understanding the owner of this site has about the world he lives in. I’ve only added the last post to see if the attitudes might change. It was not directly about the article because it is a bigger issue than just this one article . I dont think I can add much more. It is up to you whether you think you have properly addressed the issues.

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        1. I never said you were criticizing the west – I said the author criticized the west in the article. I don’t think you read the article or even read my entire comment. There are a lot more procedures that take place than eye-lid surgeries.

          This is an essay, not a piece of journalism and or a newspaper article. For people to rage on about a small sample size or for someone to cover every angle of an issue is ridiculous.

          There are different types of writing and people should keep that in mind. People should also keep in mind that writing is a somewhat creative process when it comes to personal essays.

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      9. It doesnt matter how much you want an article to be just a simple non consequential eye ball getter. In the age of global internet, people will read this and take away the same as any other internet article journalistic or not. Particularly any writing about a non western world written in English hinting at some kind of expertise in the strange new world. Eyelid surgery and other more dangerous extensive and expensive surgeries are very different issues. If you are talking about the pervasive discussions about surgery they are talking about eyelid surgery because that is all that they end up actually doing.

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        1. Who hinted or pretended to be experts – That is all coming from your head. She claimed she was a teacher, not an expert on a topic.

          You are wrong about the eye-lid surgeries – that’s not all that’s going on. Very few people are naive enough to believe that.

          Finally, a personal narrative or essay is drastically different from a newspaper article claiming to have an unbiased and full representation of a topic. People are allowed to express their opinions based on their experiences. If you don’t believe that, please don’t read comic books because you might be disturbed about how they don’t present enough facts for their plots.

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  9. Love Love Love this. My co teachers talk about getting their children the eye lid surgery t very early ages, so that they will be more accepted. Other teachers in school have face lifts, and brag about them as if they just got a new purse. My female students complain about wanting “western” looks EVERYDAY!, I am sure that we are talking about more than just a Tiny Percent of Koreans. .

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  10. Kids talk about looks. No one disputes that. But we are not arguing about whether kids are saying that or not. The question is does that somehow lead to a kid who is somehow excessively stressed and then end up having problems as an adult. The answer by majority of Koreans will be a clear no. The society here is different. They do not strive to raise a child who is independent and headstrong. For sure those are the qualities that do well in a place like America but many Koreans would argue a child raised in Korea like that would likely end up with problems. In America a child can find ways to live the way they want to live because there is enough resources and safety nets such that parents don’t have to worry about their future. But that is not true in Korea. In Korea what works is 조직생활. Literal translation is Organization Life. It is a life where hierarchy is everywhere and following it crucial. If a child is raised the so called American Way then there is a good chance the kid will fail in Korean Society. Of course it may not and it is possible the child is gifted enough to find his/her own niche to be successful in. But most parents don’t think like that. Anyway I could go on and on about how things work in Korea and how different it is with western societies. But it would be a very long discussion. All I am saying is that for a foreigner to look at a child talking about looks and then come to the automatic judgement that its sad which is to imply that the parent or adults in Korea has failed the child is arrogance. Somehow to think the Foreigner knows better than the Koreans who live in Korea about how to raise the Korean child is just ignorance.

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    1. Jalp04- What is an adequate sample size. I read the news here, granted it’s translated in English. I experience the same things when I teach. I don’t have the resources to run a scientific opinion poll that can be verified. But we can share personal experiences. It might be wrong or it might be right.

      Jo- It has no effect? Does Korea still have a high suicide rate? I know that’s not all from looks, but I’m sure it contributes. No one claimed they knew more than Koreans. No one said the Korean way of life is wrong or inferior. No one even said plastic surgery is bad. However, the author of the article is saddened by what she has personally seen with childrn and she expressed her opinion – that’s pretty much it.

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  11. I teach middle school, so I definitely see the insecurities in the young boys and girls. However, after teaching middle school for two years, and public school for over four, never once have I been told that my kids prefer a “western face”. They have their own reasons for wanting the pale skin, or the pointed chin, but it’s not because they are comparing themselves to western faces.
    I do agree with the ideas behind this article, however, I’m a little uncomfortable with how much of this article is just speculation, and one paragraph comes from one quote from one student. Quotations are used in the same way that fictional dialogue is, so it’s difficult at first to read it and tell that the inferred dialogue is just that. It’s a subject that people would get sensitive over to begin with, and it seems quite sensationalist.

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  12. Thanks for the spirited discussion. Thinking and discussing are healthy ways to get to understand multiple perspectives.
    You all bring up good points that are important to explore.

    Questions for anyone who is interested:
    1. Insider vs. Outsider critique… how is it different?
    2. Right to self-determination … is EVERYTHING ok as long as it is deemed “self-determined”?
    3. What is the history of the country that has influenced things that happen here today?
    4. What other factors must we explore to understand this topic?

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    1. Good points – I feel like people shouldn’t accuse others of Hegemony and then use that to justify the behaviors of certain cultures. Of course, There are absolute morals in the world. If any culture permitted things like cold-blooded rape or murder those things are wrong regardless of of culture. With that said, I understand there is a dynamic need to get ahead in Korean society and boosting physical appearance certainly helps in that aspect. However, the question is does the obsession with physical appearance or the rampant ( 1 in 5 women) plastic surgery help or ultimately hurt people?

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    1. Another opinion piece, based on someone looking at a child and hearing one other person saying “My child is ugly”. The guy works out of Detroit and on the Rachel Ray show. Also, according to his website, he has never worked or studied in Korea, and so is catering to a Korean-American crowd who IS wanting to fit into a Caucasian-centric environment. Compared to those of us living in Korea, his article is a proper outsider piece.

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      1. Do you think something is valid only if it is part of a scientific study? What about people’s lived experience? Is that not valid? His piece is an opinion, just like blogs are about lived experience. If we seek to invalidate people’s experiences, I think we should question why we are doing that and what purpose it serves.

        And I would argue that his experience is also very sad for those involved. It’s important to look at why these things are happening. Of course no one has suggested that we can point to only one contributing factor, but the affects on individuals involved are important to explore. These things are never simplistic, but nevertheless, they deserve some thought.

        Rebecca, what are your thoughts about why surgery is so prevalent in Korea and what affects it has on those involved?

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        1. No, I don’t think it needs to be a scientific study. And I do feel that using one person is a great gateway to a discussion to a topic. However, they need to be followed up with more than just “One person said they think their daughter is ugly. Lets speculate for an entire culture.” Facts on the number of plastic surgeons working in Seoul, or throughout the whole country. Stats on the percentage of women who take part in these procedures. Your article didn’t have anything backing up your one moment in time.

          Dr.Youn, however, did have those stats. The 1/5 of Korean women getting surgery stat is pretty common. But his experience comes from Korean-American mothers who are trying to make their children blend in, so the reasoning behind it doesn’t work for Korea. They want their kids to blend in, but it’s different. They are not the same culture, and they’re not going to have the same reasons. Their reasons would be like multiracial kids here in Korea trying to look more Korean to blend in.

          Making someone back up their opinion doesn’t invalidate the opinion. It simply makes someone be accountable for their opinion for they’re going to post it for the world to see. My experiences in South Korea are not the flag ship for all experiences in Korea, nor are anyone elses. However, if I want to blog about… say, racism that I’ve experienced, or discrimination, I can use my own experiences and then back it up with extracts from multiple contracts requiring the HIV testing yearly, the fact people can be fired for high blood pressure in the GEPIK program, etc… I can’t just leave it at “An old woman bitched about me on the train, everyone here is racist.”

          If I were to write my full thoughts on plastic surgery here, it would take far more time than a comment really allows for. However, I know that the history of Extreme Asian Aesthetics started long before Dr. Ralph Millard arrived in 1954, and would probably have to include China and Japan since their history is so interwoven. And with Lotus Feet in China, the physical restraints on Japanese aristocratic women, and Korea’s similar culture during the same area, I’m sure it would be less of “Why are they obsessed with plastic surgery” and more of a “why is a singular standard of beauty even more obsessed over in Asia than other cultures” and then seeing that the surgery is simply the easiest and safest way to accomplish it compared to a history of incredibly dangerous techniques throughout Asia.
          (Then again, I write 2000+ word papers for fun and studied history and scriptwriting and have a passion for documentaries and stuff, so I can’t even write a short comment reply.)

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          1. Rebecca, I appreciate your thoughtful responses and I always appreciate longer and more in-depth comments.

            I’m interested in why you think that I was as you say, speculating about an entire culture. Where in the piece did I say that all or most Koreans feel a certain way or behave in only one way? I don’t feel that way, so I certainly would not have written with that intent/language.

            I definitely agree that things are not necessarily directly transferable to different situations/cultures. But I still think it is very important to highlight and discuss when patterns start to emerge. Here is another article with similar thoughts to the American surgeon.

            http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/05/19/korea.beauty/index.html

            I think the point of my piece though, was that when we have a single standard for anything… success, beauty, intelligence etc… that can be extremely detrimental for the majority of the population who don’t fit those standards. That line of thinking always leads me to question where those standards come from, who do they serve, and who do they hurt? I think it would be impossible to pinpoint exactly where anything comes from specifically because of, as you mentioned, the intertwining of cultures. But I don’t think we can discount the effects of physical and psychological colonization by the West. It’s definitely not responsible for all of the problems any culture faces, but it is definitely a contributing factor, more so in some places than in others.

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            1. You don’t have to say that it’s every person, your delivery of the article creates the Everyman image. The mother. The Father. The Family. There is nothing there to define this family, so every person will picture their own idea of what this family is like. In doing that, it can be every family in Korea.

              From the way you describe your thoughts in the comments, clearly this is something you have thought about a lot. However, for whatever reason, the article itself is short, vague, and generalizing. In an attempt to be poetic or artistic in 770 words, you’ve actually had to defend what you’ve said more than double the word count of the article. Contrary to what Brent believes, that is not the sign of a good article, but a half constructed one. If the readers were debating, then that would be one thing. But it’s been writer vs reader in each thread. Personally, I’m doing my best to at least be neutral in my critique because I’m not going to get into a huge discussion over something that we won’t see eye to eye on (that being the causes of these trends and if they’re healthy) but I can at least leave writing feedback and hope it’s helpful because I think it’s an interesting topic but was approached in the wrong way.

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  13. A Korean American living in Detroit can hardly be considered an expert. There are many people in the world misinformed and working with limited and biased information. The key issues are:
    1. Does anyone have data on how much of the discussion is referring to eyelid surgery? I’ve asked Koreans and they did not know. I tried to find something in the Korean internet but no reporting on the breakout. But of all the people I have met and talked to who did do eyelid surgery they told me that is all they did. So 100% of the people I’ve been in contact with is eyelid only. My guess is by far the highest percentage of people actually doing surgery is eyelid. Even tho they may talk about other options.
    2. Is doing eyelid surgery such a bad thing? Is it much worse than suntanning? Suntanning causes permanent freckles or worse in some people and can lead to skin cancer so some and remotely some to die. Is eyelid surgery that much worse? If you agree that eyelid surgery is an acceptable option to looking better then none of this is really a problem. Does not cause so much and the health risk is no worse.
    3. When mothers talk about paying for eye surgery westerners have to take into account that is a cultural difference. In Korea it is very difficult for young people to make enough money. Parents paying for everything is the norm even as the child is becoming an adult. Many parents still pay for the first apartment their children live in. This is normal in the culture and both parties believe it is how people should live. Most Koreans do not buy the idea that children are adults at age 21 and they have to figure out their own way.
    4. How does this guy make the assumption that eyelid surgery and nose job means it is to be like Caucasian? Koreans want to be white while westerners want to be tanned. How does his theory explain that? The fact is maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Assuming one is assuming he can be as wrong as he might be right. Not a very convincing argument to make.
    5. The critical thing here in discussions like this is, is the activity rare (less than 1%) or a minor event (less than 20% of the people) or a major mainstream situation (greater than 50%). This will greatly impact what significance the reader will place on the activity you are describing. What usually happens is the writer wants more people to read their article so they decide to omit this distinction. If you prefaced your article and said less than 1% of Koreans do this most people might think article ho hum because in any country there is less than 1% of people doing incredibly stupid or ridiculous things. Sure each persons story is significant. Its about one person in a population of 50 million significant. Just for purposes of math it comes out to 0.000002% significant.

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    1. Jo, Thanks for your response. If you are referring to the jaw-shaving surgeries (which I didn’t even allude to in the article) then I would agree that it is rare. And the discussions about that type of surgery are probably rare as well. But that is not what I mentioned in the article because I think that is an extreme example and I have never personally heard of anyone contemplating it. I have, however, heard of many people contemplating eye-lid and nose surgeries. My experience is not unique. Many other teachers have shared similar stories about their students. And there are numerous articles that point to the rates of surgery.

      The point that you brought up that is so important though, is that it is difficult for young people to make enough money in Korea. That was the reason I titled my article the way I did- I was referring to economic survival. So if plastic surgery is being used as a tool to gain a competitive edge, then where do we draw the line? If we are willing to subject ourselves and our children to surgery to change their faces just to survive, then what does that say about us? What does that say about the kind of world we are creating? This is by no means a uniquely Korean phenomenon. But since we are in Korea, I think it is important to talk about. Koreans should be extremely proud of the advances they have made in such a short amount of time. But at what point do people stop to realize that Korean corporations are making billions of dollars off the hard work of the normal Korean citizen, while that citizen goes to such extreme lengths as surgery just to survive?

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  14. You pick and choose to answer only those you want to respond to but ignore the other important points. Similar style as the owner of this blog.
    1. The problem is you still do not understand the cultural differences. What you may think is a huge problem may not be a huge problem here. You assume trying to looks similar is somehow bad but making the same effort to look different is somehow better. You cannot look at another culture and then make judgments based on your culture. Many Koreans do not think its necessarily better to stand out. So a girl in America doing a lot of things to stand out and a girl doing a lot for things to fit in is not the same thing? Are girls in America not stressed about not getting accepted? If you are arguing that Korean girls are more stressed at their adolescent years than American girls I would be very skeptical without real data. Many will have a line. Even those who get eyelid surgery would not think it is ok to get the more dangerous and costly surgery. You think an eye lid surgery is “extreme” but they do not think so. Because there is this difference you will continue to characterize this as a huge problem and Koreans will think you are over reacting and condescending.
    Yes many Koreans get eyelid surgery. But its not a big deal to them. And they will not agree with you that it is a huge problem. Who knows better on this subject? You or the people that live here?
    2. As for the tone of your article it says when you look at a random girl the thought of the parent saying you are too ugly to survive comes up in your mind. That thought comes up in your mind because you think there is a good chance that that girl will hear that from her parents. You are painting a picture where a parent knowing it is a horrible thing is forcing it on the daughter. Meaning you are accusing Korean parents of delinquent in their parental duties and its happening in Korea all over. If it only happened in some very remote situation why would you be worried for some random girl?
    This is a very grave accusation that if Korean parents heard from you would be very upset and feel they have been insulted and think you are ignorant foreigner who have no idea what is good or bad and what is acceptable. It does not matter to a random reader on the internet what your intent was. It only matters what the random reader will take away from your writing.

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  15. Hi Jo,
    It is interesting that you make so many assumptions about things while you accuse other people of making assumptions. Based on your responses, you seem to be making these assumptions: 1. If someone makes a critical observation, then they are trying to demonize people and/or an entire culture. 2. A person from outside a culture/situation cannot have concerns, be critical of a situation, point it out for purposes of exploration . 3. That Americans are not critical of their own culture. 4. That there are no problems with people feeling pressure to change their looks. 5. That people are not affected psychologically by a culture that has unrealistic (meaning that you have to have surgery in order to fit in) standards of beauty. 6. Something has to be labeled as “extreme” to be problematic.

    I will give you an example that might be similar to this situation we have been discussing… In American there are beauty pageants where parents take their children, put fake hair, nails, tanners, and sometimes fake teeth on them and parade them around for show to win prizes. If a Korean came to America and saw this and made comments about it and was worried about it, I would not think that that person is trying to demonize an entire culture or people. I think it is important to challenge and question things that many people think are acceptable and normal. The parents who put their kids through those pageants think it is acceptable though it can be argued by anyone outside that community that this can be damaging to self-esteem, to a child’s sense of self-worth, among many other things. A Korean (outsider in this case) might actually bring a perspective that those parents have never thought about and that conversation might lead to greater awareness and a critical examination of practices within that culture. Those parents can choose to take things as an insult or they can look at their own behavior and practices and wonder if there is some truth in it. People reading an article pointing out the problems of this behavior are smart enough to realize that this behavior does not typify ALL Americans because I think most adults know that life is complicated and nothing is one-dimensional.

    And to answer your question about “why you would be worried for some random girl?” is that I care about what happens to people. When my students tell each other they are ugly, tell me that they think their are ugly, and constantly feel dissatisfied about themselves in relation to an unrealistic standard of beauty, I care about them. When they constantly bring up the fact that they want surgery, and have plans to do surgery to change their faces, I do think that is a problem. I also think it is a problem when this happens in any other country, American included. Parents do have some responsibility in this conversation. Adults who only hire “beautiful” people also have responsibility in this situation. Companies who only advertise using one “type” of beauty also have a responsibility in this. And both insiders and outsiders have a responsibility to question what happens inside/outside societies.

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  16. You seem unable to make critical distinctions. There are two critical issues with the article. One is that it paints a bad image for perhaps the entire Korean society. Two it assumes what is good or bad in your culture somehow applies here and instead of writing about how interesting it is of the differences of the two cultures you make it one culture criticizing another. No one is saying you should not criticize when criticism is warranted. If you criticize someone for lying or cheating or stealing no one would disagree with you. If you think eyelid surgery is bad then do you also think sun tanning is equally bad? How about tattoo all over their bodies? You are mixing up the critical distinctions. If you just focused on the person you met and you said it impacted you in a personal way that is fine. But then to add on some vague comments about what others have said in general (not wondering if what people said may be wrong, misled, biased) and then make the conclusion that it is wide spread and then to assume what is bad for you means it is bad for Koreans is the problem.
    If eyelid surgery is the topic or plastic surgery is the topic first you have to find out if there is reliable information available (in Korean and English) as to how extensive which surgery is. Then what some experts in the field say about what long term impacts this has on Koreans if any. And then commentary from Koreans on both sides of the issue. That is how one properly address the issue of children talking about looks and surgery. Otherwise you want to write about your interaction with Koreans then that is all it should be. You met a Korean and they said that. And that you wonder what that means. That is it. Unfortunately with the limitations in language and your limited understanding of the culture that is all that you can really say without getting into criticisms.

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  17. Plastic surgery is like world wide phenomenon right now, but I think Korea is one of the worst in which that phenomenon takes place in. Even people from other countries visit Korea to get plastic surgery, mostly from China. 80 % of Korean women underwent plastic surgery of some sort, and Korean subway is covered with plastic surgery ads. Honestly, they look very *plastic* after plastic surgery. Do they even know that?

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