South Korean Plastic Surgery

Background: Stella is a 55-year-old woman living in Cerritos, CA. She was born in Seoul and has lived in South Korea for the majority of her life until she moved here for college. She stays at home. Before that, she worked at a hair salon as a beautician. She is married and has two grown children.

I was watching a Korean music show with my mother. I commented on how gorgeous the idols were and my mother interjected, “you know, they’re all fixed, right? Every idol, no matter how natural they look, has had plastic surgery on some part of their face. Look at them. They all look the same.”

I asked her if she really thought that was true and how she knows they’ve had plastic surgery.

She said, “Korea’s plastic surgery is the best in the world. There’s a reason for that. We have the best, and we want to look the best. You know, I think every Korean citizen probably has or will get their faces and bodies fixed because it’s just, um, part of the culture there, do you know what I mean? Even I’ve had my nose raised and eyes widened, so you see, I can tell if somebody else also had the, um, same procedure.”

I believe my informant is both proud and skeptical of the plastic surgery phenomenon in South Korea. It has caused her to become very jaded about “natural beauty” and very particular about what features are “beautiful” in her eyes. She constantly talks about how Korean people all look the same because they all go to the same plastic surgeon. As a result, she refuses to call anybody “pretty”. But at the same time, as someone who has undergone plastic surgery herself, she begrudgingly recognizes the power of plastic surgery as well.