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"Dad, I'm Not Happy About How I Look," A Korean Teenage Girl Says.

The academic year works differently in South Korea than in the United States. March is the kickoff of every academic year that typically ends around mid-June. As is always the case, summer break swings by, and by around early September, you’ll receive occasional announcements from whatever school you’re enrolled in, a sign that you should gear up for the next three to four months of academic wartime.


And then, finally, here comes the winter break you’ve anticipated. Christmas trees light up the street as infinite carol songs chime through the speakers installed in stores along the road. A moment of peace, the perfect wrap-up for the end of the year, yet extremely freezing. You decide not to go out just for today. You’re either excited or nervous about moving on to higher education –elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school. Since it’s chilly out there, you end up checking in on your social media accounts, refreshing your feeds endlessly.


There you are bombarded with a wave of only-for-winter-break type of advertisements, promoting a variety of plastic surgeries accentuating industrialized and standardized beauty: V-shaped jaw, extended eyes with distinct double eyelids, and sharp westernized noses, all uniformly structured on the pure ivory skin tone.


Catching up with your girls, you realize that some of them have already consulted a plastic surgeon and are expecting to have their eyes extended over the winter break. The sooner, the better. You don’t want to show up at the commencement ceremony with your puffy face tucked with a bandage. Chances are you ask your parents if they could pay for double eyelid surgery, usually costing around $250 to $300. Your parents freak out asking their buddies, but then it turns out no need to. Their kids already underwent surgery the other day, and as your parents did, they, too, went through the moment of a freak– your sweetheart asking if you could afford to modify the look you handed over.


By the way, how old are you? You’re probably around the age of 12 to 16.


This story mainly occurs during the so-called “academic transition period” in South Korea, which is perceived as an ideal time for having plastic surgeries done. As teenagers move on to an upper-level educational institution, there’s a widespread sense that in between this “transitional period” perfectly fits, transforming one’s appearance in a way that conforms to the perceived beauty the Korean society has implicitly injected over time.


South Korea is the land of cosmetic surgery. The market has expanded dramatically to the point where tourists from China and Japan go abroad to enjoy quality and affordable plastic surgery. At some point, the Korean government considered setting up the indoor surgery clinic at the Incheon International Airport, the nation’s largest airport where people from abroad mostly land in, so tourists wouldn’t have to get off the plane to visit clinical shops. Regarding domestic trends, one-fourth of Korean women between the age of 19 to 29 responded that they have gone under the knife, while 31 percent of those between 29 to 39 responded the same, according to Statista’s report from 2022. In essence, roughly 1 out of 3 women you happen to encounter in the street have gone through the same procedure. Given COVID-19’s impact on the industry, there may be an even more noticeable jump in cosmetic surgery.


The writer has no intention to accuse those who have already done or are willing to do cosmetic surgery. As long as you are happy with the result, it shouldn't be problematic. On top of that, the industry has seen technological progress that significantly reduces life-threatening risks and side effects, making it compelling that a desire for good-looking should be accepted as it is. If plastic surgery is one of the ways to cement one’s self-esteem, I might as well encourage people around me to do it immediately.


However, it brings us back to the question: Is that the appearance we genuinely aspire to be? What is it that corners people to feel obligated to go through the surgery? Is it materialism? What exactly is it?


While it’s entirely from the writer’s perspective, I’m bold enough to say that tremendous pressure forces people to follow the trend in Korea. A trend that brainwashes people to desire to look in a certain way. Double eyelids, for example, have become a default that you already have or will have because nearly everyone except for you already has.


Let’s say your parents have sharp, stretched eyes. Well, given that the entire race –a Northeast Asian group– comprises the nation, there’s a higher chance you, too, probably have stretched eyes as your parents do. It’s your genetic traits, and you used to be surrounded by friends who don’t have double eyelids as you did in elementary school. But, for some reason, you look around as you enter middle school, and there you realize your girls, at some point, look different. Your girls are now equipped with bigger eyes with noticeable double eyelids. You find it cute, yet a little strange. Pulling up TikTok,  you notice so many girls look much prettier than you, and you feel as though you should probably get the surgery done so you fit in. Whether or not it looks good on you is not even close to why you did it. It would help if you had these double eyelids so you don’t feel like you’re the only weirdo in school. Since most of your friends look alike, there’s no incentive to have it. So what? You do it because you feel secure and belong for having double eyelids.


Following the trend is vital in Korea, as I mentioned in my previous article. It is so sensitive you should keep up with it to avoid being left behind. It began with double eyelids surgery, which is considered relatively affordable with low-risk factors, but ends up with a desire for a K-pop girl band-like look that beckons pricy medical expense, a long-term recovery period, as well as the society’s harsh labeling that you don’t naturally look good.


Trend, again, is toxic and obsessive in Korean society. It used to be limited to elements that enable you to show off how well-off you are. From owning an apartment somewhere around Gangnam, an upscale district in Seoul, to having made-in-Germany vehicles wouldn’t necessarily force you to modify yourself that pose potential health issues. While the writer complains about how materialistic it is to set a particular set of metrics to define who you are, partially, it’s true that it can turn into a source of motivation that leads you to a quality life. However, in terms of the prevalence of plastic surgery, it has made the people of Korea even more colorless, odorless, and uniform.  


It is problematic in the first place if you are educated or told to look in a certain way while you don’t. Is Korean society blossoming? Maybe not if a teenage girl is insecure about not having double eyelids.

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Tags: #plasticsurgery#mentalhealth#SouthKorea#GenZ


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