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Final Major Project: Research – Plastic Surgery Capital of the World

Watching the BBC documentary “Plastic Surgery Capital of the World”, I was surprised to learn that Seoul, South Korea, was the subject of the story. A staggering 60% of the population in their 30s has had some form of plastic surgery procedure.

In Seoul, the surgeons are specialists in facial surgery. The Gangnam district is crammed full of clinics that cater for domestic and international patients.

The beauty ideal that everyone is striving for is big eyes, small nose and narrow jaw. The most popular surgery in Seoul is eyelid surgery. This surgery is cheaper and has a shorter recovery time than other procedures. It is usually carried out under a local anaesthetic. Unlike most Westerners, most Koreans have “monolid” eyes.  This means that their eyes do not have a crease. This lack of double eyelid line can lead to Koreans looking sleepy, tired, or angry.  Koreans view the double eyelid as a sign of beauty. In my view, they are just trying to conform to an idealised Western norm. The Korean picture of beauty is not their own beauty, it is to achieve the Western look.

Koreans have the surgery to look “prettier”. As one participant in the documentary explained, it is compulsory to put a photograph on your CV when applying for jobs. Looks play a huge part in who gets the job. So, if you want a particular job, you have to look a particular way. Even big multinational employers like Samsung select their employees based on appearance. This has lead to “normal” looking people undergoing some extreme surgeries (such as jaw reshaping) in order to meet society’s expectations.

Video 1: (Koreans Get Photoshopped With Plastic Surgery Ideals 2016)

Video 2: (Behind the plastic surgery boom in South Korea 2015)

As Marx explained in her 2015 article, “the national fixation on plastic surgery began in the aftermath of the Korean War, triggered by the offer made by the American occupational forces to provide free reconstructive surgery to maimed war victims. Particular credit or blame—you choose—goes to David Ralph Millard, the chief plastic surgeon for the U.S. Marine Corps, who, in response to requests from Korean citizens wishing to change their Asian eyes to Occidental ones, perfected the blepharoplasty.” (Marx 2015). She goes onto quote Millard who wrote in a 1955 monograph that “the procedure was a hit, and caught on fast, especially with Korean prostitutes, who wanted to attract American G.I.s. “It was indeed a plastic surgeon’s paradise,” Millard wrote.” – (Marx 2015)


BBC. 2018. Plastic Surgery Capital of the World . Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05t6btv/plastic-surgery-capital-of-the-world# [accessed 1 July 2018].

Marx, P. 2015. “The World Capital of Plastic Surgery”. The New Yorker[online]. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/23/about-face [accessed 1 July 2018].


Video 1: Koreans Get Photoshopped With Plastic Surgery Ideals. 2016. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YD0TRbLmZaw [accessed 1 July 2018].

Video 2: Behind the plastic surgery boom in South Korea. 2015. YouTube [online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSAoETxubSI [accessed 1 July 2018].

#FracturedIdentities #July2018

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