Cosmetic surgery addiction in South Korea

Cosmetic surgery addiction in South Korea

As per the current trends, there is an increase in the importance that is being given to physical appearance. Men and women alike are more and more concerned of how they look and hence are turning towards cosmetic enhancement for the same (Castle et al., 2002). In this regard, it has been deemed that such cosmetic interventions are done so that people may feel better about how they look and that the successful procedures lead to higher self-esteem and confidence amongst other things. Studies on the same lines, have reported that while people are happy and satisfied with the end result, none have explored the psychosocial ramifications of the same (Tam et al., 2012; Dittmann, 2005; Castle et al., 2002). It therefore stands at much exploration is warranted into the psychological effects of such an intervention (Dittmann, 2005). The essay here on that account offers explanation to that effect, but however, restricted to area of South Korea.

Within the realms of a modern society, South Korea is one that is full of controversy but also one that is unique. It has been stated as the ‘plastic nation’ of the world (due to its obsession with cosmetic surgery) as a result and further proceeds to fascinate as well as appal society internationally. Interestingly, world news has reported South Korea to be in the clutches of a craze for beauty. It further goes to state that the nation’s love for such cosmetic alterations is invoking a cultural revolution thereby leading to drastic changes in how physical appearance is perceived. This can be evidenced in the fact that changes are not only being made to the physical aspects but also to the core behavioural attitudes towards such surgery that is bringing about colossal changes in both the cultural as well as the social contexts. This has led to plastic surgery no longer being regarded as only a medical procedure for enabling damaged appearances but rather one that is for enhancing aesthetics of an individual. It has also abolished the stigma that aesthetic surgery once held in the society (Tam et al., 2012).

In light of this, it is imperative to illustrate the same by way of mentioning the former president of South Korea, Roh Mu Hyun who underwent the ‘double eyelid’ procedure in the year 2006. While the then president claimed that the procedure was purely on a medical basis to improve sight, the oddity lay in the fact that the First Lady too had the procedure done at the same time. This in fact is indicative of the extent to which aesthetic appearances have pervaded the society. The incident left the nation in a state of shock and disbelief. The incident is further indicative of the fact such an unconventional epidemic had risen and was affecting all classes of people simultaneously. A reputed plastic surgeon is of the view that not only did the public further embrace the need to aesthetically enhance but also instigated even men who were initially hesitant to embrace plastic surgery (Wang, 2015). Another very shocking, yet interesting phenomenon from this incident is that it has somewhat bridged a generation gap wherein even the population from an older generation (such as the veterans of the Korean War and post-Japanese colonisation) have imbibed such perceptions and thereby abandoning conservative practices (Tam et al., 2012). The former president was aged 60 when he underwent the procedure, and his decision had a most direct impact on the people and was illustrative of the extreme nature of such an addiction in a homogenous population like that of South Korea (Wang, 2015). While it is true that celebrities and politicians garner more attention on such procedure, the statistics suggest that it is more the common public that fervently pursue plastic surgery. It has been estimated that people spend an average 30% of their income on their looks and also that more than 50% of women have had some form of cosmetic surgery. The nation also has the highest ratio of cosmetic surgeons to citizens (Donohoe, 2006).

In such a homogenous population, the influence of the media and other popular culture can be immense as the ideologies are more openly shared and hence very quickly distributed. The media has such power to control or have immense impact on people’s thoughts and actions. According to an established professional in Mass communications and media, conformity to societal norms and competition forms the very core of the Korean people. In this aspect, both peer-pressure and peer evaluation is somewhat of a proud factor for the Koreans. The popular notion here is that if a neighbour has something one has to have something far better. It has also been opined that Koreans value competition over their cultural traditions. This means that even though traditions are a definite priority, in any scenario competition will take precedence over the same. On another note, South Korea consists of some of the most tech savvy users of the net in the world. Statistics show that there exists a broadband penetration of over 90% making South Korea the second among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (Barton et al., 2007). In this aspect too, the media has had a vast and extending reach in the influence of people towards ‘appealing’ aesthetic appearance. A Harvard Psychologist Nancy Etcoff states that ‘beauty is evolutionary’ (Cullen, 2002). For instance the western media projects popular looks to be sharp noses and round big eyes which are the most often idealised. On the contrary, the flatter noses and slanting eyes as is characteristic of the East Asian population is hardly projected to be appealing. Therefore it would seem that even the Korean celebrities mimic such features by way of plastic surgery (Smith, 2014).

The head surgeon on dream medical group in South Korea is of the view that he is not a plastic surgeon but rather a mental therapist. He states so as he feels that it not about the specific cosmetic procedure at all but rather about how the individuals feel. This is evidenced in that the patients don’t actually care much for the procedure but rather that the aesthetic feature has been achieved. He states that any physical characteristic pertains to dominant features of the west such as round eyes and sharp noses and also that the trend may never go away (The Newsletter, 2010). Besides the blatant influence of the media, another major cause for people wanting to get plastic surgery is so as to be at the top of their game in the job market. As the world we presently live in is a rat race to the top, it is believed that better aesthetics can provide one with the required competitive edge. In the world of business and politics, small eyes are seen as less charismatic or even not-so-trustworthy than those with bigger and rounder eyes. This also constitutes further to the need for enhanced aesthetics. The evidence also points to the fading stigma that was associated with men wanting to get plastic surgery. Besides this, it has been observed that even the children in this society are taken with the trends and opt for plastic surgery at a young age. This can be attributed to zealous parents being ‘supportive’ of their children. This stems from when others (children or otherwise) are altering their looks invoking a fear in parents that their children may be left behind. Parents recognise that it is not enough for children to fare well only academically but that much enhancement and effort is required aesthetically as well to get ahead (The Newsletter, 2010). On the other hand, a largely patriarchal society as South Korean still remains puts undue pressure on women of marriageable age. It is still in an age where marrying a man of good financial standing is of the highest priority. This is so as women are considered to be of use only in household tasks such as cooking and cleaning which puts their value largely on their looks. This therefore puts intense pressure on the women to look good at all times which makes getting a surgery (or several) a reasonable method through which to accomplish this as well as to stay ahead of the competition for a husband. This is even evidenced quite strongly, wherein certain dating agencies accept only those women who are very good looking and rejects the ones that are not. This is claimed to be a manner in which the highest quality of the site may be maintained further reinstating a biased society that largely pressurises one to aesthetically alter oneself (Sepúlveda & Calado, 2012; Mulkens et al., 2012)

It is thus argued by many internationally that South Korea is on the road to an ‘ethnic facelift’. It is also of the view that Koreans are idealising features such as the double eyelid, broad foreheads, sharp noses and high cheekbones which are not an inherent feature of their appearance. Therefore in order to achieve this idealism plastic surgery is ardently pursued and also suggestive of the mentality that the dominant East Asian looks are considered dull. It is thus considered here that life is a raw material with the body perceived as a medium to shape such a life. Such a conscious form of distortion may be considered as unethical or inhumane even, and psychologically a more masochistic alteration of natural appearance. However, the influence stands at if one person finds liberation in such alteration it will stimulate a similar line of thought in those who would not have considered this aspect in the first place. The instance of the same is where if the parents have undergone cosmetic surgery the children are inadvertently influenced whether they want to be or not (Karupiah, 2013).

With this view, the present day society moves towards the expansion of individuals’ desires and the premise in which it is deemed permissible to crave. Plastic surgery is a perfect example in this regard which manifests as human desires of altering the natural without the semblance of a system to control it, which is however warranted to curb instances such as addiction to plastic surgery. This further plays on an arena where ethical principles are obscured. On a more collective note the addiction to plastic surgery in South Korea has serious ramifications on the psychosocial wellbeing of not just the individual but on the society as a whole. It opens up whole new avenues in terms of racial ideology and the pursuit for the same therefore. This need in itself not only perpetuates but also propagates addiction leading to large scale psychological influence such as the case of South Korea as is today. It not only bears such implication on the present society but also alters the viewpoint of a younger more budding generation. Cultural identity is lost along with racial conformity. While it is expected that the addiction will only grow with the exposure in our midst today, the idea of plastic surgery will come to be viewed as an initiatory rite to an assumed better life. Conversely, if the surgery does not go well, the psychological bearings of one may come undone which forms the downside of the spectrum of contemporary psychology. There also remains the loss of a personal opinion with little left to chance or choice.


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