Issue of Excessive Plastic Surgery in South Korea


03 Oct 2016 21 Sep 2017

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Plastic surgery has become a craze among South Koreans since the beginning of the twenty first century. South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery than any other country in the world, with 74 procedures per 10,000 people (Winchester, 2013). Majority of people in Korea believe that facial appearance is an important factor in measuring one’s success in life. This paper argues that plastic surgery in South Korea needs a limitation and the plastic surgery craze in Korea has to be stopped. Three reasons why plastic surgery has to be reduced are because of plastic surgery addiction, standardization in physical appearance and side effects of cosmetic operations.

Plastic surgery was introduced in Korea by Dr. Ralph Millard, an American plastic surgeon, who arrived in Korea in 1954 and performed double eyelid surgeries for Korean patients (Stone, 2013). Millard’s role was to help treat accident and burnt victims but he decided to help in a different way. Millard thought that a more western appearance would help Koreans assimilate better in the emerging international economy. (Millard. R, n.d.). The surgery quickly caught on and the first aesthetic surgery clinic opened in Korea in 1961. From then, numbers of women undergoing plastic surgeries increased from year to year. Currently double eyelids and nose jobs are so common that they are not named surgery but called as “procedure”. It is true to say that once Koreans desired to look more western, but nowadays cosmetic operations are not to look more western but to look more stunning as what Koreans think. According to Dr. Hyunenong Park (as cited in Stone, 2013), a plastic surgeon in Korea, said “Even though many Caucasians have small and slim faces, it doesn't mean Asians want to be like Caucasians. If you inspect some Caucasian celebrities, you find countless examples of prominent jaws and high cheekbones. Nonetheless, if you inspect Asian celebrities, they all have small jaws and cheekbones. That’s because small and slim face is ideal to most Koreans”. This shows that Koreans undergoing plastic surgeries still look for distinctively Korean feature, rather than looks similar to Caucasian.

Some people argue that plastic surgery boosts self-confidence and decreases the rate of depression in patients. Patients suffering from a health issue related to physical appearances had a great change in how they feel about themselves after procedure. For instance, a study found that patients who surgically altered their physical appearance, claimed to achieve their goal, felt healthier, less anxious and developed more self-esteem compared to those who chose not to have plastic surgery (Royal University of Bhutan, 2013). Moreover, researchers found out that plastic surgery plays a major role in decreasing depression in patients with appearance issues. Research carried out by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (2006), demonstrated a high correlation between plastic surgery procedures and mitigating depression in patients. The research showed 31 percent of the patients electing for the procedure who was currently on anti-depressants, had stopped taking anti-depressant medication for six months, after the surgery (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2006). This shows that plastic surgery does play an important role in enhancing ones self-esteem and decreasing the level of depression but overdone plastic surgeries are causing major problems in our society.

People's obsession with plastic surgery, is one of the reasons why plastic surgery needs to be reduced. Most of the people have something they don’t like about their appearance, but if it is not serious and does not affect our daily live, it is not necessary to undergo surgeries. Whereas in Korea, people have become more open about ‘reconstructing’ their face and procedures like eye-and-nose jobs have become what they call “basics” Furthermore, people’s obsession with plastic surgery is moving on from the ‘basics’ to radical surgical operations that require long painful recovery period which is potentially dangerous surgery (Standen, 2013). These people who are not satisfied with their current appearance and go through numerous procedures are suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD refers to people who continually find flaws in areas where there are no flaws and need to proceed several times of surgeries (ADAA, n.d.). They perceive themselves as being ugly while others could see him or her as physically attractive and are hardly satisfied with their appearance. Many people in Korea are currently experiencing this disorder but they are not conscious about it and this can lead to severe side effect. For example, a former Korean model Hang Mioku, addicted to plastic surgery, injected cooking oil into her face because plastic surgeons refused to perform any more plastic surgeries on her (Nair, 2013). Her face is badly disfigured but she is still desperate for softer, smoother skin. This Korean model is actually suffering from BDD but she is not conscious of the fact that she has a mental disorder.

Another reason why there needs to be a limitation to plastic surgery is because careless operations cause serious side effects. According to the Korean Consumer Agency (as cited by Lim, 2014), rate of medical dispute on cosmetic surgery was the highest of all medical disputes in the year 2013 and it increased 28.5 percent more in the year 2014. Due to the enormous expansion of aesthetic surgery industry, plastic surgeons are not enough to cover all the patients and as a result, many unqualified plastic surgeons or doctors from other medical fields known as the ‘shadow doctors’ are doing procedures for. Shadow doctors, substitute plastic surgeons, are reported to be the main cause of the huge increase in medical incidents that were reported in recent years (Yoo, 2015). 70 percent of plastic surgery malpractice suits that were reported are from asymmetric problems followed by prosthesis failure, inflammation and post-scars (Lee, 2015). These side effects lead to health and mental diseases or even death. For instance, Kim Bok Soon, a patient who wanted to have her nose done to gain more self- confidence, was convinced by an unqualified doctor to have fifteen operations done to look like a celebrity but the result came out as a disaster. After the procedure, she cannot close her eyes or stop her nose from running and is currently suffering from chronic depression (Carney, 2014). Not only this, but a Chinese woman was found brain dead while undergoing combined eye and nose procedure in a clinic located in southern Seoul (Choi, & Park, 2014). She suddenly stopped breathing and lost consciousness while surgery and was sent to a nearby hospital but was diagnosed with brain death and currently remaining comatose.

Lastly, standardization in appearance is also a reason why the aesthetic operation has to be reduced. A series of photos of 2013 Miss Korea preliminary contestants revealed by an anonymous blogger shocked not only Koreans but the whole world and news organizations worldwide. International news presses all at once, criticized on how plastic surgery has turned the 2013 preliminary pageant contestants into almost identical looking people (Lewis, 2013; Odell, 2013; Zimmerman, 2013). Not only contestants but similarly looking women can be easily seen in many places in Korea but especially in Gangnam a district popular for plastic surgery. Christina Lim, who is trying to emulate doll-like features of the K-pop celebrities, said “Plastic surgery is a normal thing. My friends, they would actually just go on vacation and then they would come back with a new face. In Korea, you go down the street, you see this girl and you walk down the street, you see that girl again. The two girls are actually different person” (Chang& Thompson, 2014). As Lim stated, many Korean women desire to undergo operations to achieve big eyes, round forehead, tall nose and v-line shaped jaw lines which is the latest beauty standard in Korea. The problem occurs from people who do not fit the beauty standard. People who are considered as not pretty because they do not fit into the beauty standard have a hard time with getting along with others and fit in to the society.

In conclusion, the paper argued about limitation of plastic surgery in Korea. We have looked at how cosmetic operations enhance self-esteem and decrease depression but on the other hand, cause serious problems like aesthetic surgery addiction, standardization in appearance and severe side effects that may lead to death and serious social problems. Cosmetic surgery was a surgery to remove the physical appearances that cause other health disease or mental disease but because it is carelessly done and overly used in Korea, it is causing more problems than benefit to the society. To prevent this, cosmetic operations have to be limited to patients who really need the procedure and not to unnecessary people. Doctors performing procedures should also be carefully examined before they can do any cosmetic operations to patients to avoid any malpractice caused by unqualified doctors.



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