Put together the world’s most wired country, a fascination with the lives of the young, rich and famous and a penchant for plastic surgery, and what do you have? A problem, some South Koreans say.
This affluent Asian country of 50 million people has the second-largest number of plastic surgery operations in the world relative to the size of its population after Hungary, according to industry data, and the Internet is fanning the flame.
With South Korean pop sensations such as Goo Ha-ra from hit girl group KARA admitting they have gone under the knife, there is no shame in ordinary mortals following suit, despite old Confucian teachings that altering the body disrespects one’s parents.
Thousands of Web sites with hundreds of thousands of followers have sprung up recently, allowing devotees of cosmetic surgery to share tips on how to obtain the perfect body, discuss the most effective surgeries and post photos with queries about what they should have changed.
“I am now able to attract a boyfriend after undergoing a facial liposuction surgery,” said an unnamed woman picked recently as “Plastic Surgery Queen of the Week” on the Yeowooya Web site (http://cafe.naver.com/feko), which has 550,000 followers and is the country’s most popular such site. “Can you see, my face is now narrower than before.”
Her post attracted 500 comments from others seeking to emulate her — and to find her surgeon.
“Please send me clinic information. I too, want to have fat sucked out of my face,” one woman wrote.
According to The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS), 770,913 plastic surgery procedures were carried out in 2010, putting South Korea seventh on a global list in terms of the total number of operations performed.
The most popular procedure is believed to be double eyelid surgery to make eyes look bigger and rounder, but an operation to produce a “small face,” including liposuction and reconfiguring the jawbone, is the current fad.
Many high school girls choose to get surgery after sitting for their college entrance exams, and plastic surgery clinics launch aggressive advertising campaigns to attract more people, including “mother and daughter” surgery packages. Others offer two procedures for the price of one.
Still, concern has grown since 2008, when photographs of a woman with a face ruined by a series of plastic surgeries appeared online, shocking the nation.
The state-run Korea Consumer Agency said the number of reported cases of side effects had surged to 4,043 last year, up from 1,698 in 2008.
“Many plastic surgeons only highlight the positive side of cosmetic surgery ... there have even been cases reported where doctors have had patients sign a consent form while on the operating table,” Korea Consumer Agency deputy manager Kwon Seon-hwa said.
A rare poster campaign, “Against Plastic Surgery,” was held in Seoul’s ritzy Gangnam suburb, which has been dubbed the city’s “beauty belt” owing to the large number of clinics there.
However, change will likely come slowly.
Deeply rooted cultural factors, such as placing a high value on appearance because people judge others quickly — in line with a Korean propensity for haste — may play a role, Kangbuk Samsung Hospital psychiatrist Shin Young-chul said.
“A growing income level and an accepting social atmosphere [for cosmetic surgery] allows more people to go under the knife, but this recent craze is definitely excessive,” he said.