It started with the doctors sculpting his nose, then an operation to cut his eyelids to create folds and make his eyes appear bigger. Next came Botox injections in his forehead, followed by the fat being surgically sucked out of his abdomen.
Before he was done, Park Hyo-jung had 24 procedures on his body over more than three years to improve his appearance -- including adding dimples on his cheeks and removing blemishes and chest hair -- transforming his former droopy face into his current studly visage.
"Before I didn't have a girlfriend, I didn't want to even try because I didn't have confidence," said the 24-year-old, a technician at a medical supply firm and part-time student.
While Park's case is extreme, there's little question that South Korean men are increasingly undergoing surgical beauty treatments -- once the almost exclusive domain of women -- in hopes of boosting self-esteem and better competing for jobs. South Korean media have called the phenomenon a male "plastic surgery craze" and reported a boom in cosmetics for men.
The trend of men seeking a nip and tuck has reached all the way to the president's office: Roh Moo-hyun had his eyelids done last year. The official reason his office gave was to improve his sight, but the president's undergoing the cosmetic procedure has effectively ended the already-fading taboo on even older men having beautifying surgery.
"They don't hesitate anymore since President Roh got plastic surgery," said Lee Sang-eun, director of the Real Clinic Group.
Last November Lee's company opened a male-only clinic, Real For Men, which it says is the first in the country to capitalize on the newfound willingness of men to seek beauty in the operating room.
Statistics on the trend are hard to come by due to the sheer number of clinics performing cosmetic proce-dures. It seems nearly every building in Seoul's trendy Apgujeong and Kangnam districts has a "beauty" or "aesthetic" clinic, often located together with hair stylists or dentists for a one-stop total makeover.
Wee Sung-yun, who performed the last six surgeries on Park, said he saw almost only female patients until several years ago, but that now some one-third of his clients are men.
Men usually seek eye or nose alterations, saying they hope to do better at job interviews, Wee said.
In other hip cities, "metrosex-uals" -- stylish heterosexual men who aren't afraid to show their feminine side -- have already been overtaken by the "ubersexual," a more macho breed whose straight sexual orientation is unambiguous.
But in Seoul, the trend veers the other way toward the "cross-sexual," an androgynous form of beauty. That type of pretty-boy allure has gained renewed attention through the recent hit film King and the Clown, which became South Korea's No. 1 all-time movie this month and portrays an effeminate male jester at the center of a gay love triangle during Korea's Chosun empire.
South Korea has also seen a change in generations since the end of the Korean War, with recent rapid modernization and the comforts of wealth dramatically transforming the way young people live compared with their parents, who suffered for decades from the 1950-1953 war's aftermath.
"The former generation who experienced the Korean War didn't have any time to take care of themselves. But those in their 20s and 30s have grown up in a more open environment where they don't think it's a shame for men to beautify themselves," said Kim Jun-hyun, editor in chief of the South Korean version of the US-based Men's Health magazine, which was launched here this month.
He said the market for men's grooming, cosmetics and athletic equipment has gone up 20-40 percent in the last five years. Women's rising social position also means they are putting increasing importance on the appearance of potential mates and not just their earning potential and breeding, Kim said.
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