So like eons ago, thatdayismine requested a discussion addressing plastic surgery in kpop. Now that school’s out for the summer, I finally found enough time to set aside for this little research project. (thatdayismine, please forgive me again for the long wait T_T) Oh, and yes, I’m back from my hiatus. Sorry, it took longer than I expected. I missed you all :]
TRIGGER WARNING: Body shaming and explicit surgery scenes (especially in videos that are hyper-linked in the text.)
The issue of plastic surgery has been discussed many times in various kpop portals. Questions have been thrown around pertaining to which idols have gone under the knife and for what reasons, resulting in a very mixed pool of opinions and reactions.
Abstract: To many, South Korea comes off as a very looks-oriented society, affecting both females and males. First of all, where do they get these ideas of conforming to specific standards of beauty? Secondly, what are the implications if you happen to not fit those standards perfectly? Those two questions were what I kept in mind as I was writing this post.
Though I will be arguing that South Korea’s pretty darn intense when it comes to looks and standards of beauty, I am not going to go into how it compares with other countries. I am also not claiming that other countries or that individuals of non-Korean origins do not struggle with the same pressure of meeting beauty standards. This post is focused on the situation in South Korea, and it should not be taken as a way of justifying that it does not take place in other contexts. Discussion that relates to those aspects is up to you guys to bring up, if you wish.
Also, this post is a discussion about standards in beauty solely in the context of plastic surgery. I may make a post about dieting and obsession with fashion at a later date.
+ Also, for the sake of specificity (and political/geographical/whatever-it-may-be correctness), anytime I say “Asia” in this post, I am referring specifically to East or Southeast (Pacific) Asia.
The most obvious reason most stars undergo surgery: simply for aesthetic appeal. Beauty is no doubt a huge part of an idol’s image. They use it to sell themselves, and will without hesitation go an extra mile to ‘improve’ their looks (of course, with the support of their management). Some notable examples include BoA, Lee Hyori, Park Minyoung, ZE:A’s Kwanghee, Kara’s Goo Hara, Shinhwa’s Kim Dongwan, Solbi, one or more members of T-Ara, LPG, UEE and Min Hyorin. However, I can’t as confidently state any other examples, because a lot I came across are said to be rumors (ie. SNSD, Secret’s Han Sunhwa, 2NE1’s Park Bom, Lee Dahae)*.
*Many fans argue that it is indeed obvious these stars have had surgery, regardless of constant denials or the lack of an official announcement. And based on pictures, imo, for some it’s severely evident.
I’m talking about you, Miss Bom.
———- THE STATS ———-
Instead of discussing plastic surgery purely in the context of k-pop, we need to look at it in the context of South Korea as a whole. Up until now, what I’ve been getting from literature around the web is that plastic surgery (in South Korea, at least) is perceived as somewhat of a casual trend; in fact, as something relatively attainable (in terms of finances* and accessibility*) that it is shockingly common. Mothers are giving their daughters eye jobs as high school graduation presents, for goodness sakes. Cosmetic surgery in the country truly is a booming industry, and with its dramatically cheap rates (due to the decline of the Won’s currency) has even attracted a multitude of foreign customers, who have flocked from places like Japan and China looking for a quick but quality* nip and tuck.
*Eyelid surgery (also known as ‘blepharoplasty’) is the most popular form of surgery (extensively discussed shortly), and on average costs only around $800. I mean, seriously, high school kids as young as 14 can afford that shit. And parents are approving.
*Seoul has about 627 registered clinics and 1,200 registered surgeons (noticed I said ‘registered’… yup, that statistic doesn’t include your gazillion back-alley services many unfortunately succumb to), half of which the lively district of Apgujeong (Gangnam) boasts (FYI, the ultimate location for kpop celeb stalking. Not that I promote it though… I’m just saying.)
*SK’s surgeons are also known to be the best among the best, and combine that with financial affordability, you’ve got the center of cosmetic surgery tourism in Asia.
———- (OTHER) REASONS FOR GETTING SURGERY? ———-
Kso, now we’ve got the facts, let’s move on to reasons behind its popularity. Why is it that “by conservative estimates, a [shocking] 50% of South Korean women in their 20s have had some form of plastic surgery?" thatdayismine gave me the link to a very interesting video Arirang TV did on the issue, in which they raised the specific question of why exactly “Koreans are so into their looks”. Many individuals expressed this similar opinion: that society demands people to be ‘beautiful’. According to the video:
———- THE DEAL WITH DOUBLE EYELIDS ———-
As mentioned earlier, blepharoplasty is cited as the most popular form of surgery among South Koreans. It is a medical procedure that widens the eyes by inserting an incision on the eyelids to achieve a fold, and thus the ‘double eyelid’ effect, a facial feature many East Asians in particular seemingly lack.
There is a misconception going around that for Asians, there lies a desire to obtain bigger eyes to ‘look more Caucasian’. Even CNN argues so. According to them, particularly for South Korean females, this sentiment first appeared during the years following the Korean War, when “women wanted to look more Caucasian to impress American GIs.”
Now, I can’t help but raise my eyebrows at this whole thing about double eyelids being a Caucasian feature. I mean, there are Asians (including myself) who were born with double eyelids, so this shouldn’t be associated exclusively with Caucasians. However, I cannot say that I disagree with the idea that the Caucasian image is how some, if not many, Asians idealize beauty. I’ve seen and heard many examples myself of Asians back in Asia placing foreigners on a very high pedestal… extra points especially if you are Caucasian. So it doesn’t come off as a surprise that there might be some Asians who unfortunately fall into the trap of believing that ‘Caucasian’ is the only definition of ‘beautiful’, and perceive bigger eyes as hallmarks (among others, like white skin) of a Caucasian (or generally, Western) look. But like I said, this association of traits is a misconception, half the fault of which should be attributed to Western media for perpetuating it (like that CNN video I hyperlinked above).
So, I hope you all understand that it should not be assumed that every single person who gets blerapharoplasty are doing it for the sake of looking ‘Caucasian’. I’ve been told a couple of times that the desire for double eyelids is ‘something I would not necessarily understand’, and an explanation I get quite often pertains to the application of makeup. For girls, it’s hard to extract the desired effects from eye makeup with relatively small eyes. Having bigger and more defined eyes definitely is a beauty standard, but not a feature that should be simply surmised as Caucasian.
To get a bigger idea of how some Asians are disillusioned with the idea that big eyes is a Western/Caucasian thing, I suggest you watch the NFB documentary ‘Western Eyes’. It’s only about 40 minutes — you can watch it over lunch or something :]
Also, I want to give you guys a link to a survey someone conducted in the popular kpop portal Soompi about attitudes in the media about double eyelid surgery. You can read through different responses and gain insight on a more individual and case-by-case level.
———- IMPLICATIONS AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS? ———-
Without a doubt there are many out there who are actually approving of plastic surgery and its effects, like this Allkpop article, in which gratitude towards surgery is implied for yielding “a lot of good-looking K-Pop superstars.” Of course, I’d be lying myself if I said good looks aren’t important, because they are, especially in showbiz. But think about it — ‘good looks’? What is ‘good-looking’? Is there a universal standard for it? I think not. We all have our personal preferences. Going beyond that, what is ‘beauty’? Is it just ‘good looks?’ In my eyes, no. It’s everything that makes a person that person.
The problem is, so much emphasis is being placed on first impressions, especially in South Korea, that the focus becomes narrowed down to that of external aspects, that unfortunately define first impressions. The thing is, the more we enforce this mindset, the longer it will continue. And with the media constantly fat-shaming and body-policing our idols, that harder it will be to change that mindset. It’s basically like, “I wish I didn’t care, but everyone around me seems to.” Saying to yourself, “fuck it” is way harder done than said. Social pressure is overwhelmingly powerful. I mean, you’ve got celebs bashing 4Minute for being un-plastic. Who wouldn’t find it hard to keep yourself from contemplating getting surgery after receiving comments like that? I feel so sorry for these girls, and every one else in the business being criticized for maintaining natural looks. This is the point you realize that plastic surgery and the standardization thereof is problematic.
In my opinion, what is needed is somewhat of a paradigm shift. Make people start believing the relative unimportance of first impressions by starting on a systemic level, rather than on an individual one. An example of this is changing employment policies — employers need to learn to get past the ‘first-impression’ thing. Another example is images in the media — let’s have more celebrities endorsing natural looks and diversity in body types, and have them communicate to their audiences that looks have no relation to your ability to succeed or entertain. People need to see that change is happening around them to be convinced. But of course, this is so much easier in theory. Making it a reality is the hardest part.
But there seems to be some improvement. I mean, there’s new girl group Chi Chi and the ‘no plastic surgery’ clause in their contract, and ZE:A’s company Star Empire condemning it, as seen with what happened to Kwanghee*.
*However, we should make sure we don’t start getting too revolutionary in opposition to plastic surgery. I’ve read somewhere that Kwanghee wanted to get a nose job because it was ‘making weird noises’… not sure whether or not this is a health problem, or is even true. Anyways, I want to mention that there are other reasons besides beauty enhancement for getting surgery, such as health impediments (like getting rid of fat that is clinically defined as ‘excess’, or getting nose jobs to fix breathing problems (happened with a friend of mine)) or for reconstruction, either to fix a birth defect or deformity (like a cleft palate) or when one gets into an accident and severs an integral feature of her/his body. In these contexts, plastic surgery can, and should be seen as an option.
———- SOME FINAL (AND PERSONAL) WORDS ———-
The decision to get plastic surgery is a personal one. But it shouldn’t be something that is pressured onto someone, implicitly or explicitly. And I personally think nothing beats natural beauty. From experience, I’ve learned that looks are no longer relevant once you get to know a person. Keep in mind these cliche (but oh-so-true) quotes: “Beauty shines from within.” “Never judge a book by its cover.” First impressions don’t mean shit once you get more involved with a person, and that’s when you truly see who they are. I can name a bunch of insanely physically attractive people off the top of my head who I couldn’t care less for because of the monsters they are inside. On the other hand, a person may seem at first like someone you wouldn’t give the time of day if you passed them on the streets, but they may turn out to be a damn awesome person. And whom you may or may not have crushed on at one point just a teensy bit. GPOY to the max. Hands up if this has also happened with you ;] (Heck, this happens with me and my kpop guys! LOLOLOL. When I first saw BEAST I was seriously like “whaaat… thefuck”… a year plus several B2ST Almighty episodes later I’m watching concert fancams and tearing my heart out.)
It’s the diversity of looks that’s beautiful, not the standardization of a single image. Whether or not you believe you’re beautiful is up to you, not society.
You reading this, you may be short or tall. You may be thick or thin. You may have double or single eyelids; be from any given part of this world, and be of any shade or tint of the visible color spectrum. Whatever you are, you are beautiful. Angrykpopfan believes you are, so you should believe it yourself too.