The making of a KoreanKen dollPark Hyo-jung’s caller ring tone ― that’s the kind of music you hear while you waiting for him to answer his cell phone ― is R. Kelly’s “I Believe I can Fly.” It might be a popular tune, but it’s an apt fit for Mr. Park’s optimistic personality.
Mr. Park, 24, wants to be a famous actor. He’s sure he has the face for it. After all, he’s had over a dozen other faces, so his current one should be as close to perfection as plastic surgery can make it. It’s also so far removed from his original face that he’s had problems convincing credit-card companies that he is the same person as the one picture on his ID.
Since his appearance on a television program in November, Mr. Park has become something of a hot item on Korea’s screens. At the time of the taping, he had been under the knife 23 times (his first was in 2002). Since then, his jaw has been redone.
Here’s how it breaks down: five nose jobs, two attempts at creating a double-eyelid, one jaw-grinding, two cheek fixes (they gave him dimples ― how cute), six Botox injections in his forehead, one liposuction, six hair-removal sessions on his chest and one removed facial mole.
“Before I had the plastic surgery, I was told I was ugly so many times,” Mr. Park said. “I suffered a lot because of my appearance.”
He worked for an entertainment company when he was in high school, but he was given bit parts while better-looking friends had leading roles. At clubs he was given corner seats and his friends won dance competitions that Mr. Park should have won (or so he believes).
“Because of my appearance, I became very passive and pessimistic, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to do anything right,” he said.
He decided that the only thing that could lift him out of his minor-league life was plastic surgery, starting with his nose. “My nose was flat and you could see the two nostrils right in front of my face,” he said. The surgery lifted his nose by 5 millimeters (0.2 inches). His aim, he said, was to have a nose like his hero’s, the actor Cha Seung-won.a
“I didn’t know I would go under the knife 24 times,” he admitted.
But the work on his nose got him thinking: if that could be fixed, why not the hair on his chest? He loved v-neck shirts but felt self-conscious wearing them because all that hair poked out. Then there were those deep lines in his forehead that made him look like President Roh Moo-hyun, who is nobody’s idea of a stud-muffin. But if he had a Botox injection, the doctor warned, his skin might partially cover his eyes ― he’d better get his eyelids done, too. If he were getting all those done, he reckoned, he should also have a dimple made for his right cheek. He could even make the dimple look like the one on the face of Eum Jeong-hee, the actress.
“I heard that her dimple is the standard,” he said. “It’s at the pint where the line from the outer corner of the eye and the line from the lips meet.”
Why did he want a dimple, anyway?
“I don’t laugh with my mouth open or smile when I have my photo taken because of my snaggletooth,” he explained. “People always think I’m angry. So I figured that if I have a dimple when I smile, people will know I’m reacting even if I don’t open my mouth.”
What about his jaw? He thought it wasn’t symmetrical enough. People also told him that his face was “rather long.” He solved that problem by taking 7 millimeters off his jawline.
Mr. Park may be an extreme example, but he’s hardly the only Korean man who has developed a yen for silicon parts. The best sign of something being a trend is that businesses are profiting from it, and sure enough, there’s a growing number of clinics specializing in male plastic surgery. One is Real for Men, a branch of Real Cosmetic Clinic that opened in October. According to Jo Sun-hee, a marketer for the branch, male patients accounted for about 30 percent of the clinic’s customers last year, a huge leap in the last two years (before 2004, there were virtually no male customers, she said).
Since the branch opened, about 60 men have come in for surgery and five or six men come in for a pre-surgery counseling session every day.
Most men prefer to go to male clinics rather than wait around in a lounge filled with women, but what draws them to plastic surgery in the first place?
“Basically, It’s self-satisfaction,” said Hong Joon-pio, a plastic surgeon at Asan Medical Center. But good looks help both a person’s love life and his professional life. “We’re living in the society in which appearance is competitiveness. Men of course want to look better to boost their attractiveness and to sell themselves better.”
It’s not only young men who come in for consulting. “We have many male patients in their 40s or 50s. They mostly do their eyes and wrinkles in order to look younger and revitalize their lives,” Dr. Hong said.
Mr. Park may not be old, but he knows changing his looks changed his life. Once a timid man, he summoned the courage to not only talk to a woman he sees in the subway station every morning, but also to ask her out. She said yes.
She is now Mr. Park’s girlfriend. She said that after hearing about his surgery, she decided that she’d also have some work to even out her eyelids, which she thought were unbalanced. A regular office worker, she now works part-time as a model.
“If I hadn’t met [Mr. Park], I would have just stayed in the office. I would never have spread my wings,” she said.
Mr. Park said that although he gets nervous every time he walks into the operating room, he doesn’t think getting plastic surgery is such a big deal. Will he go under the knife again?
“I need to get braces, if you can call that plastic surgery. That’s it.”
However, Kim Byoung-who, a psychologist, compared repeat plastic-surgery patients to compulsive shoppers. “People who have had plastic surgery say they gained self-confidence, and that will be the last time they will get an operation, just like shopaholics who say they are happy with what they just bought.”
Time will pass and the scars from the surgery will fade, Dr. Kim said, and the person will find something else that needs to be “fixed.”
by Park Sung-ha
More in Features
[Shifting the Paradigm] With one epidemic under control, another is threatening Korean society
Kakao TV launches this month, takes on Netflix
[TURNING 20] In a sea of hate, change flourishes
Criticism of sex ed books for kids raises more questions than answers
When it comes to sex ed, this Danish author says just talk about it