[Letters] What’s the use of plastic surgery?

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[Letters] What’s the use of plastic surgery?

The size of the plastic surgery market hit
over five trillion won in Korea last year. Thirty
percent of Korean women from their 20s to
their 50s underwent plastic surgery, according
to the National Statistical Office. Within a
5 kilometer area around Apgujung-dong,
more than 200 plastic surgery clinics can be
seen. How would expatriates in Korea look on
this nation teeming with plastic surgeries?
Conversations with strangers around Itaewon
provide certain clues and insights into how
we should perceive Korea in light of its plastic
“So, have you thought about it?” Abby
from the Philippines, age 24, shyly answers
yes. “My nose. I heard it’s safer and cheaper
here.” Rena Onumah from Atlanta, age 36,
also concedes to having thought about undergoing
plastic surgery in Korea. Abby and
Rena were both aware that many women in
Korea take plastic surgery, but didn’t think
that plastic surgery tells everything about Korea.
But streets and subways crowded with
flashy signboards for plastic surgery clinics
have, from time to time, tempted them and
their friends.
Uli, a 54-year-old German pilot, says,
“I’ve never heard plastic surgery having such
a high profile in my country. As far as I know,
plastic surgery is not extraordinarily popular
among German women.” Another European
gives the same message. “In England, plastic
surgery is not so rampant. Most consider it
shameful to take plastic surgery, I think. For
example, Katie Price, a British actress, was
publicly ridiculed after her breast enlargement
surgery,” explains Hazel Burns, a
34-year-old teacher. “I came across a photo in
Apgujung station that just made me want to
vomit. I saw the same photograph in Groove
Magazine and took a picture of it with my
phone to show them to my friends in England.
Here,” Burns hands her cell phone,
frowning in utter disgust. The photo displays
trite images of ‘before and after’ portraits of
anonymous women, common in plastic surgery
clinic advertisements. No surprise for
“Oriental features are so undervalued in
Asian countries, I think. But they are beautiful,
the cheekbones, eyelids, and all,” expresses
Christine Shwarts from Philadelphia,
age 28. Abby and I exchange confused glances.
“I think faces are part of your heritage,
your family, and your identity. Even if I’m not
all pretty and perfect, I think this face makes
me an unique person,” claims Burns. “I think
plastic surgery is detrimental to women, especially
young girls, because they are trying to
look like somebody else,” adds Rena Onumah.
Someone like who? I couldn’t help but
recall the pointy-nosed, big-eyed—Western—
faces of Uli and Hazel, who express apathy
and sometimes antipathy towards plastic surgery.
This winter after the KSAT, senior high
school girls will ponder what on their faces
they should fix and carve, preparing to bloom
in new spring. Clinics will attract the girls
with discounts, coupons, and extra services.
From time to time, we, senior high school
girls, will let the touting tempt us. But wait,
what are we trying to look like? We must ask
ourselves. What we should really ponder on
is the answer to: Who are we trying to become?

Lee Hang-yeol, Gyeonggi Academy of Foreign Languages
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