Cosmetic surgery clinics are pervasive in Korea with advertisements cheerfully proclaiming the many benefits you will reap if you have this or that done to your body, mainly targeted towards young women. Whilst I personally put this firmly in the category of self-mutilation there is no doubt that the prevalence of such services can only be a reflection on Korean society and its seeming obsession with self image and appearance. Walking around the streets of Myeong-dong and Dongdaemun in central Seoul you see many trendy young people spending copious amounts of (their parents?) money in expensive looking boutiques; it seems fairly clear that fashion is in the lifeblood of this county’s youth (see FeetManSeoul for an idea of what I mean).
An article in the Financial Times this week about the rise of Korean fashion students & designers reminded me of all this and it makes some interesting observations between China and Korea:
“I was born in Korea but I conduct business in China a lot and I’ve realised that Chinese culture is very much focused on food and culinary experiences. Koreans focus more on appearances and therefore fashion is a bigger part of the culture.”
…which is an interesting comparison but still doesn’t quite provide an explanation for why Koreans are so concerned about image. I guess I would need to study ethnography to answer this one but I’m guessing the idolisation of western celebrities is partly to blame somewhere. Globalisation and the increasing intermixing of cultures (both through popular culture and mixed marriages) may also provide a clue manifesting itself in the way we see each other and a subconscious need to further bridge the gap between races. Is this rather warped sense of beauty resulting in a leveling effect taking place?
According to the BBC conservative estimates suggest that over 50% of Korean women in their 20s have undergone, often very expensive, plastic surgery and many spend upwards of 30% of their income on “looking good”. To my mind there is something very wrong here, especially considering that just a few miles north of the border thousands are starving and living in abstract poverty.
At the end of the day isn’t beauty is only skin deep? I think I’ll stick with the culinary experiences!