Culture Korea

The Dark Side of K-Culture

A few years back I wrote an article asking whether you could identify a persons race by by looking at their facial structure. To my surprise it’s consistently been the no. 1 viewed page on Randomwire ever since, racking up over 250 comments and much controversy. One of my observations was the growing propensity for South Korean women to get so-called “double eyelid surgery“, a type of cosmetic surgery where the skin around the eye is reshaped in order to create a western style upper eyelid with a crease from an eyelid that is naturally without a crease (a.k.a. “single eyelid”) as most Asians have naturally.

Recently VICE magazine took a look at the phenomenon as part of a report into Seoul Fashion Week. It comes at a timely moment when image-obsessed Korean popular culture, known as Hallyu, has frequently been in the pages and on the screens of many western media outlets over the past few months, spurred on by the global success of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style‘ K-Pop music video.

Here are a selection of some of the more interesting pieces:

In the search for a stereotypical western face, spurred on by the seemingly perfect images of the Korean Wave stars, South Korea has become the plastic surgery capital of the world with the highest number of surgeries performed per capita – about 1 in 5 women have undergone some form of procedure which have even become popular graduation gifts given by parents to their children.

It’s a fascinating mix of popular culture, music, economics, fashion and political soft power tinged with a rather grim objectification of young people (women in particular) which has placed enormous pressures on them to look a certain way – whatever the cost.

12 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Jacx says:

    No wonder South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world! It’s true that a lot of my fellow Asian women are not happy with their images, but why do they have to change something that makes them who they are? It’s really sad…

  2. Joe8Bit says:

    I’ve read about the fashion for double eyelid surgery before, but I never realised it was quite that common! Is that 1 in 5 figure mostly the eyelid surgery? Or is indicative of a wider trend in cosmetic surgery, where the double eyelid surgery only makes up a small part?

  3. Bendrix says:

    I’ve read there are also a lot of people, especially from nearby Asian countries, who travel to South Korea to get plastic surgery. Sometimes in the past I’ve been unhappy with my Korean face but I’ve learned to accept it and even not mind it. I would rather look the way I look than have a fake face. It would actually make me feel worse about myself, like an impostor. I’ve decided that I’m gonna just let myself age naturally too without getting any facelifts or anything like that. And if my hair goes terribly thin, I’m just gonna shave my head.

    In a way, I feel sorry for the Koreans who grow up with all that pressure. I actually think Korean girls are quite cute with their normal faces, and that the surgically manipulated eyelids look off sometimes.

    1. David says:

      I once stayed in a hotel which was full of Japanese and Chinese tourists who were on a package trip to get cosmetic surgery. It was quite freaky at first because the majority of people having breakfast there had fully bandaged heads!

      I think it’s a very sad reflection on society that people feel the necessity to go so far.

  4. richard says:

    Funny thing…young women go under the knife to change their face….while older women go under the knife to recapture the look of their youth

  5. Hank says:

    Interesting article and vice documentary. I am of asian descent and opted to get the Asian eyelid surgery because I always appeared tired or sad, people would ask me. The Plastic Surgeon, Dr Prasad, I went to in New York to have it done mentioned that he do not “westernized” the asian eye in any form. I’m happy with the surgery, and my eye still look Asian, now with a nice crease.

  6. Soh Young Park says:

    Thank you for an interesting article. I’m Korean, and I’m a woman, but I don’t really understand this either. I like myself being unique.

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