Day 18: The Plastic World to My Eyes

1 Mar

One day in April 2011, it was my first time going to Apgujeong area in Seoul. It takes about an hour and half to get there from where I live, which is just outside of the city, and I couldn’t bother to visit there while my breaks were often quite short and didn’t involve visiting the particular area at all. Well, it is supposed to be one of the richest area in the capital city. There are lots of highly-priced restaurants, fancy clothing shops, and cool places to hang out where one can be very happy if she has enough money to splurge. This area is perhaps the most famous for a very unique feature: The Apgujeong Beauty belt where literally thousands of plastic surgery clinics are filling in the entire stretch of the road. As soon as you get out of the subway, you are overwhelmed by large advertisements by a number of those clinics, and quite often they are very “creative” in selling their skills. Some clinics can take care of anywhere, from the head to toe, and they say they will change your life. And others have specializations, often eyes, facial shape, nose and breasts, and say the same thing: You’ll be happier with bigger breasts. The ads tell you something is wrong with you, if you are content (or even OK) with how you look and if you haven’t consulted those doctors at least once in your life. It is widely known that Korea has one of the biggest plastic surgery industry that is largely fed by the demands in the domestic market as well as international market. By the way, the government promotes medical tourism. Interesting facts are found here.


“Let Me In.” It is a name of a cable channel’s show in Korea. “Me in” in Korean (the sound of it) means a beautiful woman, so the show’s title cleverly uses the English phrase to mean two things. One, let me become a beautiful woman, and two, let me be in the show so that I can become beautiful. It is a show that chooses a woman every week with a dramatic story, and she gets to get a fully-paid plastic surgery makeover. Each woman comes with her own story, and each is quite heartbreaking because the women tend to have been hurt by others deeply throughout their lives by the way they look and have no confidence in themselves. And talking about the scars that they have lived with for very long in public is perhaps one of the most humiliating thing that one can do, especially as a scarred, unconfident individual. Some of them do have some clinical problems physically, but the show is, as you can guess, mostly concerned with making someone look more beautiful through cosmetic surgeries. After the storytelling is done, there is a panel of doctors behind the wall who discuss about the issue, and they are the one who decide if the woman on the other side of the wall will get the chance to change her look (and her life, so they say). There are plastic surgeons, dentists and psychiatrists who quite fiercely discuss the case. They sometimes laugh at how the woman looks like, maybe commenting, “Really, there’s not much that can be done in this case (meaning that she’s ‘too ugly’ that even with their magical hands, that can’t be fixed).” For all the episodes that I’ve watched, all women got chosen, but I couldn’t watch the show anymore.

Every time after watching the show, I looked at myself in the mirror and think, “Something is wrong with my facial shape,” or “My nose could look better.” I mean everyone looked more beautiful and happier on the show, and deep down unconsciously, I was thinking, maybe I can be happier if I can fix the parts that I don’t like.


After reading the two episodes above, I hope you are upset or at least uncomfortable. Such trend that I have observed is not just limited to Korea, but everywhere (I do happen to see more about this stuff in Korea, though). Maybe you will say, “Well, isn’t it ultimately the women’s choices that lead them to those clinics and the show? Shouldn’t they have reasonable causes that lead them to such actions?” I argue that women’s “choices” are not entirely theirs when it comes down to plastic surgery decisions. The media and the entire society are telling you that there is something so wrong about your body that you need to hate those parts and yourself. And ultimately, it is not about your ability to have your own intelligent reasoning, but it’s about how you feel (ugly and awful) and how the society enforces its terrible reasons on women. Even as a highly educated woman (for God’s sake, I have a master’s degree), I felt terribly wrong, awkward and ugly whenever I had to stand on the street of the Beauty Belt and whenever I watched that show. There is nothing more discouraging and demoralizing than the feeling of self-hatred, feeling that you are not beautiful hence no one, including yourself, will love you. And these feelings are more serious and important than any other matters to one’s self-confidence.

All women have the right to believe that each and one of them is beautiful inside out. However, unfortunately, many women learn how to find what is “wrong” about their bodies and hate themselves as they grow up, instead of learn to love who they are. The human pursuit of beauty and vanity will never stop, but they should not have to be built upon the self-deprecating, self-hating ground where the media and industries are constantly telling you to not to appreciate yourself so that you may eventually buy into that scheme. If plastic surgeries are done completely free of such negative social baggage which damages women’s personhood, and if one can be completely happy after such surgeries are done, I wouldn’t be so against the idea of plastic surgeries. However, why is it that there are more and more women who are knocking on the plastic surgeons’ offices in the Beauty Belt every year from everywhere in the world? Why is it that I hear women who have had at least one plastic surgery would go for more of them over time?

There is certainly something missing to the (temporary) satisfaction that the perfect plastic surgery gives to a person.


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