Korean Cosmetic Surgery: Uncomfortable Trend

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Cosmetic Surgery in South Korea
Part 1: An Uncomfortable Trend

A recent editorial in The Korea Herald, South Korea's top English newspaper, asks whether the country's "national rush for appearance enhancement" has become an "uncomfortable trend."

"Images on TV convince people every day that beauty in this country is being 'standardized' as it becomes increasingly difficult to tell one actress from another."

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"Commercial promotion by competition-pressured clinics affects young minds that lack self-confidence," said the editors.

"We are concerned that the ages of cosmetic surgery clients are getting young… [and now include] … students, who are inevitably influenced by the 'appearance first-ism' of adults … at the expense of developing more important inner assets."

What's more, such cosmetic predation, if that's what it is, seems to be coming with a big penalty for those who are actually ill with disease or deformity. While the Gangnam-gu section of Seoul is home to 28% of the nation's plastic surgeons, reconstruction of disfigurement there makes up only 5% of the work. Aesthetic surgery boutiques now account for 15% of all medical facilities and have displaced other clinics that offered functional surgery for serious disease, an uncomfortable trend, indeed, seen not just in downtown Seoul but in many other large South Korean cities.

"Serious thought," continued the authors, "should be given to measures to discourage this, such as heavy taxes on revenues from aesthetic surgery or banning advertisements for such services."

"Such criticism," they conclude, "needs to be echoed beyond the entertainment world."

APSG Comment: So what's the big deal here? After all, we can read such negative sentiments expressed just about everywhere everyday: all Korean entertainers look like clones, cash-hungry plastic surgeons are targeting the young and vulnerable, nobody seems to give a damn about real disease, etc, etc.

Well, what's different this time is that these questions are being asked openly from within the South Korea establishment -- by newspapers, academics, even retired celebrities -- rather than just by Korea's jealous foreign cosmetic competitors, which suggests that the situation there has quite possibly gotten out of hand.

But regarding the suggestion of heavy taxation, let's get real. It's an idle threat mentioned only to sooth guilty consciences.

After all, the South Korean government in the last few years has been aggressively adding whole departments and agencies whose sole reasons for existence are to promote the Korean cosmetic surgery industry all around the country and abroad.

It's purest fantasy to think that they'll suddenly come to their senses, change course, and stub themselves in the toe.

While the backlash may have begun, don't count on any change in the immediate future.

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