In response to a widely circulated photo of 20 Miss Korea beauty contestants that originated on a Japanese blog, a Reddit commenter who claimed to be from South Korean said: “This is called the Korean plastic face look. In certain areas of Seoul, you would think all the women are sisters because they look so similar due to same surgeries.”
Even though South Korea’s penchant for plastic surgery already had been well established, the glaring side-by-side similarity among the young women attracted widespread attention online, with some like Hello Giggles’ Jennifer Still wondering whether it signaled a “new beauty standard” in South Korea (not to mention increased difficulty with judging beauty contestants that all look remarkably the same).
Why are so many South Korean women — roughly 20 percent of those between 19 and 49 years old — surgically reshaping their faces? Some blame the infiltration of Western media; others point a finger at many of the suspiciously sculpted faces of K-pop stars. In the country with the highest per capita rate of plastic surgery in the world, eyelid surgery also is popular and though less intensive than a double-jaw surgery it nevertheless has radical face-altering results. As Dodai Stewart explained over at Jezebel: “One in five women in Seoul have undergone some kind of procedure. Most popular: Eyelid surgery, to make the eyes “more Western,” and getting your jawbone shaved or chiseled down for a less-square and more V-shaped look.” Whatever the source, the so-called “beauty belt” in Seoul is literally lined with plastic surgery clinics, some of which are in such vigorous competition, The New York Times noted, that they organize promotional “Cinderella” contests to give away free surgeries.
In 2011, The New York Times reported that “In South Korea, Plastic Surgery Comes Out of the Closet” detailing how an increasing number of women and men (but especially women) were going under the knife and to greater extremes, such as double-jaw surgery. That same year, a study from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery shows how South Korea isn’t the only place with rampant plastic surgeries happening. The United States is home to the largest proportion of cosmetic procedures around the globe — 21.1 percent — with No. 2 Brazil coming in with 9.8 percent. Whereas Americans are keen on “enhancements” (see: breast augmentations), South Koreans are more focused on skin and hair-related procedures, as well as invasive facial surgeries.
So while the Miss Korea contestants are certainly something to look at, they’re simply part of a global beauty phenomenon. Or make that, a global discomfort with our own beauty.