In this excellent piece at Cracked.com — a classic humor site that also posts true-life adventures such as this one — MJ Stacey, an American currently teaching high school in Korea, details “the 6 strangest things nobody tells you about life in Korea.” What’s #1? An obsession with personal appearance, fueled by self-loathing, which drives what sounds like the nation’s entire female population to seek cosmetic surgery.
If you visit South Korea, there’s a really good chance the first thing somebody says to you will be a comment on your appearance. Sometimes it’s just to call you handsome or beautiful (how sweet!); other times they’ll remark to you, a complete stranger, about how tired you look, or how your hair looks like shit, or how you could probably stand to do a few thousand extra situps each morning. Slightly less sweet.
They don’t mean to be rude — it’s just that, to South Koreans, a perfect appearance is everything, so if you don’t look perfect, something might be wrong with you. This goes a long way toward explaining why everybody’s so damn vain over here. My high school boys are constantly fixing their hair in handheld mirrors. Even my male colleagues will randomly stand up in class and go to the mirror to fix their hair. The hallway outside of the teachers’ office has a mirror on every pillar so you never have to go a moment without scrutinizing your appearance, which many don’t. I don’t have co-workers or students — I have Zoolanders. …
My friend teaches at a girls’ middle school. She’ll ask them, “Hey, what did you guys do over vacation?” and they’ll proudly respond, “Mommy bought me eyelid surgery.” They don’t want some trite platitude like “But sweetie, you’ve always been pretty.” They want confirmation that their procedure brought them one step closer to the ultimate South Korean beauty ideal. A big part of that is the vaunted “double eyelid” look.
This and other plastic surgery procedures make up Seoul’s #1 graduation gift year in and year out.
So what exactly do these girls hate about themselves (besides everything)? Well, they think their faces are too big and round, so they undergo jaw reduction surgery and cheekbone shaving to achieve the V-shaped face that brings all the boys to the yard. They believe that their eyes are too small, so they double lid it, get a blepharoplasty (further work on the eyelid to make it squeaky-clean), and widen their eyes by cutting the inner corners with an epicanthoplasty. And of course, they want the ideal “S-line” figure, so they undergo rib removal. In short, the worst parts of an Eli Roth torture-porn are just business as usual for young South Korean women.
Beyond pure culturally imposed vanity, there’s another reason so many Koreans spend top dollar to recreate the Clone Wars. There is enormous pressure to compete here in every way. You need to submit personal photos along with every single resume (even for jobs where that shouldn’t matter), and those precious, scarce jobs often go to the “prettier” party. To many, plastic surgery isn’t done just to look like the Hollywood ideal — it’s considered a sound career move.