South Koreans turning Asia into plastic surgery capital of the world

Nadine Kalinauskas
Shine On

South Koreans are the most cosmetically enhanced people in the world, with one in five women admitting to going under the knife.

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, the Unites States remains the country with most procedures done, but more treatments are performed per person in South Korea than in any other country.

"[In] Seoul...about 20 per cent of women, ages between 19 and 49, has already undergone plastic surgery," the society writes. "The data from the ISAPS also shows that one in every 77 South Koreans has had work done on their face and/or body."

Plastic surgery is so common that even "Gangnam Style" superstar Psy was urged by music executives to get a facelift.

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"Everyone was coming up with solutions to my ‘looks’ problem," Psy claims. "They said, ‘How about a bit of plastic surgery here and there?'"

Among the most popular procedures is double eyelid surgery, which reduces the skin on the upper eyelid to make eyes look bigger, rounder and more "Western," the Sun reports.

Nose jobs are also popular, and again the main intent is often to design a more Western-looking bridge. Only surgeons in China, Japan, Brazil and the U.S. perform more rhinoplasty surgeries than in South Korea.

Plastic surgery is especially rampant among South Korean teenagers, many of them eager to comply with the beauty standards established by the cosmetically tweaked stars of K-pop.

"K-pop influences our societal view of how one has to look," Kim, who grew up in Korea until age 12 and now lives in San Ramon, California, tells the magazine KoreAm.

"My grandma looks at me and says, 'Hyunjin, I think you need to fix your nose.' I want to get double eyelid surgery and make my nose taller. I also want to get the front of my eye elongated so that my eyes appear larger."

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Lee Jung-bok, a 17-year-old K-pop fan from Los Angeles and former competitor on the Korean television show "K-pop Star," agrees.

"You see how these industries, these multimillion-dollar industries are intersecting to really normalize surgery, so that the average woman, the normal woman, feels that it’s not only OK, but also necessary," he says.

"If so-and-so had surgery as a young woman and now is a pop star, well, maybe the average woman can’t be a pop star, but she can at least get that job that she really wants or marry that guy she really wants to marry."

And it's not just locals going under the knife. In 2011, the country brought in $116 million from medical tourism.

"Korea also offers price competitiveness and quality," explains Jiyun Yu, a senior researcher at the Korea Tourism and Culture Institute, a policy think-tank in Seoul. "We are not behind the American doctors in terms of expertise."

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Of course, with so many people undergoing face-altering surgeries, it's inevitable that some results are less than desirable.

According to a press release, Thailand's Dr. Chonlatis Sinratchatanant, president of the Facial Surgery Association claims that "Thai doctors have had to treat a number of problematic cases involving women who had undergone botched cosmetic surgery in South Korea."

Even with the risks of plastic surgery, some young people don't think they have a choice on the matter.

"You don’t understand!" a university student, who asked not to be named after she went through three operations, tells GlobalPost.

"To be Korean is to get plastic surgery. You must do it, or young people will think you’re weird."