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History and Use of Cosmetic Surgery in South Korea

The first time cosmetic surgery started was 4000 BC, afterwards Tagliacozzi who was a pioneer of it reported the success of an operation to remake the nose with an arm skin (Kim, 2015). There were a large number of victims during wars and everyone was injured by them, and then the skills of plastic surgery was used to treat their wounds, which made their current techniques promoted. According to Lew (2017), the Korean War in 1950 had a big impact on the development of those operations’ art. Many doctors from other countries had a capability to cure the injuries of this incident in South Korea, however it had no support for the progress of surgery. Therefore, after that, doctors started to educate high school and university students about developed medical science learned from advanced countries. In 1966, moreover, the Korean Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (KSPRS) which is one of the global associations for cosmetic surgery was established. Four years later, it was recognized as one of the teams of International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) and it was a part of triggers to be well-known South Korea as a country of plastic surgery (Lew, 2017). KSPRS globally published some books about orthopedic surgery which were written by Korean doctors who had trained their skills for operation in foreign countries. According to a report of ISAPS in 2016, overall South Korean patients’ number of orthopedics was 445,144 in 2015 which was ranked as three, followed by the United States and Brazil, the former was 1,414,335 and the later was 1,224,300. Although the total number of people in the third country is fewer than others, these nations have a vast gap of population between the top two of them and a rest one. Population Reference Bureau published 2015 World Population Data Sheet and it mentioned America which is the largest amount of citizens of all is more than six times as many as South Korea. As a result, the percentage of patients who have undergone cosmetic surgery in the United States does not rank first.


Recently, this number of people who changed their faces with an operation in South Korea is growing, and most of them state that they decided to do it since they felt unhappy with their body parts. A significant number of patients claim that they get cosmetic surgery because they don’t have conscious with their appearances. Chang and Thompson (2014) interviewed with one South Korean woman who was then 19 years old and worked as a translator on TV. Then she told that the more programs she appeared on it, the more hate comments she got, and the greater part of these comments were about her looks. According to Pflum (2011), about 90 thousand of teenagers around the world have experienced this operation in 2007, and this number was increasing until this article was published. The patients who have undergone bullying are also included in this number, which can be one of the causes to get plastic surgery. Dr. Malcolm Roth who is the president of ASPS mentioned most of people in Asia generally don’t have double eyelid (Conley, 2012). They are envious of western people’s natural eyelid, so they seek to imitate their faces and it occurs in South Korea as well. As these examples, Asians are more afraid of other people’s evaluation or criticism. One survey by ISAPS in 2016 revealed the percentage which body parts patients are anxious to change around the world. Compared to other countries’ results that almost 40% of those people are eager to alter their faces, over 70% of them from South Korea are interested in doing it. This consequence shows that almost all Koreans in there tend to gain their self-conscious through plastic surgery and care too much the reputations from others.

In general, people consider that a great number of celebrities usually can get positive comments about their looks from everyone. Patients who go to orthopedic clinics have each of their ideal images such as those well-known actors and sports stars, and they try to reach their appearances. In South Korea, a considerable number of women, especially teenagers seek to alter their faces like K-pop artists and they have a great longing to have fabulous looks for these famous groups’ members. Recently, they are well-known worldwide as well as other foreign artists, and they have good reputations for their perfect faces and slender styles, but they also fear these comments toward them. According to Lee (2016), the most vital part for K-pop artists to be popular is their looks, and it decides if they will be able to succeed around the world or not. Many of their fans watch YouTube that is essential media for South Korea’s musicians and find them, therefore their first impression is determined by their appearances. Some of these artists disclosed their experiences of cosmetic surgery on TV and in magazines, therefore almost all people justify to do so. Becoming popular artists and giving a great number of citizens persuasive statements can promote them to go to orthopedic clinics.

Orthopedic surgeons have many skills and they use high technological tools for the operation, therefore the price for it becomes much higher. When people look for the hospitals to get cosmetic surgery, they check each clinics’ budget and which one is the least expensive. One patient who came from Los Angeles to South Korea to get this surgery stated that if people go there they spend only half the price compared with other countries (Chang, Thompson, 2014). Furthermore, many travel agents in South Korea provide tour packages for sightseeing and have cosmetic operations, which can cost less rather than going there and finding hospitals by themselves. Moreover, if people apply for those packages, they don’t have to call on some hospitals if they can reserve to get plastic surgery, so it takes shorter time to complete it. There is a great amount of these clinics in Seoul, and each of them seek more patients than the others, therefore, this situation makes them become more reasonable.

If people rearrange their faces, they will be able to have a confidence toward themselves, however plastic surgery has some risks. Some patients succeed and restart their life with their brand new looks whereas others suffer from their unexpected, terrible faces with the aftereffects of surgery. Therefore, even if they cannot get their former faces back, they need to be responsible for a probability of any of these faults. Recently, many sightseers visit South Korea to get an operation, particularly these people living in Asia are much easier to go there in short time than others, so these countries provide them with plenty of tour packages. While the number of participants is increasing and becoming popular, some issues also occur many times because of these travels. According to Woods (2017), for example, three visitors from China went to Seoul with a tour package to get cosmetic surgery and they got new faces. However, they couldn’t be recognized when they managed to pass through customs due to changing their looks. It can happen to anybody because of the different faces between their passport identifications and current ones and might not be able to return to their hometown. While the plastic surgery becomes popular in South Korea, the number of doctors and hospitals that are not qualified for the operation is growing gradually (Stevenson, 2014). According to Evans (2014), to make matters worse, there are some surgeons who get a license which is useless to have an operation in South Korea, but patients trust them. Fifield (2014) claimed that despite these dangers, the government of South Korea tries to develop an economic relationship with other countries such as China. Moreover, its organization constantly gives patients in Shanghai or Beijing some opportunities to acquire how to make their faces look like K-pop artists. Through this atmospheres, the government is less likely to prevent this trend of cosmetic surgery and only considers their success for economic promotion.

The technology and the surgeons’ skills for an operation are getting better, and the number of patients is increasing every year, whereas some of them are suffering from after effects of it. The government and doctors show citizens only beneficial aspects and don’t turn their eyes to some faults. In order to prevent these situations, South Korean should gain the knowledge about cosmetic surgery and surgeons are ought to confront this issue. Moreover, the pictures of patients’ before and after an operation are sometimes exaggerated to look nicer. It will lose the trust toward the orthopedic doctors, so it also should be abolished and show real consequences of the surgery.

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