In her discourse, Sharon Lee discusses how social media has created new visual economies that have resulted in a new interest in Korean pop culture as well as increased focus on Korean bodies and plastic surgery. Lee begins by introducing the popularized song Gangnam Style by Psy, which has shown to be pivotal in further introducing k-pop to the western world. K-pop is notorious for being concentrated on the visual whether it be bright colors or the prevalence of “flawless” pop stars. In fact, Koreans consume plastic surgery at the highest rates per capita globally. Through the increased American interest in Korean culture that Psy has paved the way for, came a viral gif that compressed images of Miss Korea beauty contestants’ faces morphing one into the next. The message of this gif was that all of them look the same, in other words, an emergence of extreme racialized uniformity. This gif was eventually found to be photoshopped, therefore, more indicative of American women’s obsession with Korean plastic surgery and Korean bodies than the epidemic of mass plastic surgery taking place. Jezebel, a blog curated towards women and the promotion of global feminism, found this gif especially intriguing and despicable. Jezebel’s article characterized Korean plastic surgery to be rooted in a desire to appear more western and white. In “Plastic Surgery Means Many Beauty Queens but Only One Kind of Face,” Dodai Steward claims that the uniformity seen in Korean beauty contestants is no different than the uniformity seen in American pop culture icons such as Britney Spears and Taylor Swift. Blogger Carlotta79 disagrees. She comments : “…each [American] woman is still very individual with distinctive features when you compare them. I can’t say the same of the sampling of Korean women shown here.” (Lee 8) Here, one can see white personhood in action, categorizing non-white persons as the “other,” hence, undercutting their sense of individuality.
Korean plastic surgery was kick-started after the Korean War. In an effort to solidify public relations between Koreans and Americans, the double eyelid surgery was made available to the masses when US military doctors would perform the cosmetic surgery along with the free operations on Korean War victims. Korean feminists state that “lookism” is the prevailing reasons that plastic surgery is so heavily consumed. It is considered normal for many Korean women to undergo surgery to stand out in pictures on job and university applications. As the role of a woman in a society has moved beyond child bearing and raising and into the spheres of career and social networks, women’s bodies have been commoditized even more into objects. Now the body is scene as a tool to raise one’s social and financial status and improve one’s lifestyle. In the age of neoliberalism, the solution presented to confront the plastic surgery epidemic is self-love. However, self-love conflates with the idea of self-care, which includes plastic surgery. Self-love asserts that loving your body is “the individual agency necessary to eschew cosmetic surgery…when paradoxically, plastic surgery as a field has historically used the acquisition of self-esteem to justify its existence as a medical science.” (Lee 22)
The theme that stood the most to me in this article was the idea of “lookism” and how its hierarchy seems nearly impossible to escape. In Dodai Stewart’s article “I Can’t Stop Looking at These Korean Women Who’ve Had Plastic Surgery”, she asks “If you have limited ability to see beauty in someone who is not bigeyed and small-faced and straight-nosed, do you also have a limited ability to understand, empathize, sympathize and relate to that person, as well? Do you become intolerant of those who don’t meet your lookist standards?” This quote has already engrained itself in me. I had never looked at beauty in the light of empathy before. However, this quote shifts the blame for the domination of lookism onto young Korean women. This frames Korean women as conformist dupes by using the pronouns “you” and “your.” Studies have proven that humans are addicted to beauty in the same way that an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. Therefore, beauty is actually counterproductive as it is a distraction from more constructive and humane components of life and well-being. The power of lookism is what drives women to discipline and carefully monitor their relationships to their body. Being un-beautiful is a synonym to being lazy and incapable. People deemed unattractive are discriminated against in the workplace and in terms of relationships. Therefore the pressure to get plastic surgery is rooted in the pressure to find an attractive and successful spouse and a sustainable and well-paying job. It is not until society decides to collectively fight the oppression of lookism that the appeal to plastic surgery will lessen, and this is unlikely to occur since humans are proven to be addicted to beauty.