The cutting edge of beauty

As the K-Pop phenomenon continues to spread around the globe, the face of the music industry is changing – in an incredibly literal way.

Cosmetic surgery among Korean popstars and personalities is so common that few people would bat an eyelid over it.

Nor a double eyelid at that.

Double eyelid surgery in Seoul (Photo by Jo Yong Hak/Reuters)
Double eyelid surgery in Seoul (Photo by Jo Yong Hak/Reuters)

Double eyelid surgery is the most common cosmetic surgery procedure in South Korea. Overall, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons estimates that one in five South Korean women has undergone some form of cosmetic surgery.

The common motivation? To look that much more like their favourite K-Pop celebrity.

Popular South Korean girl group, Girls' Generation
Popular South Korean girl group, Girls’ Generation

For those who have never considered the plastic path, it may be hard to understand this disturbing trend. Some may even think, leave those who are vain enough to dice and slice their face and body if it so pleases them.

A girl post-surgery. From the 'Beauty Recovery Room' series by artist & photographer, Ji Yeo
A girl post-surgery. From the ‘Beauty Recovery Room’ series by artist & photographer, Ji Yeo

But as with many things in life, empathy for differences develops on a personal level. When you come face-to-face with someone in your world; where what you see as unusual, is considered the norm in their culture.

I met Christina* a month ago. A petite 20-year-old Aussie girl from a Korean background, with long wavy hair, twinkly eyes, and a bright smile.

Recently over lunch, she shared what it felt like growing up around her Korean friends and relatives in Sydney. And that bright smile faded away.

“It’s normal for friends – yes, friends – to frequently say to each other, ‘Oh, you should get some work done. You’ll look prettier that way.’

“And it’s very normal to have relatives tell you that you’re fat and need to lose weight.

“When I lost weight, people would ask me what weight I was – and then tell me to stay at that weight to look good. I started dieting since the age of 11.”

Tears started to roll down her cheeks.

I asked if she felt like she could speak up against such mean remarks. How could it be acceptable for people to say such things, much less to a friend or relative?

“It’s considered normal in my culture. If you seem offended, people would ask what’s wrong with you.”

It got me thinking.

Just because something is common, doesn’t make it normal.

It isn’t normal to look in the mirror and wish you looked prettier – all the time. It isn’t normal to tell others they aren’t beautiful – but they could be if they got some help from a plastic surgeon.

Most of all, it isn’t healthy.

But it’s really hard to truly believe that you’re beautiful as you are, if your voice within is outnumbered by the mass of toxic voices that tell you otherwise.

It’s heartwrenching.

It’s heartwrenching to think girls would make permanent changes to what they were born with, from the pressure of wanting to look ‘prettier’. From wanting to look more like the hottest stars in K-Pop.

Another girl post-surgery. From the 'Beauty Recovery Room' series by artist & photographer, Ji Yeo
Another girl post-surgery. From the ‘Beauty Recovery Room’ series by artist & photographer, Ji Yeo

If fame defines beauty, how many alterations would girls have to make to keep up?

Just as fashion rolls in cycles, beauty trends come and go.

Double eyelids may be all the rage in cosmetic surgery now, but consider this. Look at the international runways and you’ll notice that the ‘single eyelids look’ is increasingly vogue on the catwalk.

Hye-rim Park walks the runway for Max Azria
Hye-rim Park walks the runway for Max Azria

Will a reverse procedure then be the new norm?

How ironic that would be.

So let’s stop looking at cookie-cutter ideas of beauty that pop culture feeds us, and celebrate beauty in all its assorted shapes and sizes instead.

That makes life so much more interesting, liberating and secure – compared to life as another pretty cookie from the plastic jar.

P/S: To all the women reading this, you are beautiful.

Be the voice that reminds the women in your life that they are too.

* Name changed for the purpose of privacy. Thank you for sharing your story, Christina. You’re beautiful – remember that 🙂