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Beauty of the Augmented Kind   (November 8, 2005)

The popularity of Korean melodramas throughout Asia and the U.S. is an old story. But the surge in popularity has triggered an ugly side-effect: rampant plastic surgery in Asia. While I certainly don't know if actress Lee Young-Ae (photo on right) has been enhanced by the knife, apparently many if not most Korean actresses have undergone multiple cosmetic surgeries. And it's not just actresses; blessed as we are with many Korean friends, we have been told that a high percentage of young Korean women have undergone multiple cosmetic procedures.

Before we get to "why?", let's first consider the popularity of Korean soap operas. One of my good friends in Hawaii has confessed to a mild "jones" for the dramas (if you own the DVDs, you might as well fess up), and his views on their popularity are cogent:
It's pretty ridiculous if you step back and look at the whole deal. Most of the stories are variations on one theme and it's usually a love triangle, with some terminal illness thrown in. A lot of the appeal is definitely in the "damn good-looking guys and gals" as you say, and I think it takes all the middle age folks who make up the bulk of the fanatics back to their own days of young love and heartache. Our 20-something year old niece thinks they're stupid. There are lots of them available on DVD and we've been buying ours through eBay. Certain actors are really popular just as in the West. Some have terrible subtitling, often funny, while others are fine. Some stories have a humorous slant, but most are sad to the point of depressing, ha! I told myself I'd had it because it's not good to get so sad watching 'entertainment', but we're still 'going to Korea' every other night or so, nuts! It's the typical thing of having to see what happens next. And I guess it's popular also because it is Asian and for us as Asians, there's a lot we can relate to in a cultural sense, like things left unspoken, and self-denial, sacrifice, etc.
For a primer on the whole phenomenon, check out this fan website based in Hawaii. A site based in Los Angeles has a well-thought out essay on the topic.

As we all know, plastic surgery doesn't always result in peaches and cream; here is a report reprinted from the Wall Street Journal wire service on the rise of Korean-inspired plastic surgery in Asia. For a Chinese perspective on the explosion of cosmetic surgery in China, check out this Xinhua report on plastic surgery in China linked to the popularity of Korean dramas.

And lastly, here is a disturbing story in Time-Asia on plastic surgery disasters in Asia.

Now let's get back to this perceived need to augment perfectly attractive Asian faces. The standard story is that Korean dramas are feeding Asian pride in Asian beauty; if that were true. I would stand and applaud most heartily. As a member via marriage of Asian-American families for the past 35 years, I reckon the average Asian person is as good as or better looking than the average Round-eye/haole/Caucasian, etc.

So if Korean beauties are already beautiful, which is clearly the case, why are they having multiple cosmetic surgeries to look more Round-eye? For if you read the above links, you find the uncomfortable truth is that the surgeries are not to enhance their Asian features but to soften or eliminate them. Doesn't anyone else find that disturbing? Judging by what I read on the Web, it's not politically correct to comment on this topic.

What's also disturbing is that the new wave of cosmetic cutting isn't just attracting the usual crowd of 45-year olds trying to turn back the clock a la Hollywood, but 20-somethings in the prime of their youthful beauty.

I would like to see Asian standards of beauty held on high, but without thousands of dollars of risky plastic surgery being done to remodel perfectly beautiful young faces. Apparently this leaves me in the decided minority. The reasons for this insecurity are beyond the reach of this single entry, but I cannot conclude that the influence of Korean dramas is positive for Asia, at least in regards to encouraging standards of "beauty" which require cosmetic surgery to attain.

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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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