South Koreans undergo the most plastic surgery per capita worldwide.
Some surveys show 1 out of 5 women there have undergone a procedure or received Botox injections.
All around the Apgujeong subway station are advertisements for plastic surgery clinics.
They show before and after shots of women who’ve gone under the knife.
Images like these are one reason why 19-year old Woori had some work done about a month ago. But she says pressure from friends and family was a stronger influence.
“Whenever I saw pictures of my face, I felt a lot of stress. One of my eyes was bigger than the other. But the real problem was my nose. Everyone, even people who just met me, always told me how big it was. They said my nose covered my entire face.”
So, with her own money, about 3-thousand 500-hundred dollars, she had her eyelids lifted and her nose bridge raised.
Woori says her new look hasn’t only made her more popular with the boys.
It’s gotten her work too.
“Koreans are obsessed with how we look. Before my surgery if I had 10 job interviews, I didn’t get any calls back. But now, I get a lot of calls.”
Woori also models for her plastic surgeon, Dr. Cho Soo-young, who shows me her before and after shots on his computer.
He says Korean beauty standards have become westernized.
He says his patients want the Barbie-look, even if that’s not realistic for Asian women.
Cho says a pretty face is what employers are looking for. “In Korean society the competition is very severe. If they have a poor face and look so old, they will lose to others in the competition. So in order to beat others, they need to change their face and their body.”
Most school and job applications in Korea require a candidate’s headshot.
Dr. Cho says plastic surgery can truly change a woman’s, or a man’s, destiny. And judging by the looks of many K-Pop stars, getting plastic surgery could be seen as a prerequisite for stardom.
To their fans, South Korean girl groups are the epitome of sexiness and success. But Park Sung-jun, a traditional face reader, says celebrities who have surgically changed their faces have got it all wrong.
Park is a frequent guest on Korean television chat shows where he determines the fortune of famous performers by examining the shape of the face. He explains how this generations old practice works.
“The way a person’s stomach organs work is reflected in their face. And it’s by this I can read their fortune and understand their personality types. I especially look at the balance and the harmony between someone’s eyes, nose and mouth. I also look at the color of his or her face. From these features, I can determine what will happen in this person’s near future and understand their inborn personality traits.”
Park gives an example of one type of natural facial feature that he says brings good luck.
“If you see Warren Buffet’s nose, it’s very high and has a lot of fat around it. That type of nose brings good luck and can make a person wealthy. It’s called a HYUN TAM BI or gaul bladder nose. But if someone has surgery to have Warren Buffet’s type of nose, it won’t work.”
Park insists that good fortune only comes from the inside.
Inner beauty is the subject of a documentary currently being produced by the Asia Society Korea Center. Yvonne Kim is the center’s Executive Director.
She says looking back at the history of beauty in Korea, the kind of features women desire have stayed the same.
“It’s all about a well defined nose, peachy cheacks, or cherry lips, fair skin. The ideal concept of beauty has never changed. It’s just plastic surgery is creating some kind of fashion, a trend.”
The film, entitled “Korean Beauty” and expected out later this year, features interviews with some un-enhanced women who’ve succeeded in the arts.
Kim hopes that it will help start a discussion that doesn’t seem to be taking place at the moment.
“They believe or the market makes them believe that good looking people have better jobs or are offered better opportunities. It’s a sad reality. Are we focusing on their skills are we focusing on their education or are we hiring them just because they’re good looking? Its something that society needs to think deeper about and should be concerned about.”
Woori, the young woman who had her eyes and nose done, says she doesn’t care what people say about natural beauty.
She says she feels more confident since her surgery. And she’s considering having more work done.
“I had been thinking about having my jaw thinned out. But my doctor suggested I just try to lose some weight first.”
Instead, she says she might just get her nose done again.