The Korean Cosmetic Surgery Craze

Cosmetic surgery is growing rapidly in popularity in South Korea, faster than almost anywhere else in the world.  The craze for cosmetic surgery in Korea has a variety of causes and is triggering something of a boom in their economy.

Many of the patients presenting themselves to plastic surgeons in Korea are arriving from China, where the economic boom of recent years has resulted in growing numbers of women with large disposable incomes.  The reason these wealthy Chinese women are choosing Korea for their surgery is mostly due to the popularity of South Korean movie stars and TV personalities.

The face that launched a thousand Korean surgeries is the one belonging to much admired South Korean actress Lee Young-Ae, who has become widely known for her role in the pan-Asian hit drama “Jewel in the Palace”.  The women arriving from China are reported to be very keen on being made to look as much like her as possible.

For Korea’s plastic surgeons this is a real bonus as they do not even have to advertise overseas in order to attract these large numbers of patients. These women are part of a flood of Chinese patients lured by the looks of South Korean entertainers who have taken Asia by storm. According to government data, overall medical spending by foreign visitors hit a record $116 million last year.

Another popular actress also inspiring this thirst for cosmetic surgery is Kim Hee-Sun, a popular actress in Asia, and surgeons report many requests to emulate her nose angle or eyes.  Actresses such as theses are rumoured to have undergone cosmetic surgery procedures themselves. Similarly, a wave of Korean pop culture over the past decade has won a devoted fan base in China, Southeast Asia and Japan. TV dramas dominate prime-time airwaves and Korean pop bands sell out concerts and top the charts.

Almost a half of all the foreign patients seeking a nose job, a facelift, a jawbone reduction or a tummy tuck last year were from China. One affluent area of Seoul alone is home to more than 400 plastic surgery and skin-treatment clinics and about a half of its customers are non-Koreans, from China, Japan, the Middle East and even Africa.  In fact one clinic recently opened its own hotel to better serve wealthy foreigners who spend an average of about $17,675 on multiple surgeries in one go.

Plastic surgery is so popular in South Korea that it is considered a new growth driver for the economy and even a major export industry.  Some have reservations though around the narrowness of the Korean concept, and definition, of beauty which shows a preference for a very uniform set of features. It is felt this preference may indicate that Koreans (and Chinese) are perhaps unhappy with their natural ethnic features and are seeking to change them on an unprecedented level.

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