'Good looks bring good fortune' for Koreans

An ad for a plastic surgery clinic in Seoul. The good reputation of South Korea's plastic surgeons has drawn hundreds of thousands of medical tourists.
An ad for a plastic surgery clinic in Seoul. The good reputation of South Korea's plastic surgeons has drawn hundreds of thousands of medical tourists.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • Looking for a job? Consider visiting a plastic surgeon first.

The advice, posted recently on the South Korean Labour Minis- try's official blog on pointers for job-seekers, drew fire for encouraging plastic surgery.

Though the ministry has since removed the controversial text, the fact remains that many South Koreans have undergone cosmetic procedures. People with their faces swathed in surgical gauze are not an uncommon sight in the affluent Gangnam district, where most of the clinics are located.

The country is No. 1 in the world in terms of per-capita cosmetic enhancements, with 131 out of every 10,000 people, including men, going under the knife, reported the Chosun Ilbo newspaper last year.

 

While some procedures like filler injections are simple, major surgery is required when it comes to creating the popular V-line chin.

"Koreans believe in face reading, and that good looks bring good fortune," said Mr James Kim, chief executive of Medical Korea Services, a medical tourism consultancy company.

The plastic surgery industry here is worth about five trillion won (S$6 billion), about a quarter of the global market, according to South Korea's Fair Trade Commission.

Gangnam alone is home to more than 500 plastic surgery clinics.

Let Me In, a reality series which has transformed the looks of many ordinary-looking men and women since 2012, has been credited with changing attitudes towards plastic surgery, despite drawing flak initially for promoting the industry.

Still, some believe that the obsession with looks can be harmful.

Undergraduate Han Ye Won, in a commentary in the Korea Times, notes that "myths about supposed correlations between physical features and character traits harm those who do not meet society's narrow standards of beauty".

Chang May Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline ''Good looks bring good fortune' for Koreans'. Print Edition | Subscribe