Update: I got double eyelid surgery in October 2022! Check out the full details here.
In 2018, I went on atrip to Korea with 3 friends of mine. We traveled around, ran around the city, and had a blast drinking Cass beer and trying many different street foods in Seoul.
One night, my mom messaged me on KakaoTalk (a korean messenger app), and gave me an address to some place in Gangnam. She directed me to go there.
I texted her back and asked why, who, how, and when?
She told me it’s plastic surgeon. A really well known plastic surgeon in Gangnam that is known for his work and not overdoing it with unnecessary procedures.
I laughed and told her I really don’t have any interest in getting plastic surgery.
She told me I have nothing to lose with a free consultation from one of the best surgeons in the world for Koreans.
And as I guessed it, she told me to go in to see what the plastic surgeon had to say about my eyes and nose. These are 2 popular cosmetic procedures done in Korea—blepharoplasty (double eyelid surgery) and rhinoplasty (nose surgery). The most popular cosmetic procedures in America are breast augmentation (boob job) and liposuction.
You may be questioning why a Mom would suggest this to her daughter, and there’s really no right way to answer this other than:
Korean culture is very different when it comes to discussing this subject, and it’s common to have this conversation amongst family and friends around the dinner table. It’s actually quite fascinating how it’s become so normalized and accepted to casually discuss matters like this. I discuss this more below.
I told my friends about what my mom messaged me, and if it’s worth the subway ride there. One of my dear friends asked me if the consultation would affect my confidence and to be careful. She said, “If he points out what can be fixed, you’ll be okay, right?”.
She’s always been a really good friend.
I didn’t think for long though. Spontaneous trips are always fun! I had nothing to lose with a free consultation, right? If the doctor had something to suggest, I knew I would walk out with the same level of confidence I had when I walked in. So why not? It would be fascinatingto see what a plastic surgeon has to say about my face.
So I messaged the plastic surgeon’s office and, set up an appointment. This whole time I kept giggling. I’m really going to see a plastic surgeon, huh? My friends were super curious as well and excited to see what this consultation would entail.
Few days later, I rode the subway myself and arrived at the plastic surgeon’s building.
The building was nice and clean. I remember stepping out of the elevator and seeing 2 to 3 Korean clients waiting for the doctor.
Fun ‘Fact’: If you do get plastic surgery in Korea, and all of their clients are NOT Korean (but rather other types of Asians) then it’s very likely that that place isn’t where all the Korean natives go, but a foreigner hotspot that runs like a factory.
I was immediately greeted with an English translator, as I had told the doctor’s office earlier that I’m not fluent enough to understand Korean medical terms.
As we waited together, the English translator and I small-talked about where we were from and what not. I found out that she didn’t work for this plastic surgeon as part of their staff.
She explained to me that she works as a freelance translator for many businesses in Korea, and they hired her that day for me.
The front desk receptionist calls us in, and I walk-in to see the well known doctor my Mom was telling me about.
He greets me, and has me sit down and take off my makeup and wear this headband to tuck my hair away. I remember I tried to hold my laughter in and smirking because I looked like this:
He asks me what I was interested in.
“My eyes and nose”.
He observes my nose very closely. He measures it and has me turn side to side, up and down.
In Korea, the majority of rhinoplasty (nose) clients ask for a higher bridge and longer tip.
A few minutes later, the doctor steps back from my face, and he asks, “Did you get your nose done?”
I looked back at him confused. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been asked this, but it caught me off guard when asked from a surgeon.
“A lot of people would want your nose, it’s something I would put in my portfolio!”
We laughed, and he reassured me I could use his words to get my mom to say no more about my god damn nose.
He suggestedthat I don’t get a nose job because it’s already fine the way it is. He surely was living up to what he’s known for— not overdoing it.
So why did he make this suggestion? I know it’s not portfolio worthy— I don’t have Bella Hadid’s nose. So let’s be honest— why was it off limits to at least enhance it?
For those of you who do not know, Bella Hadid is an American model known for her perfect (but cosmetically altered) nose.
He told me that if we altered my nose bridge to be higher, it would disrupt the harmony of my face and require other areas to be altered. Like my chin, for example. He pointed out that I have a weak chin (it’s not prominent) and getting a nose job would sink in my chin more. He mentioned other areas it would negatively affect as well, such as my cheekbones and overall face shape.
So nose was done. Next were my eyes.
In Korea, the most popular is the double eyelid surgery. It’s a very small procedure that takes the same amount of time and, arguably, has the same level pain as a wisdom teeth removal.
I have very unstable eyelids that change shape day by day. I appear to have double eyelids when I wear makeup—the shape has slowly changed throughout the years.
He looks into my eyes and pokes my eyelids with a 2 ball-pointed prong, and tries different heights and shapes with the eyelids. He looks at the inner corner of my eyes, and has me widen my eyes then release... widen my eyes... then release.
He releases a “hmmmm” and tells me I have ptosis.
Ptosis is a medical condition, defined as:
Drooping of the upper eyelids in adults, most commonly due to separation of the tendon of the lid-lifting (levator) muscle from the eyelid.
Having ptosis has physical effects. The older I get, the worse the condition will get due to the nature of aging.
When I widen my eyes, I can literally see more. I’veknown that I can see more when I widen my eyes since I was pretty young, but I always thought that was normal. This certainly doesn’t help the Asian stereotype, ha.
But apparently, with this condition, my lid-lifting muscle is weak, this is why I only see about95% of the world as opposed to 100%— my eyelids muscles aren’t working at its optimal level, causing me to have drooping of the upper eyelids. Thus I see less, and it causes my eyelid shape to change over time.
He then tells me that my eyes are asymmetrical. My left eye is farther away from my nose bridge and my right eye is closer to my nose bridge.You can see it in the picture of my eyes I posted above.
I look into the mirror, and I see it! I was amazed because I never noticed that before.
He makes suggestions about how I can enhance my double eyelids with partial incision to remove some excess skin and adjusting the height of my eyelids. He also suggests fixing the asymmetry by cutting the inner corner of my eyes. But beyond that, he tells me that ptosis surgery is something I should consider above all because it will affect me more when I get older.
He cautions me that if I DO get plastic surgery for physical purposes on my eyes, I have to see someone who is also specialized in fixing ptosis, as medical conditions need to be treated first. As a medical doctor, he gave me tips on how to exercise this muscle to strengthen it, and suggested I do it everyday. He reassured me he can perform the surgery if I wanted to proceed, whether that be for ptosis (medical purposes) or double eyelids surgery (cosmetic purposes).
Listen to video with sound: Doctor and Translator explaining how cosmetically altering my nose would affect my face shape.
I thank him and the translator for their time, and tell them I will think about it and return if interested.
I then go into another office, and I speak with one of the staff members to go over the finances. She breaks down how much it would cost, expected recovery time, and what not.
It would cost $2,800 if I wanted to proceed with the surgery.The entire consultation was about 1 hour.
So have I become more self conscious knowing that I have droopy eyelids, a weak chin, asymmetrical eyes (and more)—to list a few? Haha, nah. Rest assured, I walked out of the doctor’s office with the same level of confidence I had walking in. I honestly forget about what was said and have yet to workout my eyelid muscles like the doctor suggested.
I never knew I had ptosis, and that diagnosis explained a lot of things. That was very important to know, as this condition will affect me more as I age.
Physically, I agree that my eyelids could be enhanced with the new shape he suggested.
I thought he was a great plastic surgeon to consult with. He was thorough, honest, and incredibly patient.
I never returned to get these procedures done.
But surely, as Skee-Lo once said:
I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t consider plastic surgery. Think about it—I went in for a free consultation— that’s, to some degree, a level of consideration, right? But for now, I’m fine with how I look. I may have to get it later due to my ptosis, but I’ll worry about that then.
And if I were to get plastic surgery, and the outcome is not great, I would be absolutely devastated and crushed. I would have so many regrets. I think a lot about the past, a flaw I’m working on, and the thought of feeling regret after having a permanent change on my face would kill me—especially knowing that I was fine with the face I was born with. With this mentality, it shows I’m not mentally strong enough to get plastic surgery either way.
Overall, I think plastic surgery is fine—I truly think we shouldn’t care what others do so as long as they are not hurting themselves or others. If it makes you happy and more confident, then I understand why you want to get plastic surgery. But I do think there are some conditions to be met and must be considered. As a friend, this is what I would tell a friend that was considering plastic surgery:
First, be mentally healthy. This is a major decision that is irreversible. Do not decide to have plastic surgery if you are not mentally fit. Kind of a no brainer, but think about how many people change the way they look after a breakup for example. A haircut is temporary. Surgery is not. Please please pleaseeeeeee love yourself first.
Second, be physically healthy and reach your physical goals. Optimize all your natural beauty. For example, lose the weight you’ve wanted to shed for a long time. You want that 6-pack? Then make it a goal to get it. You want that big booty? Find a good leg workout routine. My point is, try to achieve a lot of these physical goals first. The physical health and confidence that comes with this will definitely impact you in positive way. I cut out sugar for 2 months, and my body, face shape, and confidence literally transformed. This is another blog post that I think is worth sharing, but to keep it short, changing your lifestyle to be healthy will affect you positively, both physically and mentally.
Third, ask yourself if these physical desires are organic (something YOU truly want) or influenced by what society has deemed as attractive. Trends are always changing, and so I hope that your physical desires are solely because you want it, not because society, your family, your friends, your man, your woman, thinks it’s attractive.
My curiosity of what a plastic surgeon thought about my face was satiated at the end of the day, and I am happy to have had the opportunity to experience this.
If I had to describe Korea in 3 words, it would be fun, homogeneous, and superficial.
I think Korea is very superficial, and I say that indifferently—take the negative connotation away from this word. What I mean is that everything in Korea is very presentable, organized, and clean. Every outer appearance is pleasing to look at. It’s actually quite nice.
The buildings are beautiful, the designs are soft and delicate, the cafes are stunning, the dogs make my cute dog look mediocre, heck the interior design of this dentist office I visited was even beautiful— everything is just so damn beautiful in Korea. And likewise, the people in Korea, are very presentable and quite endearing to look at.
Of course, I was in Hongdae, which is a very trendy city in Seoul, Korea so it adds a lot to this generalization.
There’s definitely a criteria of what’s considered beautiful in Korea, as there is for every country, but I would say it’s pretty severe in Korea.
It’s very common and accepted to tell your daughter, niece, granddaughter, son, nephew, (anyone that’s really an acquaintance) at a young age that they should get plastic surgery, and it’s totally okay to tell these people that they’ve gotten chubby and should lose weight. It’s not considered offensive- it’s just casual talk.
My Mom obviously takes part in this, as she was the one who suggested the plastic surgery consultation. Do I think it’s toxic? It’s so hard to answer that, and feel free to chime in on that. I personally don’t take it offensively because I know my Mom’s intentions. But at the same time, I would never say those things to my kids, if I were to ever have kids.
This focus and interest in looks and outer appearance goes beyond that in Korea though. It’s pretty common for people to rudely stare at and even mock someone because they’re fat, disabled, dark skinned, and so forth. It took me a while to realize this as I can easily blend in the crowds of Korea. It’s not a positive note, but I think it’s important to mention because Korea is often portrayed as this fun, bubbly place.
This definitely makes everyone conscious of how they look and inevitably aggravates Korean beauty standards and the way of life when it’s beyond beauty standards (eg. disability, Down Syndrome, etc.). When there’s a disruption of the homogeneity in Korea, people tend to react quite negatively.
Granted, there are many amazing things about Korea. Better food, amazing culture and history, family oriented, one of a kind night life, overall great hospitality, fast forward technology and fashion, and the shopping experience.
Despite these fun attributes, due to the nature of how everyday life is in Korea, I would enjoy visiting Korea as part of a vacation rather than living there permanently.
After a long night out exploring Seoul, my friends and I laid in our Airbnb bunk beds and talked as we tried to doze off.
One of my friends said, “Everyone is so gorgeous here, I can’t stop looking. But you know what’s really weird, Sarah? I can’t remember a single face or a single outfit.”
I laughed. She’s a good and wise friend.
Let me know your thoughts! What do you think of plastic surgery? The consultation? Korea’s beauty standards?
I’ll admit, I put forth pretty strong opinions, and I actually went back and forth trying to decide if I wanted to share them fully or not. I definitely censored myself more than I would have liked to. I wanted to share these opinions, but also not portray Korea as some dark place. It’s definitely a different perspective on what we usually see.
There was a pretty big feminist movement in Fall 2018 that occurred in Korea. Nicknamed as the ‘Escape the Corset’ movement, thousands of South Korean women trashed their makeup and posted the results online as a way to rebel against the beauty standards in Korea. NPR published a good article on this. Definitely give it a read.
This is also a good video to watch before you go to bed. It’s a thought-provoking interview where a person tries to guess who regrets getting plastic surgery, and the people discuss how it affected them. Make sure you watch it with English subtitles.
Stay safe, and I hope this was an interesting read during the coronavirus quarantine. Feel free to disagree or agree, share your thoughts with me! You can easily leave anonymous comments below.
korea, plastic surgery, beauty, beauty standards, plastic