Friday, April 13, 2007

Looks to Die For

Most Korean-American women gather envy from women of other races for their natural beauty. Their unique and exotic features would make most men rush at the opportunity to fulfill their wildest fantasies. Recently however, these women are stepping away from their biological and natural aesthetic and seeking ways to appease the craving for the latest Korean fad: plastic surgery.

Nancy Choi is a 20 year old student at Georgetown University. An intelligent young woman, physically attractive, and mysteriously witty, Choi sat down with me to share what is to her a painful reality. The 5.3, 97 pound Choi, whose waist could rock any runway from New York to Tokyo, is among the growing amount of Asian women that consider her natural appearance an unfortunate and uncomely circumstance. “I was born and raised in America, and most of my friends were American. Most of my American friends had big eyes, tall noses, long legs, etc. and I wanted them too,” Choi shared, “I was always different in the class. I was the Asian girl with small “chinky” eyes. If I could’ve had plastic surgery then to make me fit in I would’ve.”

Media portray western beauty so commonly that European appearances are becoming the new standard....for EVERY race. In the black community it is relayed through the bleaching of skin, the thinning of noses, and the new trend of anorexia in black middle-class demographics. In the latino community, it is the intense straightening of hair that is "too black", and drastic forms of discrimination by colorism in South American and Carribean countries.

“I don’t think Asians have ‘pretty’ features,” added Choi, who has already had a double eye-lid surgery and is saving up for possible liposuction. "I think that I would look better with a taller nose and even bigger eyes". Since it is biologically impossible as a Korean to have those features, most women are now turning to artificial aesthetics. According to BBC News, 50% of Korean women in their 20s have had some form of cosmetic surgery. Chiso Ko, a Time Magazine columnist, reported that some parents make their children get surgery with as much conviction as they make them study. Physical appearances are important factors in job placement, as well as finding suitable mates. Because Koreans have reputations of being brilliant economists, the investments in plastic surgery are seen as smart and practical moves as opposed to dangerous ones.

“I don’t see a big problem with it,” said Sojung Sim. “If I thought my daughter would have a better life by changing something on her face, or losing weight, I would encourage her to get surgery as well”. Sim, who has never had plastic surgery, reports periods of intensive exercise and dieting methods to obtain a size 0 frame.

In Korea, an estimated 1 in 10 people have had some form of surgical upgrade. The most popular is the eye-lid surgery, which also reportedly has the most risk. South Korea has just 1,200 certified plastic surgeons. Many thousands of others are operating without proper qualifications. In America, Koreans resort to the practices of Asian doctors, in order to get better prices on their surgeries. A nose job that would regularly cost a couple of thousand dollars would only run about $800 if performed by Vietnamese doctors. The results, however, can sometimes often be catastrophic. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports that while surgery benefits some patients, most people that undergo aesthetic alterations remain discontented and are likely to do it again.

The trend therefore, like the bleaching of skin in the black community, is something that is the result of a psychological circumstance, and can actually end up harming the vibrant, beautiful, and successful Korean mass. This reality places more of a responsibility on minority populations to find resources that allow them the opportunity to insert and instill themselves into media in a way that it is able to deconstruct dangerous white supremacist mindsets. Is that possible?

“I don’t feel pressured to change the way I look,” says 22 year old Victoria Cho. “My mother never pressured me to be too thin or to get plastic surgery”. A student and intern at Ernst & Young, Cho cites horror stories of friends that have been unable to close their eyes after double eye lid procedures. 25 year old Siskae Kim agrees. “It’s unfortunate that the majority of the culture is so obsessed with physical appearance, but everyone does not think that way”. Kim is a mother to a five year old girl who she urges to take pride in her heritage and the way she looks. “I want to teach her to love herself first,” she shares, “there are so many stories that I hear from bad plastic surgeries, that it frightens me to think that one day my daughter may think the same way of herself and resort to the same thing. I don't think it's worth it. I want to encourage her to dig deeper, and to find things outside of looks that she's proud of. Pride comes first, then confidence, and the looks to die for will follow”.

-Wayetu Moore


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Anonymous said...

Why do people insist on repeating the stereotype that Koreans (or other east Asians) all look a certain way (i.e. big, flat, round faces, tiny mono-lidded eyes, small flat noses)? There's a ton of variation in facial features if you actually go out and look, as much as among whites. My family, for instance, runs to bigger noses and eyes, and we're 100% Korean. Jeez.