Surgery and Self-Hatred: Korean Beauty Rituals Going Too Far?

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

2013 Korean beauty pageant contestants. Are they real or surgically improved?
2013 Korean beauty pageant contestants. Are they real or surgically enhanced?

It’s no secret that women are hard on themselves when it comes to beauty rituals. In almost every known culture women are judged on their appearance first and their other attributes — intelligence, strength, moral character — second and a distant third. So, we primp and diet and spend oodles money on bottles of miracle potions, creams and lotions. We pay other women to buff our nails and strip the dead skin off of our feet. We suffer through hot wax being poured on our nether regions and try not to cry when we yank stray hairs from our eyebrows. No doubt about it, beauty hurts.

As a Black woman, I know beauty can hurt even more when it comes to our hair. Whether it is the chemical burn from a no-lye relaxer or the throbbing headache from a head full of braids meant to last for months at a time, we will suffer for beauty. And I’m sure every other culture has their ‘thing’ they do for beauty despite the pain –physical or economic. But dear readers, I was flabbergasted when I read this article in the Atlantic about Korean and Korean-American women willingly getting their jaws broken all in the name of beauty. The reporter writes, ” This surgery is popular amongst young Korean pop stars, who have their faces reshaped to give them elfin, anime-like appearances. The V-line shape gives the face a certain fragility.” 

But it’s not just pop stars opting for this painful and expensive surgery. Korean women and young teens are adding this new surgical option to a long list of other cosmetic procedures — eyelid surgery, nose jobs, — in the name of enhancing their beauty. While most Korean women claim the ideal beauty they are trying to achieve is not an imitation of White Europeans, it most certainly is a rejection of the beauty they were born with.

Given the almost wholesale acceptance of all of these cosmetic procedures in Korea and in the Korean-American community, I would call this a cultural catastrophe. This is so sad on an epic scale. How is it that an entire people has come to disavow their god-given beauty so completely? I’m just wondering if there is a backlash? A natural beauty movement somewhere within the Korean community. A #hashtag at the very least, urging Korean women to #staynatural.

Do I have any Korean Meltingpot readers who would like to weigh in? Clearly one Atlantic article can’t cover it all, so tell us more. I am so listening.


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9 Thoughts to “Surgery and Self-Hatred: Korean Beauty Rituals Going Too Far?”

  1. Wendy

    Your baby girl’s hair sounds like my daughter. Underneath in the back, and around her ears, she has rather tight curls. But the top of her hair is just lose curls. She’s got beautiful hair! You can still but some oil in her hair (or hairspray/gel). Lice don’t like products in the hair. I went to my salon to get my hair cut, AGAIN! (I dropped 6 inches of hair over this ordeal). I told my longtime stylist about everything and she was nodding along with the oil part! She recommended an oil made by Aveda called “brillant” which is made with rice brain oil.
    My husband and I went back and forth if we needed to tell my daughter’s friend’s mother. My daughter’s friend is black. When my husband asked, I told him its highly unlikely that “friend” would have head lice. Not only does she have black hair, it’s relaxed and oiled! He was relieved that we didn’t have to make a painful phone call. We took the friend and daughter to a bounce house and out for cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday. The bounce house is the most probable place she picked it up. The school told me they haven’t had many cases of lice at all this year! There have been ZERO reported in my daughter’s grade.

    1. Wendy

      PS. The nit nanny taught us how to spend 5-10 minute a week checking for headlice with a good lice comb and some conditioner. Let me know if you are interested in the details.

      1. Wendy

        Another afterthought, when our daughter was three and in preschool, there was a severe outbreak of headlice out her school. She never got headlice because I did a visual inspection each day and I put two tight “ring toss” or “giraffe nobs” buns on top of her head. Her hair was moussed and gelled to stay in place.

  2. Soy yo

    I hope someone does comment who knows, I’d be interested too.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Me too. *crickets*

  3. Cyretha

    Okay, so I am not Korean nor Chinese for that matter, but I just want to add foot binding to the “beauty can hurt” category.
    I am sure there are many more possibilities out there, but this one makes me cringe just thinking about it.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Agreed. I thought about foot binding too. And personally, just walking in a pair of stilettos is torture enough for me. Which is why I wear sneakers most of the time.

  4. Wendy

    Off Topic: I thought about you and your blog this past week. You see, my daughter had a mild case of (OMG) HEAD LICE. I was reminded of this

    My daughter is “mixed” but has been for many generations. Her hair texture is “white” even though her skin is darker than some African-Americans. I took her to the doctor and had her case confirmed. I had my head checked and was given the all clear. I use “Nix” and start the process of combing out nits (eggs). I was completely overwhelmed. I called in a professional nit-picker. She came to my house the same day. She checked the entire family. Husband was clear. I, however, had a juvenile and five eggs, no signs of the momma that put them there. She found less than a dozen nits in my daughters hair and no bugs. I had killed them with pesticide shampoo! Anyway, she treated our hair with a natural lice-killing shampoo and gave us a 7 day combing schedule. I, of course, couldn’t comb as well as she did, so the daughter and I got our hair cut by yours truly! :o) After checking for nits again and finding nothing, we went to the salon to have our haircuts fixed… by an African American woman. I whispered our story to her at the check-in. The first thing she asked me was “Is she mixed?”! I told her “well yeah, she’s Latina with a strong African background but her hair texture is like mine”. She said “Oh because if she has black hair than you need to put some oil in it and she won’t get head lice”. She gave my daughter a beautiful stacked bob hair cut that is EASY to comb. My daughter went to school yesterday and got the clearance from her school nurse. We are being so careful and taking extra precautions because we have no idea WHERE is picked it up. Maybe at a bounce house, maybe at school? But I am one freaked out melting pot momma who wished my kid had kinky hair! :o)

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      You had me cracking up and cringing right along with you. I hope you’ve gotten past your lice situations for good. And now I’m super worried about babygirl because as you recall, her hair is pretty much like chicken feathers. Some curls but no kink. Yikes!

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