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“Cat Surgery” for Your Upper Lip + More Things You Never Knew about Plastic Surgery in Korea

By Wendy Rodewald-Sulz / March 16, 2015

Photo: via The New Yorker

Ever since BB cream became a makeup bag staple, the U.S. beauty industry has had a major crush on South Korea. But while Korean beauty products have gone mainstream at places like Sephora, the country’s booming plastic surgery industry still seems foreign to us — which is why Patricia Marx’s article for The New Yorker's new Style Issue, “The World Capital of Plastic Surgery,” is a must-read. Marx traveled to Seoul, where it’s estimated up to a third of women have had plastic surgery, to get a sense of what drives its residents’ fixation on rearranging their faces. The menu of procedures alone is fascinating in what it says about people’s insecurities:
“Options offered at various establishments we visited included Barbie-Nose Rhinoplasty (‘Let it up to have doll-like sharp nose!’), Forehead Volumization (‘Your beauty will increase!’), Hip-Up surgery (to achieve ‘a feminine and beautiful Latino-like body line’), arm-lifts, calf reductions, dimple creation, whitening injections (called Beyoncé injections by one clinic), eye-corner lowering (so you don’t look fierce), smile-lifts that curl the corners of your lips and chisel an indentation into the crooks so that your now permanently happy mouth looks as if it were drawn by a six-year-old (this operation is popular with flight attendants), and ‘cat surgery,’ to fix your floppy philtrum.”
But it’s not all fun and philtrum-fixing (that’s the dimple above the upper lip, FYI — I had to look it up). South Korea’s obsession with cosmetic procedures, Marx points out, is driven in large part by the country’s not-so-progressive views on women’s place in the society. She speaks to a couple of girls who were encouraged by their fathers to undergo double-eyelid procedures. “He told me that beauty could be a big advantage for girls,” one says. “For instance, when you go on a job interview if the interviewer saw two women who had similar abilities, of course he’d go with the better-looking one.”
It’s kind of scary to think that the beauty culture that we here in the U.S. are aspiring more and more to emulate is grounded in a pretty anti-feminist worldview. Does each added step in our skincare routines (hello, “essence”) make us just a little bit more complicit in the idea that our worth as women is the sum of our physical parts? Of course, we’re always losing something in translation as we import beauty secrets from across the globe —  which is why you should go read the full fascinating and nuanced article over at The New Yorker now.