Veteran singer Yoon Bok-hee said in an interview last week that she was afraid of watching TV these days because she sees so many entertainers who have undergone cosmetic surgery.
“With your skin yanked and bone carved, can you correctly express your emotion? With your mouth reconstructed, can you sing normally?” she asked.
The 65-year-old singer insists that a truly dedicated actor or singer should consider his or her body as the “original stage” for their performance. Yoon, who started her singing career at the age of 5, admonishes today’s entertainers against trying to change that sacred part of their art.
Yet, we wonder how many young performers will listen to Yoon’s advice. Images on TV convince people every day that beauty in this country is being “standardized” as it becomes increasingly difficult to tell one actress from another. The many doctors at aesthetic clinics in Seoul’s Gangnam district have done a great job in this national rush for appearance enhancement, which is not confined to the world of entertainment.
In Apgujeong-dong and Sinsa-dong in Gangnam-gu, some sections in the busy commercial streets are almost exclusively occupied by cosmetic surgery clinics. Their billboards line the walls of subway stations.
Of the 1,313 plastic or cosmetic surgery clinics licensed in Korea, Seoul has 607, of which 369, or 28 percent of the national total, are crammed together in Gangnam-gu. Reconstruction of disfigurement takes up only 5 percent of their work. The rest is devoted to eyelid surgery, breast implants, nose jobs and so on.
The number of medical establishments specializing in aesthetic plastic surgery has showed a sharp rise over the past decade. In Seoul, they account for 15 percent of the total 70,000 hospitals and clinics, with the relative decline in the proportion of other divisions of surgery: there are only 927 places offering cardiothoracic treatments, for example, according to 2010 statistics. A similar phenomenon is seen in Busan and other large cities.
If these clinics help increase national GDP through foreign clients from China, Japan and Southeast Asia, the cosmetic surgery boom calls for deep contemplation about certain uncomfortable trends in Korea. It reflects the increasingly tough competition in our society, particularly among the younger generation, and their inclination to seek better opportunities by improving their appearance.
Corporate policies emphasizing human relations potential in the recruitment of employees drive many job seekers to visit cosmetic surgery clinics. Applicants believe they can receive better scores in interviews with impressive physical features usually associated with better social acceptance. Young people would also like to enhance their appearance for their search for a romantic partner.
We are concerned that the ages of cosmetic surgery clients are getting younger, to include high school students, who are inevitably influenced by the “appearance first-ism” of adults. Wearing makeup is prohibited in secondary schools but even primary school students are reported to be carrying foundation creams and colored cosmetics that they use surreptitiously.
Commercial promotion by competition-pressured clinics affects young minds that lack self-confidence. Serious thought should be given to measures to discourage this, such as heavy taxes on revenues from aesthetic surgery or banning advertisements for such services.
The compelling problem is that so many young people spend their precious time and money in improving their physical appearance, possibly at the expense of developing more important inner assets. Yoon Bok-hee’s criticism needs to be echoed beyond the entertainment world.