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IEET > Rights > Disability > PostGender > Life > Access > Enablement > Innovation > Implants > Health > Vision > Technoprogressivism > Staff > Hank Pellissier

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Miss South Korea Admits Plastic Surgery Enhanced Her Beauty… Who Cares?

Hank Pellissier
By Hank Pellissier
Ethical Technology

Posted: Sep 1, 2012

Check out the before-and-after photos. We’re not talking about a small eye-opening or chin-chiseling operation here. We’re talking about techno-miraculously transforming a humdrum wallflower into dazzling hottie.

In South Korea at least 20% of women  “get some work done” annually. The appearance-obsessed nation is perennially ranked #1 internationally in cosmetic surgery (CS) per capita. Seekers of plastic perfection are socially respected and admired, especially in Seoul, which has 430 CS clinics in the Gangham district.

Despite this, many SK netizens went ballistic when the current Miss Korea - Kim Yu-Mi - confessed that her lovely form was artificially and extensively enhanced, augmented, nipped n’ tucked.

Check out her before-and-after photos. We’re not talking about a little eye-opening or chin-chiseling here. We’re talking about multiple slashing knives turning a drab duck into a swan; remolding a broad-faced, small-eyed wallflower into a doe-eyed dazzler.

Kim Yu-Mi - a 21-year-old Konduk University film studies major who plays piano and enjoys reading books - had her humdrum past exposed when her high school yearbook portrait was published by media. She defended herself - “I never said I was born beautiful” - but admitted that many admirers might be disappointed.

One blogger (“Missy Curious”) rather crudely expressed the betrayal she felt, and the social complications that CS can cause:

“Those who go through [plastic surgery] deceive people with their looks, [for example] a man will marry a woman thinking that her beauty is natural only to realize that his wife gives birth to an ugly child? Then what? Will the mother make the child go through the same pain she did to get the same looks…? When will this cycle of pain end?”

Is the uproar over Kim Yu-Ki’s alterations… hypocritical? In SK, so many women get their eyelids opened for a larger, rounder “Western” look that “it’s not even considered surgery.”  Upper and lower jawbones are cut and repositioned in an intensely painful procedure, lips are Botoxed, noses trimmed, chins carved, foreheads and eyebrows lifted, plus facial contouring, cheek implants, chemical peels…

“Korean women want a revolution with their face,” Dr. Park Sang-hoon told the NYTimes.

Eagerness in SK to slide “under the knife” has accelerated quickly. A 2007 Seoul survey reported that 21.5% of women aged 15+ were amenable to cosmetic enhancement; by 2011 the percentage ballooned to 31.7%. In the last decade, the number of doctors trained as plastic surgeons has doubled.

The result? Young Korean women are looking increasingly alike, as they copy the faces of hallyu startlets.  Film directors making Korean historical dramas are now dismayed by the difficulty of finding an actress with a “traditional” face.

Faces, of course, aren’t the only anatomical region getting an overhaul. Breast enhancement, butt lifts, tummy tucks, fat transfers, and liposuctioned legs are also popular.

The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported in a 2009 survey that 74 South Koreans out of 10,000 received a procedure, followed by Brazil (55), Taiwan (44), USA (42), and Japan (32).

Another poll, in 2010, by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, placed South Korea #1, followed by Greece, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, USA, and Taiwan.

Bio-ethical issues abound in the emerging cultural phenomenon of “100% naturals” competing with surgically-altered women. The debate parallels other enhancement topics - often covered by IEET - such as drugs in sports, Oscar Pastorius in the Olympics, transexuals in beauty pageants, and the desire to be a “Human Barbie Doll.”

I haven’t arrived at my personal answers yet to the question set below:

Should beauty pageants discriminate against women who have had cosmetic surgery?
Is it fair for “100% natural” contestants to compete against “surgically-improved” contestants?
Should there be separate beauty pageants for each category?
Should all compete together, with penalties assigned to those who had “help”?

When I asked my [feminist] wife and ‘tween daughter for their viewpoints on this, they had identical, adamant answers: Who Cares? Beauty Pageants Are Stupid!

Elaborating, they explained to me that beauty contests are sexist/anti-feminist/exploitative/blatant objectification/shallow/degrading/borderline-abusive “meat market” events that prey on female insecurities and damage self-esteem.

Should they be eliminated? Tossed to oblivion? Brief research revealed to me that there are indeed significant movements in in France and in Australia to ban Child Beauty Pageants, and a governor in northwestern Colombia has recently banned beauty pageants and fashion shows in his district’s schools, claiming, “School is for studying, not for runways.”

Good point, I thought, remembering the hype in my high school when the Homecoming Queen was chosen, with her court of nine also-ran princesses. Quite silly and “stupid”, in retrospect. Huge photos of them in the yearbook, in pink mini-skirts. But… who were the 10 smartest, or kindest, or most-hardworking, or even most athletic girls? I haven’t a clue. No mention was provided. Those categories aren’t societally-important is the callow message teen girls are given…

Are South Korean women insecure about their appearance? Check out two stats below:

77.7% of Korean women over 18 years old “feel they need cosmetic surgery.”
69.9% of Korean women said they “suffered stress because of their appearance.”

More interesting than Beauty Pageants is the propagation question that “Miss Curiosity” proposed.  What should be done about couples falling in love, marrying each other, and then… having babies that have the genetic, “uglier” face? Should people be obliged - before dating or marrying or having children - to reveal all their cosmetic enhancement secrets?

I can’t verify that he following story is true - it’s original source seems to be the “Macedonian International News Agency.”  The vicious tale claims an enraged Northern China man named Jian Feng sued his wife when he learned - after delivery of a non-glamorous baby girl - that his beloved spouse had spent $100,000 on facial surgery, before they met. The report claims he settled for $120,000.

Where’d she - supposedly - get her plastic surgery done? Not surprisingly, in Seoul.

Chinese women often arrive in South Korea with photos of Korean celebrities they want to resemble. They’re part of a quickly expanding horde; in 2007 only 8,000 foreigners traveled there for a new look; by 2012 Korea is expected to service 200,000, by 2020 they expect an even 1 million.

What’s your opinion? Should we expose our cosmetic secrets to anyone who has an vested interest, like a potential breeding partner?

Seems to me… Yes.

It’s polite and responsible to reveal pertinent bio-secrets, like vasectomies, infertility, all family-members-mad-as-a-hatter, so… why should non-bio secrets be closeted? Exposing them, IMO, is morally required.

Surprised by my attitude? Don’t be… I said all this before in a previous essay, 100% Honesty, Transparency, Disclosure - is this the “naked future” we want?

To learn more about cosmetic surgery in South Korea, watch the video below. The narrator observes near the ending, that “every single ad in the subway of Seoul is a plastic surgery ad.”

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.
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As your family has demonstrated with the beauty pageant question, the question of marital plastic surgery disclosure is largely moot. If your marriage is so transparently superficial and emotionally hollow that you never even took the time to even look at your partner’s childhood photos or other pertinent background details, your sham of a marriage has bigger issues. Also, publicly declaring to the world, on the record in perpetuity, that you find your child ugly is a nice touch.

A telling outrage. It seems as if many people look to beauty pageants as well as sporting events as occasions to get as clear a view as possible about the competitor’s _genetic_ superiorities. The outrage against doping and aesthetic enhancements would then partly root in the fact that such interventions upset this deep ‘point of the game’: to establish genetic superiorities and inferiorities (and thus also indicating who seem to be ‘fitter’ folk to make babies and twine genomes with).

As such, ‘strictly natural’ sporting events and beauty pageants seem to be tinged with Social Darwinist thinking. (An argument I elaborate extensively here

In that vein: I’ve been trying to find more in-depth sources about the history of both beauty pageants and sporting competition, particularly how the Social Darwinists and eugenicists of the late 19th early 20th century did their thing with them. Anyone familiar with good writing on those subjects?

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The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

East Coast Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
56 Daleville School Rd., Willington CT 06279 USA 
Email: director @     phone: 860-428-1837

West Coast Contact: Managing Director, Hank Pellissier
425 Moraga Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611
Email: hank @