Korea

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“Thank goodness you have ssang-ku-pool. Your parents saved a lot of money,” said a close family friend when I was five years old. Ssang-ku-pul is the line above the eyelid, which most every Caucasian has but is rare among Northeast Asians. According to Sandy Cobrin, only 25% of Koreans are born with the double eye-lid crease, and she describes eye-lid surgery as “stitching a permanent crease into the eye-lid.” After observing the Korean trends and Korean pop culture idols for many years from a Korean-American perspective, I think I have figured out the meaning of Korean beauty. It is a very complicated and profound one. Beauty means having big eyes, a pale complexion, a sharp and pointed nose, a taller height, and a small chin and mouth. Essentially, South Korean beauty meant looking as “white” or Caucasian as possible.              I never quite understood how having lines above my eyelids saved my parents money until the summer of 1998 when I visited Korea. I knew that the lines above my eyes supposedly made them appear larger than other “Asian eyes,” but I did not see the financial connection until I saw my aunt in Korea whom I hadn’t seen for years. She just had eyelid surgery a year before, and I noticed how the lines above her eyes opened them up so that they appeared a bit rounder. She was beaming as she was telling me how she got a discount on the surgery, paying only $700 because she knew the surgeon. Then she was telling my sister, who wasn’t blessed with ssang-ku-pul like me, to get the surgery through the surgeon she knew. She was going on about how the majority of the female Korean population gets this eyelid surgery and how lucky she was to have  connections. I felt fortunate; I had saved seven hundred dollars. But instead of yelling this aloud, I remained silent. For the first time in my life, I felt a bit ashamed of my race.               The moment I stepped out into the city from my aunt’s apartment, I noticed cosmetic surgery clinics everywhere, along with billboards featuring Korean women who had Western characteristics. Nowhere could I spot a single ad containing a model with small eyes, a round face, and a small nose. None of them looked like the familiar Korean faces I remembered from my previous visits to Korea. A little later, I saw a girl walking out of one of the clinics with a funny-looking face mask and huge sunglasses. My aunt said the mask was to protect her new nose, and the sunglasses were to protect her newly cut out eyelids. I just sighed. Here I was in my family’s native country for the first time in years, yearning to experience the essence of Korea, and I found myself bombarded with McDonald’s, Nike and those Korean-wannabe-white faces.              According to an online site, Medscape, “South Korea has the highest ratio of cosmetic surgeons to citizens worldwide.” It has become so common that girls will get eyelid surgery as high school graduation presents. I still did not understand. Unsurprisingly, a year after that particular visit to Korea, both my teenaged cousins had gotten eyelid surgeries just in time for their sweet-sixteenth birthdays. The plague of plastics had hit my own family! This just made the wonder grow deeper: What about plastic surgery made so many Koreans fall so madly in love with it?             Plastic surgery has some kind of magical appeal to them—the promise of beauty. In this mystical and arduous quest for good looks, women are often convinced that suffering and sacrificing is necessary and worthy in order to bear the fruits of beauty. And this suffering is not for nothing. With good looks, the Korean society believes that beauty leads to attracting a better-looking partner, which leads to a better lifestyle and better-looking children. Oh, and of course, better looks equals better chances for competitive jobs, especially in the business field. Essentially, they believe that physical beauty equals happiness.              And in Korea, we impossibly apply...
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