According to an e-Seoul survey, 41.4 percent of teens interviewed said they were “willing to have plastic surgery for beauty.”
“The comparison with older age brackets is stunning: 41.4 percent among teens is almost 10 percentage points higher than interviewees in their 20s, almost 20 percentage points higher than those in their 30s, and nearly 30 percentage points higher than interviewees who were 40 or over, which would seem the prime market for cosmetic surgical improvements,” according to a recent survey.
Even middle school students, female students mostly, are choosing to get their face surgically altered. “The overall client age group has decreased. Among teenagers, high school students were the main clients, but these days, an increasing number of middle school students aged 15 to 16 have been visiting the clinic,” said Jo Seon-hui, manager of Real Cosmetics in Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul.
Lee Seung-hwan, head surgeon of BK DongYang Plastic Surgery Clinic in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, also said his clinic has seen a gradual increase in teenage clients. “Compared to 2007, the percentage of teenage clients has gradually increased in 2010. What to take note here is the fact that the minimum age group is decreasing to middle school students in grade eight or nine,” Lee said. A female high school student, surnamed Lee, said she wasn’t confident with her looks. “My small eyes were the cause of low self-esteem,” said Lee. “My mom and I made a deal that if I did well on my midterm exams, she’d let me have [plastic surgery].”
After receiving double eyelid surgery during the winter break in her second year in high school, Lee said she got more confident. Korean teens value beauty highly, and getting plastic surgery is no longer considered shameful or embarrassing. And students who have attractive features gain popularity among their peers. The plastic-surgery trend has also been boosted by the popularity of idol groups such as the girl group LGP, which admitted in a TV show interview that “the total of all the plastic surgery operations the members underwent was 27.”
Parents also have a powerful influence on whether their children get plastic surgery. Another female student, surnamed Kim, got double eyelid surgery at the age of 15 at the suggestion of her mother. “My mother was actually quite positive about me getting plastic surgery,” she said. “My mom said that I should be confident when entering high school.”
A recent survey of 250 mothers throughout Korea, conducted by Dove, a personal care brand famous for its soap, showed that one in four moms suggested their teenage child get plastic surgery. “Mass media and the Internet have a big impact on students in their formative years,” said Dr. Park Won-jin of Wonjin Plastic Surgery. “They are easily exposed to television and the concept of “lookism” [discrimination or prejudice based on personal appearance] is thrust on them through the Internet.”
According to several plastic surgeons in Gangnam, southern Seoul, the number of student patients peak during school vacation season in December and January and make up about 5 percent to 10 percent of the total number of patients.
Double eyelid surgery is by far the most popular procedure among young students since it is comparatively low risk. But an operation on certain bones, such as the nose, is not advisable until the student has fully grown because there could be dangerous side effects. Park said as a patient grows, his or her bones could shift after surgery and cause permanent damage. “If plastic surgery is performed on young bones it can trigger problems in the future and may require more surgery,” said Park. ◦