Beauty Between Empires: Global Feminism, Plastic Surgery, and the Trouble with Self- Esteem

Lee, Sharon Heijin
Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies

Since 2012, when Korean rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style” dominated US airwaves, television, and computer screens, the popularity of K- pop has created renewed interest among American media outlets and netizens in the topic of South Korean (hereaf er Korea or Korean) plastic surgery consumption. The Atlantic featured a story on “T e K- Pop Plastic Surgery Connection,” while Bloomberg News published on medical tourism in Korea: “Gangnam Style Nip and Tuck Draws Tourists to the Beauty Belt.”1 Buzzfeed’s story was more
provocative, if strangely Eurocentric, asking “When Does Plastic Surgery
Become Racial Transformation?”2
And most recently the New Yorker’s piece asks, “Why Is Seoul the World’s Plastic- Surgery Capital?”3
Other much more sensationalized reporting has produced images such as the “Miss Korea gif,” which went viral in less than forty- eight hours, appearing f rst on a Japanese blog, then Reddit, and then in national and international newspapers in April 2013. The gif, which compresses several still jpegs into moving images such that the beauty contestants’ faces morph one into the next at rapid speed, was meant to illustrate visually what Jezebel’s headline summed up as “Plastic Surgery Means Many Beauty Queens but Only One Kind of Face.”