Monday, November 22, 2010

The Eyes Have It

My pal Dave, of George Bailey Sees the World, who is the native teacher in the Saturday writing course that runs alongside the public speaking course I am doing, was telling me about one of his female students writing about the "need" for plastic surgery.

While she wasn't in favor of cosmetic surgery, becoming more attractive can improve her educational and career prospects, she wrote. Left unconsidered in her evaluation of the situation was the question why or how being more attractive makes a person more qualified for a job.

Because, you know, unless we're talkng about modeling or television work, it doesn't.

Korean culture values looks above almost anything else. If that sounds like a very provocative statement, well, maybe it is. But just today, there is an article in the Korea Herald stating that now the suneung test is over, plastic surgery season has begun. The article opens:
An 18-year-old high school senior student in Gangnam-gu spent the weekend following the College Scholastic Ability Test last week taking counseling in cosmetic surgery hospitals.
“I had my appointment made several months ahead of the CSAT, otherwise I would not have been able to make it onto the waiting list,” said the student who asked to be identified by her family name Koh.
“The surgery is actually to be an early gift from my mother, both for high school graduation and university entrance.”
After counseling, she had appointments made to have cosmetic surgery on her eyes and nose and laser-processed dermatological scaling before the end of the month.
It has long become a common process for CSAT-takers here to visit cosmetic surgeons straight after the test so that they may improve their looks before entering university.

Most commonly, Koreans want larger, rounder eyes, eschewing the almond eyes of their race--a race whose purity is practically a national obsession. Go figure. According to an article in Time:
South Korea's primary cosmetic obsession is with the eyes. Having bigger eyes is every girl's dream, and it can now be realized through a simple $800 operation, in which a small incision or suture is made above the eye to create an artificial double lid. Teenagers as young as 14 are doing it, and eye jobs have become a favorite high school graduation gift from proud parents.
Clinics are busiest during winter vacations, when high school seniors are preparing themselves for college or for entering the workplace. The majority come for the eyelids, but nose jobs are also becoming popular among teens. "Teenagers are plastic surgery experts," marvels Dr. Lee Min Ku, a Seoul surgeon whose patients are mostly in their teens or 20s. "They tell the doctor, using scientific words, which surgery method to use." But despite the medical knowledge they bring to the clinics, many teens still show their age. "They end up handing you a magazine," says Lee, "and asking for T.V. star Kim Nam Ju's eyes."

Back to my public speaking class. On Saturday, they will present their persuasive speech, and I went over their topics with them individually. One female student handed in the topic "The importance of outward appearance". I got her to clarify what she meant by this, and what exactly she wanted to persuade the audience about.

"Well," she told me, "I know many people will say how inner beauty is really the important thing. But I do not agree with this. Outward attractiveness is what really matters, because your outward looks show what you are like on the inside."

This may not be a very difficult argument to make--after all, her audience is a classroom full of Korean high school students.


Chris said...

wow, i have a lot of thoughts about what she says. i am not condoning this plastic surgery, especially for 14 year olds, but there might be a grain of truth in her overall thesis.

Not about physical beauty, per se, but when I pass by the workers in my office building every day, there are two categories of people. Some people will always smile politely, while some folks always carry a sour, permanent frown. I can't help but believe the smilers have a more attractive "inner" beauty than the frowners. This has even made me aware of myself - I will sometimes catch myself walking along with a sad face, and force myself to smile. Even though I might be stressed out at that moment, deep down I am a friendly fellow, and I want to project that to the world, no matter what my temporary mood might be.

But here is where I think her point breaks down. We've all heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If Miss Kim is full of inner and outer beauty, it still might escape my attention. Her idea of beauty might not match mine. If she wants to adjust her outer beauty, what standard should she look to? Just because SHE thinks rounder eyes make her look better, perhaps her college admissions officer prefers her natural eyes.

One might argue there are certain points of beauty, both inner and outer, that are consistently attractive througougt history. We would proably all agree that a 100 pound lady is more attractive than a 400 pound lady. You probably would enjoy conversation with a vibrant, friendly, intelligent fellow over a surely, angry dullard. But I don't see that tweaking the eyes and nose will make a huge difference.

And while I'm not a fan of plastic surgery, let me know if you can recommend a place to get a clone grown to replace all my aging and failing body parts, please.

조안나 said...

This comment came up in my Korean class one day, so we were discussing it with our Korean teacher, A Chinese woman, a Japanese woman and myself. While none of them really relished the thought of getting plastic surgery, the Chinese girl thought that she would look better with the "v" line or whatever it is when they shave off some of your jaw bone and the Japanese girl had experiences where people she knew gained self confidence after getting surgery and found herself a husband.

And, it is true that for many professions for women, their appearance is at least as important as their skill. (just think of flight attendants in asia, have you seen an ugly, fat, or old one yet?) I so I can see how the cosmetic industry has convinced people that outward appearance is important enough to slice up their body to attain perfection.

But even in the US... we have our own disgusting cosmetic surgery problems. Do you remember the program "The Swan"? reality TV show that turned ugly people into more attractive people with surgery. I wanted to vomit when I saw that show come on the air. And, while I don't think cosmetic surgery is all that popular in Boston, where I'm from, I remember a friend who was living in Florida for a while told me that she heard on the radio that there was some give-away for free plastic surgery. It's just wrong, but it goes to show that people in our country aren't all that different...