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Tuesday,October 27,2020
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Try Smiling
The  Dongguk   Post's October   cover  story   on the
          plastic/cosmetic surgery boom was just another reminder
          of the   whirlwind changes   that have  taken  place  in
          Korean society over  the past  two decades.   After all,
          college girls  were  only beginning  to  experiment with
          cosmetics in the early 1980s.
              This cover   story inspired  me  to  make  cosmetic
          surgery the  topic  of an   in-class composition for   my
          writing class,  especially because  most of  my students
          are young ladies.  Given the  time limit (two hours) for
          an in-class composition,  the topic  should be of  human
          interest so students can begin writing without having to
          do too much  brainstorming and  detailed planning.  No
          one was at a  loss for words  when it came  to writing
          about cosmetic surgery.
               While many   students looked   upon the  cosmetic
          surgery boom and  all it  entails with  a jaundiced  eye,
          there was a  consensus that  such surgery  is simply  a
          personal choice.  And rather than sneering at those who
          choose surgery, most students said that if it  makes you
          feel better  about yourself,  then by  all  means have  it
          done. They reserved their strongest criticism for a "cruel
          society"  that  "pressures" women to alter themselves to
          satisfy the   current dictates   of the   job or   marriage
          market.
              What struck me as I read the compositions  were 1)
          how common cosmetic surgery is, and 2) the stress that
          young    women   undergo    to    conform    in   this
          hyper-competitive society.
               Getting eyelids altered, for example,  is so common
          it barely qualifies as  cosmetic surgery nowadays.  And
          when  I  gave  a  student  a  quizzical  look  during  a
          classroom discussion   after she   said  "80   % of   her
          friends"  had undergone  surgery, other  girls nodded in
          agreement, saying they were often the only ones  among
          their friends who  had not  had it  done.  Even  though
          these girls were  putting off  surgery, they said  it was
          compelling   since   they   all   knew    former    "ugly
          ducklings"  whose surgery had turned  them into raving
          beauties with numerous suitors.
              I expect Seoul  will soon become  like Mexico  City,
          where young   bourgeois women  meet  at  posh  coffee
          shops  to  celebrate  a   friend's return   from  surgery.  
          Rather than disappear  for the  customary 10 days  until
          the bandages, black  eyes, and  swelling from  a  "nose
          job"  are gone, this senorita proudly exhibits herself and
          revels in her status as a new member of the club.  I do
          know a Korean  woman, in fact  a medical  doctor, who
          was not so forthcoming, telling me that  her recent nose
          job was the  consequence of  being hit  by a  golf ball.  
          Gimme a break.
               Two other   common student   concerns were   the
          legacy of this cult of beauty on the next generation, and
          the  role  of  the  fashion   and cosmetics   industry in
          perpetuating the   cult. What   choice is   there for  the
          adolescent daughter who desires her  mother's surgically
          enhanced looks?  And  what sort  of Pandora's  box is
          being  opened  by  parents  who  give  their  daughters
          surgery as a high school graduation gift?  
              Isn't  it   curious  that   American  black  girls,   a
          demographic   virtually   ignored   by  the   advertising
          industry,   are  generally   satisfied   and  much   more
          comfortable   with   their   physical   appearance   than
          suburban white girls, the  target of numerous marketing
          ploys aimed at  seducing them into  believing that  they,
          too, can be a cover girl?  Sound familiar?      
              Students also wrote  of insufferable  mothers telling
          less than perfect daughters  that their futures  are bleak
          unless they undergo  cosmetic surgery.  I'm  sorry, but
          isn't it mommy's role to say,  "Of course you're pretty,
          my little darling?"  And then there was the mother from
          hell who  "dragged"  her teenaged daughter into a clinic,
          where  "she  [the daughter]   kicked and screamed   and
          was held  down by  ten nurses" until  the surgery  was
          performed.  "To this  day she  has no  self-esteem and
          thinks she is ugly."
              Women have  been enhancing   their natural beauty
          with cosmetics  since at  least the  days of  the ancient
          Egyptians.  (Liz   Taylor wore   tons of   the stuff  in
          CLEOPATRA.)  So I don't  think it's too  difficult of a
          decision  for   women, especially   those   who put   on  
          cosmetics daily, to choose surgery.  Why go through the
          daily hassle of  putting a line  across each  eyelid when
          after very simple surgery they're permanent? 
              I also believe  cosmetic surgery  is quite  normal in
          the feminine scheme of things.   "Vanity," said the bard,
          "thy name is  woman."  What  is abnormal  is deluding
          yourself into believing that a visit to a surgeon can turn
          you into the self-confident person you always wanted to
          be.   However,  facial  alterations,  according  to  most
          accounts, do work magic on women's psyches.
              A case  in point:   One coed  wrote that  for some
          inexplicable reason she  began to  "hate my  face"  and
          "stayed home in bed for a month crying my  eyes out."  
          Crying was   getting her  nowhere; so   she decided  to
          change the color of  her hair and, presto,  she became a
          self-confident woman.  Since there is absolutely nothing
          wrong with this girl's  perfectly attractive face,  perhaps
          she should   have replaced  crying  her  eyes  out with
          SMILING.
              Should anyone with a similar silly notion be reading
          this essay, don't be so self-critical.  Maybe all you need
          to do is smile a bit more.  
              This University enrolls  all sorts of  movie and  TV
          stars, singers and  super-models, and  wannabes.  Some
          of them attend my  classes.  My usual  private reaction
          to their obvious surgical makeovers  is, BORING.  They
          have traded away what was unique about their faces for
          bland, nondescript visages.  And how sad it was  indeed
          to read of a student who rues the day she got her nose
          job and pines in vain for her old nose. 
              There's   this    joke   going    around   American
          universities:  "Now that you've got  your BA, MA, and
          PhD, all you need is a  JOB."  The punch line could  be
          "cosmetic  surgery" at  Korean  universities.   For  it's
          patently unfair that  after years  of jumping through  all
          the academic hoops Korea  throws at you, going  abroad
          for an expensive year  of English study,  getting a high
          TOEIC  score,   and  acquiring   computer skills,   your
          success  in   the  job  market   now  may   depend on
          expensive cosmetic surgery  that you  don't need,  can't
          afford, but  think you  can't do  without.  And  isn't it
          time you went  on a  starvation diet?   I'd be  thinking
          about emigration.

Sherbo  leesj117@dongguk.edu

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