South Korea Finalists

The 2013 Miss Korea Pageant finalists have created a buzz over the internet for all sharing very similar features–large dark brown eyes, snow-like skin, perfect noses and a sparkling white smile. Is Photoshop to blame, or is it an overindulgence in the same plastic surgery procedures, leaving all finalists to look practically identical?

It is probably a little of both. Certainly airbrushing comes into play. Still, the similarities are too prominent to attribute to editing alone. The twenty almost-identical beauty pageant finalists is a clear example of the plastic surgery addiction taking over South Korea. South Korea is not alone, though. Plastic surgery has been booming throughout East Asia over the last decade.

While South Korea does have the largest number of surgeries per capita, statistics show the rates rising in nearby Japan as well as China.

Courtesy of The Economist

What does this increase in invasive procedures mean, exactly? On the surface it may appear that some of these women are seeking a more “Westernized” look. Many say that these women are not trying to look “white,” yet they are attempting to appear less “Asian.” That is, eliminate or lessen the features usually associated with “Asian-ness,” such as the mono-eyelid and flattened nose bridge.

Also surely attributing to the plastic surgery craze is the relatively low cost. While living in Shanghai, I heard of hair salons performing the dual-eyelid surgery for the mere price of approximately $300 USD. With such limited regulation and easy access, it is no wonder so many are going under the knife.

More than just nationals undergoing surgery, plastic surgery is becoming a tourist attraction in many places. At the Chaophya Hospital in Bangkok, with an International Patient Center, they actually provide serviced apartments for your stay as well as sightseeing tours. They can also help with Thai visa applications and even extensions. So not only are people travelling for cosmetic surgery in this case, but also for all other kinds of medical treatment. Obviously the appeal is the very low cost compared to home.

From my personal experience, it is very easy and affordable to get cosmetic treatments in Bangkok. While I have not had any surgical procedures (only laser hair removal and laser skin rejuvenation), all of the “doctors” I have visited offer Botox and even face lifts.  I use the term “doctor” loosely, because, for me at least, it was more like a trained technician performing the laser procedure. Basically, though, a person could walk into an office and schedule a face lift for that day–for less than $1000 USD.

Plus, there are these sorts of skin and fat-removing clinics all over the city, and greater Thailand. They are both street-side as well as in malls. And, of course, one can receive the same treatments at an actual hospital, like Chaophya.

One of my favorite stories, which I must share, occurred almost two months ago when I decided to go to a new place to receive laser treatments. I was recommended to a new clinic because they had a special kind of laser, called the Alexandrite, that worked well for hair removal on Western skin tones. When I first arrived I met with a sales person, with fairly decent English speaking skills. He pulled out a treatment menu, in English, with corresponding prices.

The prices were higher than what I had seen in the past– in fact, about three times as much. He was trying to have me purchase a package deal, with several hair removal treatments. With the prices so high, I assertively told him that I could not buy a bulk deal and instead would just like to pay for a single hair removal treatment. I then rearranged my sitting position, which I now realize probably looked as though I was about to walk out.

At that moment, he dropped the total price by more than half. He then added in two treatments with the dual-yellow face laser, for the same price. I was sold.

Far different from similar cosmetic laser centers in the US, this guy was able to change prices. It was like, purchasing an item at the market. You could negotiate. I had not even realized this was the case until he dropped the price so drastically. That price sheet, with treatments about three times as much as a similar clinic in Bangkok, served to rip off the unsuspecting foreigner. Again, it was only in English. Meaning Thai clientele were shown a different price menu.

But who would even think one could bargain at a laser clinic, where plastic surgery is also performed? And where there are Doctors working? That would never happen in the US, or any other Western, developed country. For that reason, so many foreigners must end up paying the initial price on the sheet–which is still a bit lower than what one would pay back at home.

All and all, the way the cosmetic surgery business is run in Thailand, and elsewhere throughout Asia, is drastically different from that at home. With such convenience mixed with little regulation (in addition to Asian economic advancement and a general wealth increase) it is no wonder that so many are turning to cosmetic surgery. Look, I even did.


Image Credit –  South Korean Pageant finalists via

Graph Credit – Via The Economist.