“Despite the popular misconception, the word ‘plastic’ in ‘plastic surgery’ does not mean ‘artificial,’ but is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘plastikos,’ which means to mold or give form” (Schnur and Hait). What was once used to help reconstruct the faces and bodies of wounded soldiers is now used to aesthetically create new faces and bodies around the world. The motive for surgery is changing. Statistics show that plastic surgery is becoming increasingly more popular among men, women, and teens. Not only is the number of surgeries performed growing, but new types of procedures are also appearing. Many people around the world are undergoing several different types of plastic and cosmetic surgeries.
The initial stages of plastic surgery in the past were not to increase beauty, but rather to help deformities and injuries look more normal. One of the main pioneers of plastic surgery in America was Dr. Jacques Maliniac, who traveled to the United States from Europe in 1923 after World War I. He helped establish the great American institution currently known as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Twenty years after founding ASPS, Dr. Maliniac molded The Plastic Surgery Foundation and remained its president until 1955 (Schnur and Hait). Paul Schnur and Pamela Hait state in the article, “History of Plastic Surgery”, “The Foundation’s mission was to support research pertaining to congenital and acquired deformities” (plasticsurgery.org). This is proof that aesthetic procedures were not their goal.
World War I was the combustive component that sent plastic surgery flying. The many damaged facial structures, missing body parts, and general deformities spurred some of the best surgeons all across Europe to devote themselves to restoring their fellow countrymen (Schnur and Hait). It was also during this time that doctors came to the realize, as 19th century surgeon John Orlando Roe nicely put, “how much valuable talent (had) been…buried from human eyes, lost to the world and society by reason of embarrassment…caused by the conscious, or in some cases, unconscious influence of some physical infirmity or deformity or unsightly blemish” (qtd. in Schnur and Hait).
It wasn’t until a while after the war that plastic surgery became well known. In the 1990’s plastic surgery began to reach the people’s radars, but in a negative way. “In December 1990, the questions of implant safety exploded nationally when ‘Face-to-Face with Connie Chung’ detailed the ‘horrors’ of breast implants to the public” (Schnur and Hait). But in 2003, the view of plastic surgery began to change for the better when ASPS allowed some of their practitioners to participate in a show called “Extreme Makeover” (Schnur and Hait). This television show changed everything for plastic surgery because they shined a lovely light on the procedures and made the end product seem very desirable.
Today in America, aesthetic plastic surgery has become much more common. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2012, over 10 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States (“Cosmetic Procedures Increase in 2012”). The top 2 procedures were breast augmentations and liposuction; both completed over 310,000 times. And this “beauty” isn’t cheap. Americans spent almost $11 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2012. Of that total $6.7 billion was spent on surgical procedures; $2 billion was spent on injectable procedures; $1.8 billion was spent on skin rejuvenation procedures; and over $483 million was spent on other nonsurgical procedures, including laser hair removal and laser treatment of leg veins. (“Cosmetic Procedures Increase in 2012”) All of these procedures were for aesthetic purposes, not out of necessity. The ridiculousness of plastic surgery grows with the acceptance of it. South Korea is proof that the increasing popularity of aesthetic plastic surgery is not a positive thing. The market research firm Trend Monitor had a survey in 2009 that displayed that one of every five women in Seoul between the ages of 19 and 49 said they had undergone plastic surgery (Sang-Hun). This shows how outrageously common surgery has become there. A writer for CNN Travel named Violet Kim goes so far as to call South Korea “the plastic surgery capital of the world.” Plastic surgery is such a big component in South Korea, that “Hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton Seoul, have partnered with hospitals and have US$88,000 ‘anti-aging beauty packages’ available. In
addition to predictable spa treatments such as skin care and health checkups, the packages include stem cell treatment and plastic surgery.” (Kim) The Koreans take beauty and longevity to a whole new level with their extreme surgeries and treatments. Surgical procedures are becoming more increasingly more dramatic and progressively more common in South Korea: “Double-jaw surgery — which was originally developed to repair facial deformities, involves cutting and rearranging the upper and lower jaws — has become a favorite procedure for South Korean women who are no longer satisfied with mere nose jobs or with paring down cheekbones to achieve a smoother facial line” says Choe Sang-Hun in his article “In South Korea, Plastic Surgery Comes Out of the Closet” (nytimes.com). “What we do in double-jaw surgery is to reassemble the face,” said Dr. Park, whose clinic has performed 3,000 such procedures in the past six years. “Normal people become, sort of, super-normal, and pretty people prettier” (qtd. in Sang-Hun). It is upsetting to see such nonchalance towards completely altering the natural beauty in ones face. Plastic surgery has become so prominent in Korea, that there is no way around it. A similar and equally popular surgery amongst young Korean pop artists is the “v-line” surgery. This surgery consists of breaking and shaving the jawline to form a V-shaped face. “ The V-line shape gives the face a certain fragility” says Zara Stone, writer of the “The K-Pop Plastic Surgery Obsession” article in The Atlantic. Fragility is equated with childlikeness; a look that’s ongoing appeal is prevalent in South Korea.
A very common procedure in Korea is the “double eye lid” surgery. This surgery is also known as Blepharoplasty. This procedure involves cutting the upper eye lid to create a double fold or crease. It is thought to have originated from Japan, and the first surgery was performed in 1896 by a surgeon named Mikamo (Holliday and Hwang 13). Asians see the double eyelid surgery as a way to make the eyes look larger and rounder (Sang-Hun). Ms. Chang, a makeup artist that was about to undergo this surgery said “You must endure pain to be beautiful,” adding that an eye job is so routine these days “it’s not even considered surgery” (qtd. in Sang-Hun). So the question now is: how did it come to this? What caused such and explosion for plastic surgery in South Korea? Writer for The Atlantic, Zara Stone, gives the background to plastic surgery in South Korea in her article called “The K-pop Plastic Surgery Obsession.” She explains that the first double eyelid surgery in South Korea was performed by an American plastic surgeon named Dr. Ralph Millard. Dr. Millard was sent to Korea during the Korean War as the chief plastic surgeon for the US Marine Corps (Stone). His purpose was also to treat accident and bun victims(just like the situation in America), but he decided that the double eyelid surgery would help them in a different way because it made them look more Western and thus be able to assimilate more easily into the developing international economy (Stone). This surgery first attracted Korean prostitutes that wanted to appeal to American soldiers but soon after, aesthetic surgeries became the mainstream culture. Zara stone states that the first cosmetic surgery clinic opened in Korea in 1961 and year on year, the numbers of women undergoing cosmetic operations doubled and then tripled (theatlantic.com).
To conclude, it seems that the growing popularity of plastic surgery in both America and Korea arises from our natural human need to be the best that we can be. With technology now equipping us with the ability to become reach our desired goals, why wouldn’t we take it as far as it can go? As surgeons become more adventurous, and people become greedier, plastic surgery will continue to grow more and more common. Soon, natural beauty will be an object of the past.