December 21, 2023 08:08
Plastic surgery and other cosmetic enhancements have become a bizarre rite of passage for well-off young Koreans before they start university.
Plastic surgeons and skin clinics say their custom surges 200 to 300 percent every November to February once the university entrance exams are over and students have their place at college.
The clinics that litter flashy Apgujeong-dong in southern Seoul are already fully booked until February of next year. Many offer 10 to 50-percent discounts to patients who bring proof that they have completed their entrance exam, plus additional discounts for friends and family.
Teens typically have eye or nose surgery. With the discounts, double eyelid surgery to produce more Western-looking, rounded eyes costs around W300,000 and a nose job W800,000 (US$1=W1,299). An injection to remove skin blemishes costs only W500 and a single botox shot W1,000.
Mothers may also take advantage of the promotions and have some botox or other treatments for themselves so as not to be left out.
"Competition is intense, and some clinics even offer double eyelid surgery for W190,000," a plastic surgeon said. "But they will recommend safer and better treatments, which means the cost can easily snowball to W3-4 million."
The seasonal rush brings some risks, since inexperienced doctors may be roped in to handle the workload, the doctor warned. Advertising plastic surgery is theoretically illegal, but the sheer size of the business makes it impossible to clamp down.
Most customers are female, but boys and men now make up 10 percent of plastic surgery patients.
Peer pressure and guilt trips are a huge incentive. One mother in her 40s from Yeouido said, "My daughter has been blaming me for her plain looks for the last two years, so I promised to take her to a cosmetic surgery clinic once she passed her entrance exam."
But other mothers pressure their daughters or, increasingly, sons to go under the knife, often in the belief that good looks can ensure a better future both privately and professionally.
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