IT’S NO SECRET K-pop has spiked in popularity in recent years. According to Korea JoongAng Daily USA, by 2010, over 900 K-pop videos on YouTube by South Korea’s top three media companies had received over 500 million hits from Asia alone. (This was long before Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” of course.) Money Today reported that the four top-paid Korean male celebrities are in the music industry. And, thanks to "hallyu," or the Korean wave, referring to the increasing international popularity of Korean culture, K-pop has gained a considerable fanbase abroad, too. A reporter for Monocle on Bloomberg Television dubbed K-pop South Korea’s “most potent weapon,” and YouTube has officially added K-pop as a genre to its “Music” page.
However, even as countries around the world are reveling in the music of girl and boy bands like Girls’ Generation, 2NE1 and Big Bang, some Koreans internally are worried that K-pop may be encouraging the growth of another trend: teen plastic surgery.
Commonplace today on numerous K-pop fan websites are speculative stories about whether pop idols with picture-perfect facial features are natural or the work of a talented plastic surgeon. Sample headlines from fan sites include: “Chocolat denies plastic surgery rumors: ‘We are 100% natural beauties’”; “Did SNSD’s Taeyeon & Tiffany recently undergo cosmetic surgery?”; “Brown Eyed Girls’ Miryo addresses plastic surgery rumor; “IU denies that she went under the knife”; “ZE:A’s Kwanghee hasn’t been able to drink alcohol since he got plastic surgery.”
Often accompanying such stories are recent photos of the K-pop star alongside his or her childhood photos, so that netizens can draw their own conclusions.
Certainly, plastic surgery in South Korea, in general, has made headlines over the years. Last April, The Economist reported that the Asian country emerged as the most-cosmetically enhanced population in the world. The report was based on data from a 2010 Survey by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, which found that, while the total number of aesthetic surgical procedures was highest in the U.S., when adjusted for population size, Korea topped the list. (To be fair, some Korean media pointed out that nearly half of those procedures were non-invasive, such as Botox injections.)
Just a decade or so ago, the majority of Koreans receiving plastic surgery were in their 20s and 30s. But that majority appears to be shrinking as more teenagers go under the knife—so much so that, in 2011, South Korea’s Ministry of Education issued a booklet to warn high school students about “plastic surgery syndrome.” An e-Seoul survey reported last year by Korea JoongAng Daily found that 41.4 percent of teens were “willing to have plastic surgery for beauty.” This percentage is about 10 points higher than that of interviewees in their 20s, 20 points higher than that of interviewees in their 30s, and 30 points higher than that of interviewees in their 40s or older.
It could be mere coincidence that, with the incredible rise of K-pop, the plastic surgery age may be trending younger. However, while it’s difficult to prove a direct correlation, it’s no secret that K-pop stars are recognized not only for their music, but also for their physical appearance. And what’s become almost trademark for most Kpop idols are features like double eyelids and high-bridged noses, facial features that many East Asians aren’t necessarily born with. Even members of Korean boy bands are known to be “pretty.”
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