I was sitting out on my grandma’s porch when she decided to tell me that I would apparently look perfect if I got double-eyelid surgery.
My grandpa, dad, and mom were all there as well, but they just shrugged it off. A comment like the one my grandma had just made did not come off as strange or out of the ordinary to anyone, including myself. So I just smiled, nodded, and sipped my tea.
It only recently occurred to me that the casual nature of this conversation could be perceived as something “extreme” within the context of our readings on “extreme” cultures and body projects. But the fact is that many South Korean people are not inherently happy with the way they naturally look, and their appearances are essentially perceived as projects that constantly need to be edited and improved upon. Mono-lids (note: this is the lack of a “crease” or fold on the eyelid; most white and black people have these, and within Korean circles they are commonly referred to as double-eyelids), noses lacking a prominent bridge, and rounded, almost circular faces are the most common physical features among Korean people. It is these same features that Korean people often request to have operated on in order to achieve a more “marketable,” Westernized look.
As a child, my parents actually told me that if I was unhappy with the way I looked, I could easily change my undesirable features when I was old enough to get plastic surgery. So I would periodically update a mental list of things I could potentially fix through plastic surgery, since, like most growing girls, I struggled with my own fair share of body image issues as I progressed into adulthood: rhinoplasty to fix my “overly prominent” nose, a jaw shave to further elongate my face and define my chin, and of course, double eyelid surgery to make my eyes appear larger.
But something about the way many of the Korean girls I grew up with had re-defined themselves through plastic surgery was unsettling for me. In all honesty, I have a hard time telling them apart, since they were all pressured to change the same things to fit the same beauty standards. Personally, I’ve learned to love the unique qualities that I kind of despised throughout most of my childhood and adolescence, and I don’t feel the need to “fix” them through a series of invasive operations (in fact, as an aspiring physician, I am actually much more interested in performing plastic surgery than I am in having it done on me…but more on that some other time). Nowadays, I am a lot more comfortable with my face, as well as my body, and I do what I can to “cultivate my garden” I suppose. I exercise, I (try to) eat healthy, and I’ve grown to accept my somewhat square-shaped face, my abnormally (at least by Korean standards) prominent nose, and my eyelids. Frankly, even if I may not look as perfect as my family thinks I could be, I’m happy enough with my appearance that I no longer feel the need to keep that mental list anymore.