16 Photos That Reveal The Realities Of Korean Plastic Surgery

Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
This article was originally published on September 28, 2015.

In 2014, South Korea had the fourth-highest number of plastic surgeries performed in any country in the world, despite having less than half the population of any other nation in the top five. Nips and tucks are so common in South Korea that it's almost novel if you haven't had work done, says South Korean photographer Ji Yeo. Yeo describes her younger self as "typical" for a teenager: Like the rest of her peers, she wanted plastic surgery — a lot of plastic surgery. "I wanted to get my entire face done, liposuction for the whole body, everything," she tells us."I wanted to change my entire look."

Although Yeo eventually decided against undergoing any procedure, many, many women in South Korea go through with it, and, indeed, change their "entire look." Yeo explains that the $5-billion-per-year industry is so widespread that plastic surgery has become a rite of passage for many young women. "It’s not something that’s rare," she says, adding that it's not even treated with the same caution as other surgeries: "It’s really considered a very quick, safe procedure that people don’t find it’s necessary to bring along their family members or friends."

Yeo's series, Beauty Recovery Room, depicts women who have very recently undergone various plastic surgery procedures. They are still in bandages, and many of them appear to be resting and recuperating. Yeo tells us that all of the people she photographed had had many surgeries prior to the ones they were recovering from when she met them. When asked how many of her models plan to return for even more work in the future, Yeo says, without hesitation, "100%."

Click through to see more of Yeo's work and to hear from her about just how much Korea's and the U.S.'s views of plastic surgery differ.



Ed. note: Some of the images to follow contain nudity.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
Yeo explains that the women she photographed "were hugely confused about why I didn’t get any plastic surgery when I had wanted to get plastic surgery. For them, I was the shocking one."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
She describes their reactions as, "‘What?! If you wanted to go, why didn’t you get it? If you don’t like it, you can get more surgery.'"
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"I can’t say that there’s just one [most popular surgery]," Yeo says, but she explains that many people decide to undergo the same types of procedures, like "double eyelid surgery, [where a fold is created in patients' eyelids]. Then, getting a higher and narrower nose is very typical. I can’t really say it’s ‘popular,’ because it’s almost considered as a default."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"In Korea, you have to have a very baby-like face, an innocent look. It’s considered very pretty, versus, in the U.S., ‘sexy’ is [what is considered] pretty. You [in the U.S.] appreciate cheekbones and jaw structures, but in Korea, people get rid of that. There’s a cheek-reduction surgery, there’s a jaw-reduction surgery — anything that makes your face smaller and round."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"Even in recovery," she says, "they are looking for something else [to have done]."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"[In recovery], the peak of the pain only lasts three days, and after three days, even though you still have scars, you’re still swollen, it doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. So, they’re not really scared of the pain, or the recovery process, because they are really excited about the fact that they had plastic surgery, that they...enhanced their look."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"It’s considered something really natural that comes along with [the surgery]. Not many people are scared of [being in pain]."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"One of the subjects — she was only 22 years old. She was really quite obsessed with plastic surgery. She had almost 16 different surgeries in six months."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"She changed dramatically, and she told me, maybe a year after I took her photograph, ‘I’m really, really happy now. I never had a boyfriend before, and now I have a boyfriend, but I’m scared that he might find out that I had a bunch of plastic surgery.'"
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"There are so many different kinds of surgeries that you can have, and people these days are saying, ‘Yeah, I had my nose and eyes done,’ when in fact she had 12 or 15 different surgeries."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"It’s not a secret that they had plastic surgery, but what is still kind of taboo, or not talked about, is the entire truth of how many, and where."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"Over the years, the technology has developed so much, and the trends change so much, that, for example, if they had a nose job when they were in high school, that’s not the trend anymore."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"It’s really necessary that they [have it done] a second time or third time; otherwise, you’ll look really outdated."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
In the U.S., Yeo says, plastic surgery is a sign of wealth. "In Korea," she says, "it’s not really like that. It’s nationwide. It doesn’t matter that you’re not wealthy... Even my grandmother, who lives in the countryside, is thinking about getting plastic surgery."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
In fact, "not many people even talk about it that much anymore, because it’s so popular."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ji Yeo.
"It’s not like I want to change the world, but...I want to expose something that people don’t think about, something that’s hidden."
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