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Gender, Globalization and Aesthetic Surgery in South Korea

by Ruth Holliday & Joanna Elfving-Hwang

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“This article explores the unusually high levels of cosmetic surgery in South Korea – for both women and men. We argue that existing explanations, which draw on feminist and postcolonial positions, presenting cosmetic surgery as pertinent only to female and non-western bodies found lacking by patriarchal and racist/imperialist economies, miss important cultural influences. In particular, focus on western cultural hegemony misses the influence in Korea of national identity discourses and traditional Korean beliefs and practices such as physiognomy. We show how these beliefs provide a more ‘gendered’ as opposed to feminist analysis, which allows space for discussion of men’s surgeries. Finally, we critique the accepted notion of the ‘western body’, especially its position in some literature as a more unobtainable ideal for non-western than for western women. We argue that this body has little in common with actual western women’s bodies, and more in common with a globalized image, embodying idealized elements from many different cultures.”

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