South Korean Obsession with Beauty

South Korean Obsession with Beauty

Sure K-pop is catchy, the stage performances are original and the dance routines are spectacular, but an element essential to the artist's success is how good-looking they are. Who can resist gorgeous girls dancing short and tight outfits? Right? Right?

The importance of beauty in the K-pop world is such that there is a K-pop Idol School that only admits beautiful people. Aimed at mentoring K-pop girl group members, the Idol School's website shamelessly posted "we are recruiting beautiful freshmen."

You don't need to have dancing and singing skills to be able to enter this school. The only requirement is being beautiful. After being criticized for promoting lookism, the institution claimed that the idea of "beauty" encompasses appearance, the mind, personal charm and enthusiasm. Despite this claim, it is clear they do care about the appearance as the school song is titled "Because you are pretty," and the application form requires body shots of the applicant.

The program is focused on preparing students over 11 weeks for a debut after they pass the graduation exam. The institution prepares individuals to become successful idol talents with a comprehensive curriculum that includes "Mind Control" and "How to Deal with a Stage Crisis."

In the industry, the most beautiful K-pop idols are Im Yoona, Suzy, Irene, IU, Seolhyun, Son Na-en, Kim Tae-yeon, Kang Seul-gi, Krystal Jung and Nana.

The K-pop beauty standards only reflect the country's obsession with looks. It is common in South Korea to undergo surgery in order to comply with these standards: rounder eyes, narrower faces and bigger breasts.

A K-pop band also celebrated the country's trend to go under the knife and become pretty. From nose jobs to breast implants, all four members of SixBomb went through extensive plastic surgery before releasing a new single.

One of their videos showed K-pop members visiting a clinic and lying on the operating table. Another one had them dancing with their sunglasses on and their heads wrapped in bandages. In their smash hit "Becoming prettier" they sing "everyone follows me because I'm pretty."

The electronic track, which is the antithesis to Lady Gaga's "Born this way," has raised criticism on South Korea's ultra-competitive, looks-obsessed society, where physical features are essential to improve one's social standing and help secure jobs - many recruitment adverts require a "neat appearance" and a CV with photo.

With thousands of clinics performing an estimated 1.2 million procedures a year, South Korea is the world's third largest plastic surgery market. This is a relevant position considering it only has a population of 50 million.

The pressure to get plastic surgery in South Korea is overwhelming. Adverts showing before-and-after pictures are displayed on billboards, subway trains, bus stops and toilet walls, and the message of them all is to urge women to "change" their looks: "everyone but you has done it."

SixBomb's lead singer Dain had breast implants and facial plastic surgery to make her face look smaller for a video. Therefore, they had the idea to be forward about it rather than trying to conceal it.

"We all wanted to get some surgeries done to look prettier... and thought, ‘Why not perform a song about it instead of trying to conceal it?'" she said. "People will notice it anyway, so we wanted to be open about this reality where many women want to look pretty."

Despite having released five albums since their foundation in 2012, SixBomb are yet to become a major stars and with their members getting "old" for the K-pop scene, the pressure is on, hence the effort to look prettier to get more followers.

The plastic beauty project was funded by their management, which spent 100 million won for "almost every kind of surgery that could be done on a face" and breast implants, according to head manager Kim Il-Woong.

"We haven't committed any crimes. Our only crime would be talking about it in such an open manner," he said, adding that although many celebrities go under the knife, not many come "out of the closet."

With the "Korean Wave" spreading around the world, more countries are becoming obsessed with looks. K-pop band members always look flawless, fit and with good looks. They are controlled by strict managements who dictate everything from what to sing to what to eat and what operations to have. As K-pop relies heavily on looks, not only Korean fans but also from overseas and mostly Chinese are having procedures in the hope of looking like their favorite stars.

A Seoul clinic confirmed that SixBomb's members had gone through extensive operations "all above the waist". Although none of them were forced to go under the knife - allegedly - rapper Soa had to think "long and hard" before having the "double eyelid" procedure to make eyes wider and rounder. "I really liked and was satisfied with my previous eyes, so I had to think long and hard before deciding to take part in the this concept," she said.

Although "coming out of the closet" might be a marketing move per se, the plastic surgery has raised both compliments as well as criticism. One commentator said: "I understand that you guys are desperate for publicity... but did you really need to go this far?" Another described it as "flat-out bizarre."

This move reflect's the country's "plastic surgery culture" and the prevalent sexism behind it. In South Korea, looks determine women's "social survival" and job prospects. Recruitment agencies require a neat photo for their CV. Despite being Asia's fourth largest economy, South Korea ranks at the bottom of OECD surveys on gender equality, said Jung Seul-Ah, media monitor at rights group Korea Womenlink.

"This culture has made plastic surgery something essential for many women deemed not pretty enough," Jung said, and an "absolute necessity for female celebrity whose looks are worshipped, consumed and capitalized on incessantly."

Despite the criticisms, singer Dain had not doubts. "I really love my new face and am proud of how good I look on TV screens," said said, adding she would welcome "any kind of public attention, good or band" for the project.