Written by GEOFFREY CAIN for Global Post
SEOUL, South Korea — There is a glamorous nouveau riche neighborhood in Seoul called Gangnam. You may have heard the song. Gangnam is renowned for its culture of beauty and style. And its plastic surgery.
Hundreds of clinics cater to fashionistas seeking convenience and speed, sometimes at half the price of what you’d find in a place like Beverly Hills. For people in Seoul, this is a place of affluence, of hyper-consumption and high-velocity trends.
It’s a world I’ve never really understood. The Gangnam Dream is nothing like the American Dream I grew up with in the sleepy suburbs of Chicago. But the obsession with plastic surgery in South Korea — my home now — runs so deep, I decided I should try to learn what it is all about.
So I’ve decided to join the ranks of Gangnam high society by dropping into one of Seoul’s biggest plastic surgery clinics. My goal is to transform my face. I want to look like the nation’s most beloved rapper, G-Dragon.
South Koreans get more nip and tucks per capita every year than most anywhere else on Earth. There are endless stories here of crazed fans taking their passion too far, disfiguring their faceswith self-administered cooking oil injections, or enduring garish makeovers to turn their seemingly imperfect foreign faces into perfect Korean ones.
An estimated one in five Korean women has undergone treatments, according to a 2009 survey. According to a government watchdog, the nation commands one-quarter of the $21 billion global plastic surgery industry, attracting close to 300,000 medical tourists last year — the bulk of them beauty seekers from China, Japan, Southeast Asia and the former Soviet bloc.
Me, on the other hand — well, I’m a modestly paid writer with little time for cardio or even a full night’s sleep. And since I don’t rap with a pink hairdo and thick eyeliner, I remain deprived of squealing female fans. Today, I begin my effort to correct that.
The decorated physician Dr. Jong-pil Chung greets me in the consultation room of the Cinderella Plastic Surgery and Dental Clinic. Dr. Chung has made it his life’s mission to help people find the right look. As the clinic’s chief physician, he serves as a cosmetic adviser to South Korea’s most prominent actors and pop singers, and teaches his craft at one of the nation’s most prestigious medical schools. I’m in good hands.
Examining my x-rays, Dr. Chung explains that G-Dragon’s face isn’t quite like mine. This I already knew. G-Dragon has a slender and balanced structure, which is beloved “all over the world,” according to the doctor. My contour, on the other hand, is layered with more fat and I have a wide jaw, beloved it seems only by my mother. Dr. Chung says the transformation will require some invasive bone-piercing along my mandible and cheekbones. But he promises that under his guidance, I can awake from the operating table with a facial contour “80 percent” like G-Dragon’s.
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