This is a recurring dialogue I have with curious non-Korean friends, so I hope I can shed some light on what can easily be misconstrued as a severe ethnic identity issue. As a Korean-American, there’s a deep sense of internalized conflict regarding the rampant prevalence of plastic surgery and its greater cultural ramifications. One must first be informed that Koreans, socially, tend to be a very frank, if not critical, people, and are highly judgmental of each other’s looks, weight, etc. I remember, even as a child, my parents’ friends would greet me with a simple, “oh good, you’re tall!” immediately followed by, “look at how terrible your skin is, I have the perfect cream for you.” This breed of casual physical scrutiny is the social norm for most Koreans, and what “Western” societies might consider tactless and rude is, for us, simply stating the facts. Aside from this jaw-dropping selection of extremely drastic before-and-after photos, most Koreans will admit to the now infamous eyelid surgery as the one procedure they’ve had or would like to get. This is where my understanding wanes. I’ve had countless, gorgeous Korean friends get their eyes opened up (where the surgeon creates the fold to make a “Western” double lid). Our distinct eye size/shape have become synonymous with our heritage - an unmistakeable physiological identifying ethnic factor - and I have no defense for the alteration of it in regards to racial insecurity. Others can contest this assertion, as I have tried to many times myself, but when it comes to slicing your eyelids open or bleaching your skin, race IS an issue, whether one is conscious of it or not. That being said, the public must not underestimate how pretty Koreans think they are as a whole (I’m not joking). The notion that every surgical procedure is an attempt to “look like white people” comes off as absurd. One might successfully argue that the international standard for beauty through media has saturated the Asian market and affected how the East views themselves, yada yada yada, but the audience that agrees to this common supposition would generally not include Koreans. Koreans don’t necessarily mope about, yearning hopelessly for the day they can look more like Nicole Kidman, even though their procedures might imply the contrary. Consider this: do we, as Americans, look at similarly tortured, waxed faces on our televisions, like the Real Housewives, and wonder how white women somehow begin looking more Asian as their skin and eyes are stretched and smoothed? Do we assume these women walk into their plastic surgeons and hold up a picture of Lucy Liu? Probably not. Stereotypical Koreans, if they should be faulted for anything, basically think most other people are highly unattractive - yes, even white people. The first time my mother saw Angelina Jolie she remarked, “ugh, what is that,” as if stumbled upon the presence of a stray dog. There’s a mysterious, bizarre hybrid median between all races that our modern day Frankensteins are all aspiring towards - this ephemeral mixed ethnic monstrosity, this supposed “standard of beauty.” Koreans simply want to get there faster because they can. It’s a distinct combination of pride, impatience, and following the trend: all things Koreans are veritable masters of. I had asked some friends while in Seoul for some insight on this topic. Their response was, “why not? If I want something, should I want it, and it’s available, I’ll get it.” One of them added, “why is this of such interest? When I go to California I don’t walk around asking about people’s nose jobs.” I played devil’s advocate and argued that the Korean craze was, perhaps, a signifier of a deeper ethnic issue. She replied, “I think it’s a beauty issue. We aren’t discriminating against ourselves, orAsians. Someone might be, but that’s their personal problem. If anything, we’re all discriminating against UGLY people.” In conclusion, every time I see these lists come up online of ugly Korean ducklings turning into beautiful, sort-of-Korean swans, I wonder how any country’s comparable photo set would look like. No one, in the end, looks like themselves, regardless of race, and if that makes them happy, more power to them. Whenever someone comments on how “white” they appear, I roll my eyes so hard Liz Lemon would be proud, not because they’re observation is incorrect, but because every other comment muses, “huh, I hate to say this, but they DO look way better after the surgery.” Sometimes I wonder if it’s our pervasive, subliminal associating of the keywords “white” and “pretty” that inspires us to create these long-winded racial dissertations in the first place. Or perhaps ugly folk just want to look good. Either way, I’m going to make a sandwich and think about how skinny my Korean mother said I looked last time she saw me and how she offered to laser off my freckles because, hey, that’s apparently a thing now.