Brace Face

There’s a heap of good expat blogs on Korea that I’m trying to read up on.

One of the more fun gyopo blogs out there has an interesting line of speculation on why Koreans have the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world, whereas the US still attaches stigma to it:


2. Korea is super competitive. That’s why there’s so many hagwons: for kids to be better than / keep up with the other kids. Everyone works really hard and tries to be on top of the game. I’m from NYC and the competition gets hot there, but it’s a pressure cooker over here. I’m an outsider and I still feel it!

3. The attitude in Korea towards plastic surgery isn’t so crazy. The America I grew up in kind of tends to make a big deal regarding plastic surgery. “Oh yo, did you hear she got a boob job?!” It’s kind of considered cheating back in America. But here it’s just kind of a thing. Even some parents promise their kids in high school plastic surgery as graduation presents.


I don’t disagree with any of the above (well, point 4 is a bit BS), but there’s another factor most people don’t consider: braces.

For most Americans, braces are the first, most common, and relatively affordable way of medically enhancing your appearances. For Koreans, the analogous starting point is eyelid surgery.  One could argue that the first medical procedure sets a precedent for subsequent ones: once you get eyelids, why not liposuction the thighs? Botox the cheeks? Inject the breasts?

So what makes braces special that they don’t start Americans down the same slippery slope as Koreans?  My take is that, for a variety of factors – substantive and symbolic – they not only don’t lead down the same slippery slope, but actually serve as a brake against it:

  • you get them when you’re a teenager
  • it’s done, or at least recommended, by your childhood dentist
  • they takes years and constant maintenance
  • they makes you UGLIER for the duration you wear them

Which is to say, braces are a teenage rite of passage: you get them, then you’re done, you’re an ADULT.  To follow it up with plastic surgery isn’t about cheating others or cheating the process in general, it’s about cheating yourself.  It cheapens the price your teenage self paid in time, discomfort, and self-esteem during your most formative and vulnerable years.

Of course, having never had either braces nor eyelid surgery, maybe I’m just full of it…

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