Jihye Kuk, Hyejung Park, and Caroline Norma of Feminist Current write:
In April, The Telegraph reported on a growing movement against “cultural violence against women” in South Korea, which rose up in response to the fact that women in the nation were undergoing more plastic surgery than anywhere else in the world.
This movement had success in November 2017 when Seoul Metro, which runs trains and buses in the world’s most populous city, banned cosmetic surgery ads in its stations.
Beauty practices are enforced more strictly for South Korean women than perhaps any female population on earth. Women’s ability to flourish and live autonomously, in a political, economic, and social context, is kept in check through intense pressure to get plastic surgery, to diet after graduation in order to compete in the job market, and to spend money on skin treatments, hair styling, and body hair removal treatments. Even for underage Korean girls the regime is fundamentalist: it’s hard to find a girl not wearing makeup by sixth grade, and some middle school uniforms for girls come with inner pockets for lip gloss. Female students in secondary schools are told not wearing makeup is socially impolite.
The campaign attracted criticism from liberal feminists who argued that beauty practices cannot be assessed as oppressive to all women, as they might feel empowering to some individuals. These critiques, though, have not dissuaded young Korean women, who have been buying up feminist books about beauty practices in Korean bookshops. Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth appeared in Korean translation in 2016, and an edited collection of Sheila Jeffreys’ translated journal articles on a range of topics, including beauty practices, was published in Korean in 2018, under the title, Radical Feminism, selling 3000 copies.
Since the publication of Beauty and Misogyny, the sex industry has become even more linked to the cosmetic surgery sector, as loan sharks working for pimps ensnare young women in debt by pushing high interest loans on them so they can get cosmetic surgeries, which they are then made to pay off through prostitution.