Every year, hundreds of North Koreans flee south across the border, hoping to make better lives for themselves and their families in South Korea. Unfortunately, that dream doesn’t always come true, as many North Koreans carry emotional and physical scars that limit their ability to succeed in a capitalist society. Recently, however, a team of plastic surgeons has set out to try to correct that imbalance by offering free plastic surgery to North Korean defectors.
Without question, South Korean culture is obsessed with physical appearance and beauty. Evidence of this obsession can be seen in the country’s capital, Seoul, in particular. All around the city, there are hundreds of clinics where counselors are on hand to suggest procedures to potential patients, and the city’s subway stations are plastered with before-and-after cosmetic surgery photos. Additionally, it is common for parents to pay for their daughters to have plastic surgery as a high school or college graduation present. Even people who are objectively attractive will routinely go under the knife to improve their looks.
All of this focus on physical appearance can be a detriment for North Koreans looking for work. Since working and healthcare conditions in North Korea are substandard, many of the defectors coming into South Korea carry scars that make them undesirable employees. On average, these defectors only make about 66% of what South Koreans make, and they are generally perceived as unstable and unskilled.
In order to level the playing field and help these defectors better integrate into society, a group of volunteers from the Korean Association of Plastic Surgeons is helping them get rid of their scars. To date, the group has treated burn scars, nasal malformations and even removed tattoos, which are typically viewed as taboo in South Korea. On the surface, this program may be viewed as an overall push by the country to give assistance to defectors, as the government already subsidizes their education and offers free apartments, but the surgeons involved in the program may have ulterior motives as well.
South Korea’s obsession with beauty and plastic surgery may have reached a tipping point, helping to perpetuate an unrealistic standard for beauty. In fact, many surgeons feel that the practice has gotten so extreme that people have developed a negative view of cosmetic surgery. By offering gratis procedures for defectors, surgeons can help to rebuild their public image.
Regardless of the motivations, however, this program is helping to make people feel more welcomed in a country that isn’t their home. And as the program continues, surgeons will erase more and more reminders of defectors’ painful pasts.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about plastic surgery, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!