By Jung Lee
The once crowded waiting rooms in plastic surgery clinics are empty. Twenty out of Eighty clinics in the Beauty Town have been closed since the economic downturn last year. The rest are struggling with new business strategies to survive.
The plastic surgery industry took off after South Korea recovered from the 1997 economic crisis. As Koreans got wealthier, pursuing beauty became one of the priorities on their to-do list. Plastic surgery is very popular in South Korea. Even the former President Roh Moo-hyun underwent a double eyelid procedure in 2005.
“More than half of my girl friends in college had undergone some kind of plastic surgery. Nose jobs and double eyelids surgeries are most popular ones,” said Alice Park, a 22-year-old student. “Cosmetic surgery is no secret here.”
Parents would take their high school senior children for plastic surgery as a graduation gift. Making their children more pretty is as important as sending them into top schools. “Whatever it takes to get ahead, it worth a try, especially in such a highly competitive society,” said Han-Seok Ko, who took his 21-year-old daughter for a nose job last year. “Looks are really important.”
Plastic surgery is the number one winter break activity for high school graduates because they are going into college or preparing for job interviews. A large percentage of Koreans believe that good looks mean greater opportunities. “I think parents support their children to do plastic surgery because beauty is very important for getting a decent job or finding a good husband,” said Jungshan Sea, a 24-year-old Korean.
Yeonbae Jung, a plastic surgeon in Seoul, suggested on his clinic’s website that people with a better personal image are more efficient in their jobs. “A cosmetic surgery can boost your personal confidence.”
The plastic surgery industry in South Korea is certainly not immune from the economy facing particularly unsettled times. According to ARA Marking and Education, a consulting company based in Seoul that specialized in the cosmetic surgery industry, the number of customers has plummeted 40% since last September.
Since poor economy sharply cut the demand of plastic surgery, the South Korea government is trying to help clinics stay in business. The Seoul Metropolitan government is planning to launch a project of building an international medical institution complex for luring more foreign patients. The project emphasizes plastic surgery and there would have multilingual counseling staff for international patient service. The government knows these medical tourists will not only bring money for clinics but also help the economy by shopping and sightseeing.
In the meantime, some larger clinics tried to find their own way out. According to Seoul plastic surgery association journal, more than 20 South Korean plastic surgery clinics have set up branches in Shanghai, China. Some other companies are setting up English version website in order to lure U.S customers and Korean Americans.
South Korean Won was one of the worst performing currencies last year due to major stocks and bonds sell-offs following the bleak economic forecast . Won depreciated by 50% against the U.S. dollar. A double eyelid surgery costs around $900, while the average cost of the same surgery is around $3,800 in California.
Clinics expect more patients from the United States, especially Korean Americans. “We hope more and more patients will be attracted by the high quality of Korean surgeons,” BK Dong Yang Plastic Surgery hospital spokesman Lee Mi-Kyung said in an interview with The Korean Times.
Friday, March 6, 2009
By Jung Lee