SEMINAR: Asian Studies Seminar Series
|Asian Studies Seminar Series : Before and After: Cosmetic Surgery and Embodying the Moral Self in South Korean Makeover Culture
In contemporary South Korean society, appearances matter. The sheer scale of the practice as well as the types of plastic surgeries suggests that South Korea, like many other postindustrial nations of the world, is now part of a wider global makeover culture that is driven by the constant need to improve and maintain one’s physical appearance. In South Korea, the discourses that seek to justify the practice go beyond pointing to positive psychological effects of a successful surgery, and present it as an object of investment where the ‘right’ appearance is increasingly seen to correspond to social capital. The career-related rewards for engaging with successful cosmetic surgical results are certainly far from hypothetical.
Yet in the context of South Korean popular media discourses, these discourses are not simply grounded in Western individualism, but are also necessitated by the affective, intersubjective gaze of a social group (whether it be the family or other group that the subject identifies with) which promotes a view that the individual subject’s body is also representative of the collective body of that group. Reflecting this, the narrative logic deployed in popular media and in TV makeover programmes assert that cosmetic surgery is not evidence of vanity, but quite the contrary, a positive proof of willingness to invest in self in consideration of others. Within this context, somatic subjectivity obtained through engagement with surgery is seen as an expression of moral self, rather than suggesting lack thereof.
Through an analysis of the narrative logic deployed in a South Korean cosmetic surgery makeover programme Let Me In, this paper will analyse how popular discourses of cosmetic surgery present beauty as an index of social inclusion through pathologising non-standard appearance as evidence of moral deficiency . Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, is presented as a solution to the discursively created problem of social exclusion that allows surgically enhanced beauty to emerge not as a sign of vanity but as evidence of desirable moral attitude, which is quite literally embodied/imbedded in the images of the subject’s healed, postoperative body. I conclude by suggesting that these cultural discourses of cosmetic surgery, which seek to normalise artificially enhanced bodies, cannot be taken simply as signs of ‘Westernisation’, but as a symptom of a much wider process of shifts in emerging epistemological discourses of how self is understood in relation to the other in contemporary South Korean society.
Associate Professor Jo Elfving-Hwang
Seminar room G.25, Social Sciences North
<[email protected] >
Fri, 03 May 2013 14:30
Fri, 03 May 2013 16:00
Karen Eichorn <[email protected]>
Mon, 29 Apr 2013 12:55
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