Honors Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Nakagawa, S. 2021. "Cosmopolitan South Korean Beauty Culture: Paleness, Whiteness and Plastic Surgery in Contemporary Society." Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska - Lincoln.


Copyright Serina Nakagawa 2021.


South Korea is known as the “plastic surgery nation” with most of the clinics concentrated in Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul. Plastic surgery rates for women aged 18-20 are estimated at 33%, with an overall rate of 18% for women of all ages in 2018. Scholars have argued that the prevalence of blepharoplasty (double eyelid surgery), rhinoplasty (nose job), and skin lightening indicates a desire to mimic Whiteness while some scholars and patients suggest operations enhance traditional Korean beauty standard. Utilizing gender studies and cultural anthropology lens, I examine how Western beauty ideals have influenced South Korean body politics and how they are expressed through plastic surgery. My findings indicate that plastic surgery in post-war (1950) South Korea is a direct result of a high value placed on Whiteness rooted in colonial experiences. Today however, beauty standards have transformed to reflect both traditional Korean ideals and distinctly Westernized cosmopolitan style of modernity.