As many know, physical appearance in South Korea is a major concern for both men and women. One’s physical appearance may very well determine whether or not a job is extended or even maintained. The cosmetic industry has seen a sharp increase in recent years as well as the boom in plastic surgery vacations and centers. South Korea has become the world capital for plastic surgery, according to some news outlets, offering services mostly to Chinese and other foreign customers. One plastic surgery clinic in Gangnam has devoted an entire floor to Chinese patients to accommodate the increase in interest and sales.

Women and men in the North experienced severe hardship and abuse by the government and military officials. Stories have been documented detailing torture such as beatings, cigarette burnings, and lashings. Abuses such as these leave not only emotional and mental scaring, but also physical. These scars diminish their physical appearance thereby affecting their self-esteem, ability to gain employment, and ability to assimilate into South Korean society.

Now, plastic surgery opportunities have been extended to North Korean refugees. Plastic surgeons in South Korea are now working together to help North Korean refugees improve their lives here in the South by repairing these scars.

Kim Kyeong-suk, the division head of the Yongsan Police Station launched the “Appearance Improvement Project” in 2014 which aims to remove physical scars free of charge. She witnessed many North Korean defectors fall into depression due to the scars obtained in the North. The initiative aims to lessen emotional pain by curing scaring and improving their physical appearance.

Through an MOU between the Yongsan Police Station and the Korean Association of Plastic Surgeons, 1,800 plastic surgery clinics across the country have given their time, money, and energy to help North Korean defectors providing scar removal surgeries and restoration of damaged body parts. To date, 22 defectors have received surgeries, while 40 defectors remain on the waiting list.

It would be an interesting study to see the psychological affect this has on the North Korean refugee as well as the impact on North Korean refugee unemployment and South Korean acceptance of North Korean refugees.




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