Culture K-Beauty Lost in translation

Why Koreans get so much plastic surgery? What the heck does Gangnam Style mean?


Why do Koreans get so much plastic surgery?
Double-eyelid surgery

“Women are never guilty of their transformation.” It’s a popular copy line from a 1980s South Korean TV commercial. It wittily captures, not just women, but our basic desire for beauty, but also implies Korean people’s tendency to put a lot of weight on the looks. As many foreigners believe, plastic surgery is very popular in Korea and is easily accessible to anyone, including foreigners who come to visit Korea just for that. But for many Koreans, it’s not just the aesthetics they are after. The traditional belief of gwansang (physiognomy), which asserts that the harmony of the facial features determines a person’s fate, play a role in the desire. Naturally, a great number of people want to “improve” their appearance, as well as their odds, through simple plastic surgery before important events like a job interview. Only God knows how much of an impact that has on the interviewer, but if one can gain confidence from their “improved” look and live their life to the fullest every day, then their fate should be brighter than before. The double eyelid surgery and nose jobs, raising the tip of the nose and the nose bridge, are the most popular.

KOREAN COSMETICS, Danahan, Anti-wrinkle 2-piece set (Moisturizing, high-nutrition lotion) [Amazon]


Earth burned to the ground by nuclear war and those who survived live on wearing masks. These post-apocalypse scenes have long been a reality in Korea, where people embraced wearing masks as an essential part of their daily lives. The main culprit is the fine dust or particulates matter, partly coming from the factories located in China that use coal as energy, and partly from within Korea, as well as car exhaust fumes. Another major cause is the “Yellow Dust,” where the dry soil particles from China and the Mongolian deserts get picked up to form dust storms. Ironically, the habit of mask-wearing played an important role in preventing the spread of pandemics such as the COVID-19 and MERS-CoV.

Dr.Puri New Micro-Dust Protection Face Premium Mask (KF94) White Large [Amazon]



오빠 강남스타일! “Oppa Gangnam Style!” When the song “Gangnam Style” became a global hit back in 2012, everybody hummed and danced to the line “Oppa Gangnam Style,” while doing the horse-riding dance. But 99% of the non-Koreans didn’t know what Gangnam Style even meant, like how we danced to the tunes of the song “Macarena” when it was all the craze back in the days. Many non-Spanish speakers didn’t have a clue what “Macarena” was. So, what the heck does Gangnam Style mean?

PSY GANGNAM STYLE Paris live flashmob at Trocadero with Cauet (NRJ) 파리 강남스타일 5.11.2012

Gangnam 강남 means “Region south of 한강 Hangang (the Han River),” because gang 강 means “river,” and nam 남 means “south” but often used to refer to the most affluent area of Seoul, also known as the “Gangnam 3(sam)-gu,” which consists of Gangnam-gu, 강남구, Seocho-gu 서초구, and Songpa-gu 송파구. They are known for their house prices that are the highest in Korea, and the highest proportion of rich people in Korea, although a lot of “old money” chaebol families live in the north of the river, called Gangbuk 강북.

gangnam three districts

Gangnam (not to be confused with the singer with the same name) is the epitome of Korean affluence for its luxury boutiques, high-end department stores, entertainment establishments, and highly concentrated infrastructure, and often likened to Beverly Hills in the U.S. and Roppongi in Japan. It’s a place where emerging CEOs, owners of small and medium-sized companies, and celebrities live. For many, having an apartment in Gangnam is equivalent to living a successful life. On the contrary, in Korean pop culture, people living in Gangnam are often depicted as snobs who only care about money.

RELATED : WHY do Koreans work so darn hard? WHAT is the “Miracle on the Han River 한강의 기적”? WHO are the Chaebols 재벌? Understand the history behind Korea’s economic development!

The content you are enjoying is complimentary from Korean Culture Dictionary. If you want to learn more about Korea, from kimchi to K-pop and K-drama clichés, it’s available on Amazon Worldwide!

Recommended Resources on Amazon

Fastest Way to Speak Korean
  • Let’s Speak Korean – Learn Over 1,400+ Expressions Quickly and Easily With Pronunciation & Grammar Guide Marks – Just Listen, Repeat, and Learn!
Self-study Korean Books for Beginners
  • Korean for Everyone – Complete Self-Study Program : Beginner Level: Pronunciation, Writing, Korean Alphabet, Spelling, Vocabulary, Practice Quiz With Audio Files
Learn the Most Essential Korean Slang Words and Expressions
  • K-Pop Dictionary – 500 Essential Korean Slang Words and Phrases Every K-Pop Fan Must Know
Learn About Korean Culture
Sign Up For Our NewsletterAll things Korean delivered right to your inbox.

Korean Culture 101, Korean Lessons, K-Food Recipes and many more. Stay in the know our occasional newsletter!