How ‘My ID Is Gangnam Beauty’ Helped Me Think Differently About Cosmetic Surgery
Who says Korean dramas are just for fun?
Growing up, I had a prejudiced view of cosmetic surgery and the people who got it. Those views were influenced by media like magazines and TV, which portrayed it as a frivolous thing that vain people did. I looked to the types of procedures people got done — nose jobs, tummy tucks, facelifts — as justification for my opinions. Why was the nose that person was born with not good enough? Why not work out and eat better instead of getting liposuction?
Now that I’m older, a lot of things have contributed to my change in my perspective, leaving me of the opinion that people should be allowed to do whatever they want to their bodies within reason. It turns out that when you assess a thing from all sides without bias and form your opinions, they might not be the same as what you have been taught to believe.
My ID Is Gangnam Beauty is a 2018 Korean drama about a young woman who literally begins her college life as a different person than she was in high school (at least physically). Kang Mi-Rae goes through life as a young person in high school, believing that she is too ugly to be loved. She leaps at the chance to reinvent herself and begin again in a place where no one knows her old face, undergoing plastic surgery the summer before she goes to university. Even her dad doesn’t recognize her, asking her for directions when he arrives at her campus for her matriculation ceremony.
Mi-Rae judges everyone by their looks, scoring people mentally according to their facial features, instead of assessing their personality and values. One of the girls she makes friends with is a pretty girl called Soo-Ah. Soo-Ah turns out to be kind of a see-you-next-Tuesday, hating the attention Mi-Rae gets and playing ridiculous head games to gain the male lead’s favor over Mi-Rae. She despises Mi-Rae even more once she finds out that her face isn’t “natural,” expressing her opinion that it is unfair for Mi-Rae to be liked better than her, the “natural beauty.” From those interactions, Mi-Rae learns that one’s looks don’t equal happiness. Even the so-called “natural beauties” deal with the upheavals of everyday life. Joy isn’t determined by a person’s facial features.
I really liked the approach the director took when shooting scenes about young, pre-surgery Mi-Rae. Her face was always obscured or turned away. The reason for this cinematographic choice was to convey that there isn’t a particular kind of face that viewers should think of as ugly. And also, to prevent people with similar looks from being bullied or thinking of themselves as less-than. For a drama concerned with depicting the journey towards defining real beauty, it would have been counterintuitive to “create a fixed definition of ugliness.”
One of the things that changed the way I thought about cosmetic surgery was getting tattooed. During one session, the tattoo artist who was working on me checked in with me about my pain and comfort levels, and when I told him it hurt but I could bear it, he said, “Oh, the things that we do to make our bodies look the way that we want them to.” His words have stuck with me until now, and I really do feel like every new bit of ink brings me one step closer to the ideal that I pursue. It’s a becoming of sorts.
And I imagine it must feel that way for people who have cosmetic procedures done. It doesn’t have to mean that what we were before the transformation was bad or undesirable, just that we all carry an image of ourselves, and reaching that goal makes us feel better. It’s the same with exercising and dieting to achieve a certain body type.
It does make me sad that a lot of the surgery people got in the past — and probably still do now — isn’t necessarily inspired by a personal aesthetic but due to outside pressure. There are countless stories of women who get breast implants because their boyfriends/husbands think it’ll make them look better. But there’s also the other side of it, where women whose bodies have been changed by childbirth decide that they’d like to look a little more like they used to. Or cosplayers who invest in implants because it’ll make their performance more believable.
I think the societal attitude about cosmetic surgery has shifted a little bit in the last few years, with more people embracing the changes they choose to make to their own bodies. Beauty YouTuber Jackie Aina, for instance, has been very candid about her surgical procedure, offering her audience an insight into the thought process that fueled her decision, as well as a walkthrough of the procedure and her results. Singer Summer Walker has also spoken about the procedures she had done, in a casual tone that I think is healthy. She didn’t hate her body for looking the way it did but just thought she would look better with a bit of a derriere, and so she got one.
Once I got past the creepy sunbae and gossip-mongering classmates, I really enjoyed My ID Is Gangnam Beauty. It’s a great story for a highly competitive age where social media fuels FOMO, unfavorable comparisons, and a constant performance of different personas. My ID Is Gangnam Beauty says that it’s okay to want to change yourself as long as you do it for the right reasons, and as long as you love yourself no matter what stage of metamorphosis you might be at. After Kang Mi-Rae learned that important lesson, she didn’t decide that her transformation had been a bad idea, just that she needed to stop viewing people as a face rather than a whole person.
What’s your personal take on cosmetic surgery? And have you watched My ID Is Gangnam Beauty yet? Tell me what you thought of it.