Seoul Surgery

Words by: Anonymous
Art by: Carla Romano

My boyfriend drove me to the airport, I checked-in my bags, boarded the plane and then waited alone for nine and a half hours during my layover in Malaysia. When I finally arrived in Seoul, dragging my luggage behind me through Incheon Airport while I tapped my destination into Google Translate, I couldn’t believe what I was about to do.

A year ago, I had secretly booked a plane ticket to South Korea with the sole purpose of getting cos- metic surgery. My first consultation with the clinic was booked an hour after my flight landed and my surgery was set to follow immediately.

As my driver took me from the airport to the clinic, I started thinking about where this self-hatred may have begun. When did I become so fixated with my nose, to the point where I would lie to my entire family and fly across the globe for a single cosmetic procedure? Would things have been different if I was raised in a more accepting family that welcomed all of my features?

A bit of context here, my father is of African descent and my mother is East-Asian. Since my father was absent through my childhood and teenage years, my mother’s side of the family had the responsibility of nurturing me, which meant that I grew up surround- ed by certain beauty standards — pale white skin, long straight hair, pointy small noses and thin rosy lips. These were all features that I, with my brown skin, kinky hair, wide nose and thick, hyper-pigmented lips did not bear.

Growing up, we only watched movies that starred East-Asian celebrities, and I dreaded family gatherings, which always turned into comparisons of one another’s beauty. My aunties would sigh whenever they looked at my face — if I only I had gotten my mother’s nose, or at least her hair — why couldn’t it be tamer?

As my desire to look more Asian grew, so too did my self-hatred. I would avoid going out into the sun without an umbrella or long-sleeved tops in fear of getting tanner. For about five years, my routine consisted of getting my skin bleached and my hair straightened three times a week.

Once I entered university, I tried to build my merits on my personality and intelligence. As I held the belief that my natural appearance was unattractive, I felt I needed to work harder and invest in other areas that people would consider appealing. Without realising, I had allowed my family’s complex and problematic ideals to become my own, by trying to erase the features that I had inherited from my father’s side.

Crazily enough, my journey to loving myself began in Seoul, and not just thanks to my surgery.

After arriving in the city, I stayed at a hostel with 11 other girls who later, became like sisters to me. They saw me in bandages, then with bruises, and then a new nose. They told me how pretty I was, even with my swollen eyes, and one girl wouldn’t stop praising my tanned skin. While my aunties described it as “dirty” and “muddy”, my new friends said it was positively radiant.

The way I saw myself changed drastically in the time I spent recovering. The wounds from my surgery healed alongside the wounds on my self-worth, inflicted upon me by my family. By surrounding myself with people who celebrated me at my worst, I was able to restore the confidence I had lost in myself.

The biggest realisation I had from this experience was how much control I had given other people in determining my beauty and worth. While I don’t regret getting cosmetic surgery, the process was challenging and even now, I worry about telling people the truth because I fear their reactions.

From my experience, society is superficial and un- knowingly patronising towards those who feel out
of love with themselves. It’s an awkward and straining conversation to have, particularly with those who cannot empathise with why I was willing to go under the knife.

Since this experience, I can ultimately say that I am happier and that my life has changed for the better. However, this journey has also taught me that cos- metic surgeries cannot fix the internal anxieties one has, and that I alone am responsible for learning to coexist with my imperfections, and the expectations of society; ultimately, I must come to know and love myself through my own eyes.

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