Plastic Surgery Reality TV: Sending the Wrong Message?

A South Korean reality TV show called “Let Me In” has been drawing some heat lately for inviting women (and men) with “abnormal” physical features to undergo radical cosmetic transformations—and for arguing that these plastic surgery makeovers can improve their self-esteem and quality of life. Critics say that the show’s portrayal of plastic surgery as being entirely good is irresponsible, because it will encourage more women to undergo “potentially dangerous” cosmetic surgeries. But the reality tv show’s producer denies this accusation, and insists that their team—which includes a psychiatrist—only approves candidates whose quality of life they feel they can improve upon.

There may be some truth to these allegations, of course. South Korea is recorded as having the world’s highest number of cosmetic surgery procedures per capita, and certainly there are people who seek out plastic surgery for the wrong reasons in every part of the world. As I’ve written before, an ideal patient comes to plastic surgery with realistic expectations—with the knowledge that “perfection” should not be their end goal. The ideal patient also undergoes plastic surgery for him or herself, not for someone else.

Unfortunately, in a country where many young people are apparently getting plastic surgery done in order to gain an edge in the workplace—a place where, according Sungkonghoe University gender studies and activism director Hur Song-woo, getting cosmetic procedures done has “become a sign of an ambitious young female professional who’s making an investment before entering the market”—it isn’t much of stretch to imagine that not everyone is coming to plastic surgery for the right reasons.

That said, I don’t know that a show like “Let Me In” is the real problem. And judging by the comments made by some of its past participants (one woman said that she “didn’t know (she) was so loved by others” until her physical transformation), it has definitely done some good. As Yang Jae-jin, the psychiatrist on the show’s team, said of the women who have been on the show: “It’s easy to say the standards of beauty are unfair or wrong, but if you haven’t been in their shoes and couldn’t carry on a normal life because of your looks, you shouldn’t judge.”