South Korea Loves Plastic Surgery and Makeup. Some Women Want to Change That.

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Ji-yeon knew she wished cosmetic surgery when she was 7. For the subsequent 13 years, she destroyed images of herself till her dad and mom paid for double jaw surgical procedure, a process that requires breaking the jaw to realign it.

Then Ms. Kim began to query why she devoted a lot — $200 a month and two hours a day, she calculated — to her look. She reduce her hair quick. Then she crushed her make-up into items.

Ms. Kim, 22, is one among a rising group of South Korean girls rebelling towards their society’s inflexible magnificence requirements — a push they name “Escape the Corset.” Inspired partially by the worldwide #MeToo motion, which has shaken up politics and society in South Korea’s deeply patriarchal tradition, the ladies are difficult long-accepted attitudes about cosmetic surgery and cosmetics in one of many world’s most beauty-obsessed capitals.

“Misogyny is more extreme in South Korea, and the beauty industry has made it worse,” stated Ms. Kim.

Beauty is huge in South Korea. It has the world’s highest price of beauty surgical procedure per capita, and it keeps rising. It has become a destination for nip-and-tuck tourism. The beauty market — cosmetics and facial care products like masks — generated $13 billion in sales last year, according to Mintel, making it one of the world’s top 10 beauty markets.

“The intensity of feminism in South Korea is stronger than in other countries because women really are not part of the political and economic leadership,” said Yunkim Ji-yeong, an assistant professor of feminist philosophy at the Institute of Body and Culture at Konkuk University.

In that environment, Escape the Corset has found an audience.

Then she takes off all the makeup and tells the viewer, “Don’t be so concerned with how others perceive you. You’re special and pretty the way you are.”

“They are sort of like toys, like crayons,” said Ms. Cha. She used to feel like a second-class citizen, she said, but now that she has stopped wearing makeup “people listen to me when I say things.”

The movement has sparked an ugly backlash.

Ms. Bae, Ms. Kim and Ms. Cha, who all have bowl haircuts characteristic of the movement, say they have become targets of verbal abuse and death threats. Ms. Kim was told by two prospective bosses that she did not look feminine enough. Feminists talk about their peers “coming out” publicly because many prefer to stay anonymous.

Ms. Cha in an older photo from before she joined the “Escape the Corset” movement.CreditJean Chung for The New York Times

“The violence against people who leave the mainstream path is very intense in South Korea compared to other countries,” said Seo Sol, 26, who has a YouTube talk show about feminism called “Because There Is Too Much to Say.”

Yim Hyun-ju has experienced the criticism. The 33-year-old anchor at Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, a national broadcaster, decided to wear her glasses on her morning news show on April 12. Her fake eyelashes were making her eyes so tired that she was going through a bottle of artificial tears every day.

It became an online sensation. “I did not think it would become news,” Ms. Yim said.

Ms. Yim’s producers reproached her. Viewers wrote to complain. But women came up to her in public to thank her. Now Ms. Yim wears her glasses from time to time, an act that she says sends viewers a message to judge her based on her competence and not her appearance. But she doesn’t want to be identified as part of any movement.

“If I could act freely, I would apply makeup less,” Ms. Yim said.

“But I’m stuck between my mind and heart, which says one thing, but there is the reality of my job,” she added.

Many women in the anti-corset movement credit their actions as having had a small impact on the makeup industry. One recent ad, for the Missha cosmetics brand, features a short-haired model and one with freckles. “Get out, expose your flaws and follow your own standards rather than others’,” it says. Still, they note, the women in the ad largely stick to Korean beauty standards — and the women are wearing makeup.

Kim Hong-tae, a spokesman for Able C&C, which owns the Missha brand, said the ad was meant to convey “that there is no predetermined standard of physical appearance.”

And the social pressure to wear makeup and have a small, heart-shaped face is still strong. Im Soo-hyang stars in a Korean drama called “My ID is Gangnam Beauty,” about a young woman who has plastic surgery and grapples with image issues. The name refers to the upscale Gangnam district in Seoul, where plastic surgery clinics line the streets.

“I can’t say I’m free from being conscious about people paying attention to me because of the nature of my job,” Ms. Im said during an interview at a hair salon in Gangnam. “Look at me. I have my hair done, I’m wearing makeup, I have my nails done and I’m wearing pretty clothes.”

She smiled, then added, “I cannot be liberated.”

Su-Hyun Lee contributed reporting.

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