Aug. 21, 2013 -- South Korea is infamous as the world capital of cosmetic surgery. Studies have shown that approximately one in five women there have had some form of surgery, and many of the operations are unfamiliar to Western eyes..
Thanks to Reddit, we’ve just learned of a “new” surgery that seems to be gaining traction there, known as “Smile Lipt” or “Mouth Corner Surgery.” Performed at the South Korean AOne Plastic Surgery Clinic, this surgery involves cutting the corners of the mouth and re-stitching them to provide a upturned perma-smile.
Yes, kinda like the Joker.
Is this really new, though?
Cosmetic surgeon Dr. Barry Eppley of the Indianapolis-based Eppley Plastic Surgery said that “corner of the mouth surgery” has a long history.
“It was introduced over fifty years ago and it was developed to treat the downturned corners of the mouth that develop from aging as the facial tissues sag," he said. "This facial droop pushes down on the mouth corners changing a horizontal smile line to an inverted smile line (at rest) in some people.”
So why is it making such waves right now?
“The corner of the mouth lift is traditionally done for patients who have general facial aging concerns" -- usually over 45," Eppley said. "But I have done the procedure on much younger patients- as young as age 16 - who naturally have downturned corners of the mouth.”
It seems the issue here is not so much that this surgery is performed, but the age range that the AOne clinic purports to be serving. I can understand wanting to counteract effects of aging, and some people will be genetically predisposed to "droopiness" from a young age. But the sheer volume of youthful patients on the AOne Clinic’s website is discomfiting. If South Koreans face already-extreme socioeconomic pressures to be beautiful, do we need to add another delicate operation into the mix?
“In South Korean culture women are almost required to find a husband around their 30th birthdays, and they generally live with their family till they do. They are pressured by their family members to appear as beautiful as possible at all times," said Will Cain, an English language teacher who currently lives in Samcheonpo, South Korea. “Appearances are critical here. For example, on CVs and resumes, pictures must be included at the top. Women in particular always need to appear properly primped. With a procedure like this, Koreans may believe they would appear kinder or happier than they really are. Not only does this help someone’s social life, it may also help a person’s career."
Dr. Kwon Taek Keun of AOne Plastic Surgery and Aesthetic clinic did not respond to requests for comment by press time, but he wrote in praise of the procedure on his website: “When mouth corners are lifted up, a bright and gentle image is created, and the uplifted mouth corners create a bright and jolly appearance. When corners lift up during a conversation, the person appears sincere and confident.”
Update: Dr. Kwon Taek Keun has now responded and provided the following information.
"People who come to receive this procedure are people with sagging mouth corners, asymmetrical mouth corners, and people who have no confidence in their smiles. This costs them $2000."
“The Smile Lipt procedure mentioned is just the traditional corner of the mouth lift done to give patients a permanent smile or mouth curls,” said Dr. Eppley. “By American standards the Asian mouth curl result would be considered unnatural and exactly the “complication” from a corner of the mouth lift that we would want to avoid.”
This smile curl is one that would be considered a surgical failure in America, but due to cultural norms, it’s perceived as desirable in some parts of South Korea.
It’s unclear just how many of these operations are carried out, but it seems to fit into the kawaii "Cute" trends popular in South Korea and Japan. In societies where so much is in flux - economically and socially - it's not that much of a surprise that young people are living for the now. But when the surgery they undertake has lifelong effects, you wonder if this can really be good for their psyches.
YOLO. Or not.
Update: We have added some quotes to this story, which came in after we had published.