Big shifts are happening in the world; societies are changing rapidly. But how do we visualize this? It may not be immediately obvious what’s happening in this picture, but something seems unusual. Bruises, zippers, a covered face. This is not everyday life. The picture is not about who she is as an individual, but what she has chosen to do to her body as a part of her culture.
Photographer and artist Ji Yeo’s project Beauty Recovery Room focuses on the ubiquity of plastic surgery in South Korea. The series developed out of her own desire to alter her body. Even before high school, she felt pressure to be someone other than herself.
“As I moved on to high school, plastic surgery had become extremely popular in South Korea. In the entertainment news section of the daily newspaper more than half of the stories were about those who had recently had plastic surgery, where they did it, how successful it was, etc.”
“Surgery dominated conversations, and many of my schoolmates were planning for theirs. ‘Right after I graduate, I’m having my thighs and my cheeks done,’ they would say; but my dreams were much bigger. I was going to have a whole body surgery. I was going to totally transform my looks, become someone else. I truly believed that if I transformed my appearance, my life would transform along with it and I would finally be able to earn people’s respect and admiration.”
Yeo’s Beauty Recovery Room series “uses the wounded faces and bodies of women who have recently undergone plastic surgery to show the physical cost of social pressure in Korea. Going under the knife, enduring bruises, scars, and being under general anesthetic several times are no longer considered risky or extravagant. They have all had multiple procedures and have plans for future augmentation. The photos were taken directly after their operation, while they were resting and waiting to be healed.”
While her work may never affect cultural trends in South Korea, it shares private moments that the rest of the world would be unlikely to encounter. In places where plastic surgery is becoming more popular, perhaps some people will be swayed not to change their whole appearance. In Yeo’s case, after years of consulting with plastic surgeons and researching different looks, “It dawned on me that if I really wanted plastic surgery, I would have already done it. Somehow there was always something holding me back.”
“Even though I had always wished to change various details about my looks, when it came right down to it those were the very details that I was so hesitant to lose. The thought of losing them forever terrified me. I realized that in fact I didn’t need to change everything, rather I needed to change nothing. I needed to accept my whole self and the body that contained it. It was clear that the entire fantasy was built from an imagined outsider’s perspective. It was a societal fantasy of aesthetic perfection, and it didn’t really belong to me at all. It definitely did not bear living out.”
View more of Beauty Recovery Room on Ji Yeo’s website.