Korean reality show contestants undergo plastic surgery for 'second chance at life'

PHOTO: Korean reality show contestants undergo plastic surgery for 'second chance at life'

Plastic surgery has increasingly become a quick fix for those not satisfied with their looks.

A sharper nose, slimmer jawline and bigger eyes are on the menu at the doctor's office, at the price of a branded handbag.

But way before fans of these aesthetic procedures indulged their quest for perfection, vanity was not why plastic surgery was put into practice in the first place.

Normalising one's looks as opposed to enhancing them was the order of the day.

One Korean reality TV show that has garnered high ratings, even in its current fourth season, has milked this premise.

The controversial Let Me In, which is shown every Wednesday at 11pm on channel M (StarHub TV Ch 824 and SingTel mio TV Ch 518) features contestants with heartrending sob stories in search of a second chance at life by going under the knife.

Origins

Sloane Clinic's Dr Tan Ying Chien, a local plastic surgeon who specialises in ear reconstructive surgery, told The New Paper: "Many people nowadays don't realise that plastic surgery first started as a speciality to treat deformities.

"It started during World War I, due to the need to treat a large number of disfigured soldiers.

"A large part of plastic surgery deals with reconstructive surgery for patients with defects present at birth (such as cleft lips), from trauma (such as facial injuries) and cancer (after mastectomy for breast cancer).

"Interestingly, it is the experience obtained from these procedures that plastic surgeons have used to build their skills in cosmetic surgery."

In a condition known as microtia, which occurs in approximately one in 8,000 live births, patients are born without the external ear.

He said: "Reconstructive surgery for this type of patients involves harvesting of the rib cartilages, carving and assembling them into the shape of the external ear to help reconstruct the absent ear.

"I have helped a number of patients with this condition, and seen them transformed psychologically, from people with low self-esteem to confident young people.

"So, yes, plastic surgery can help turn lives around."

Not all the contestants in Let Me In were born with deformities, but they said their looks had prevented them from leading "normal" lives.

Local fan of the show, businesswoman Karen Tang, 34, said: "I cried when I watched them (the contestants) tell their stories because many of us are lucky enough not to know what it's like to be bullied, raped or shunned.

"More than anything, I feel very good about myself every time after I watch the show as I end up feeling very grateful and thankful for the pleasant face I was born with."

The Twins

One of the most stunning transformations on the show was that of a pair of twin sisters who had severe underbites.

Apart from intensive jaw reconstruction surgery, the other procedures they had included bringing forward their hairlines, giving them bigger eyes and making their faces oval-shaped.

The whole process was documented from the start, where they had to appear before a panel of judges to plead their case on why they should be chosen for the show.

Their facial deformities made for a compelling argument that scored them the sponsored surgery that they had badly wanted.

What made this episode all the more interesting was that the surgeons made extra effort to make sure that the girls looked almost exactly the same post-surgery.

The audience were shell-shocked at the twins' big reveal, when the girls appeared looking like they just stepped off a magazine's cover.

The twins told the crowd that they felt more cheerful and confident with their new looks.

The "Man"

Customer service officer Bae So Young was bullied and almost raped when she was younger, and that traumatic experience caused her much fear and anxiety.

To protect herself from history repeating itself, she came up with a plan - by changing her appearance to look like a man.

Apparently, the psychological effects of that decision caused her to develop more masculine features.

Taking her role-playing to the extreme, she even changed her voice and spoke like a man.

This caused a lot of unhappiness in her family. Her mother was heartbroken.

Her mother, who was also featured in the show, said that every time they went out, people would mistake her for a guy.

On the show, Miss Bae said: "When I was 15 years old, something horrible was done to me by my male friends. Since then, I began thinking that it happened to me because I was weak, and I decided to become as strong as possible.

"I think that's when I began to change."

But she realised that her problem was psychological and made the decision to get her life back.

Miss Bae went thorough a volumising fat graft, zygoma reduction, square jaw reduction and barbie line nose surgery for her face.

Her parents, who were in the audience at the show, said they were so moved by her transformation that they could not believe that it was their daughter standing in front of them.

The "Old" Lady

Miss Moon Sun Young, 28, was bullied since she was in her teens, when she was shunned for looking twice her age.

Being called "old lady face" was devastating to her self esteem, as she struggled through school with her elderly visage weighing heavily on her.

In her 20s, her detractors called her "Grandma-in-her-20s", which further destroyed her confidence.

Miss Moon said she lived a hard life, without any family or much money, which is part of the reason for her aged appearance. She was also not able to get dentistry done, hence her rotting teeth.

That resulted in her being able to have only rice and soup, since she could not chew much else.

She was apparently considered so ugly that her employers even pressured her to quit her job because she was considered an eyesore around the office.

Miss Moon's story touched many viewers and her name became the top Internet search term in Korea after the episode was aired.

Her surgery, which included a nose job, dental repairs and botox, changed her appearance so dramatically that she now finally looks her age.

cchar@sph.com.sg

This article was first published on July 21, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.