• South Korean botched plastic surgery patient Kim Bok-Soon. (Reuters)
The boom in South Korea's $5 billion plastic surgery industry - the world's largest - is facing a backlash, with formal complaints about botched procedures and dodgy doctors doubling in 2013 from a year earlier.
Source:
Reuters
2 Nov 2014 - 3:54 PM  UPDATED 3 Nov 2014 - 2:03 PM

Kim Bok-soon disliked her nose and had heard of a superstition that its hooked shape drains money. She started to fantasise about getting it "done" - a nose job.

While waiting in a hair salon, she saw a magazine advertisement for a plastic surgery clinic and decided she would get the work done despite her family's objections.

In South Korea, where physical perfection is seen as a way to improve life quality, including job and marriage prospects, plastic surgery procedures can seem as commonplace as haircuts.

Kim's doctor said he could turn her into a celebrity lookalike, and Kim decided to take the plunge, undergoing 15 operations on her face over the course of a day.

Kim Bok-Soon. (Reuters)

When the bandages came off and she looked in the mirror, she knew something was wrong. Only later did Kim find out the doctor was not a plastic surgery specialist.

"He ruined my face. This is not a human face. It's more revolting than monsters or aliens. It is so horrible."

Five years later, Kim struggles with an array of medical problems, and is unable to close her eyes or stop her nose from running. She has got divorced, is unemployed and suffers from depression, she says.

"He ruined my face. This is not a human face. It's more revolting than monsters or aliens. It is so horrible," Kim said in her tiny one-room Seoul flat filled with photos showing her before and after the surgery.

A Miss Korea contestant in the 1980s who would only give her surname, Ms. Park, who is also divorced, underwent breast augmentation in 2008 in the hope it would provide an edge in finding a new spouse.

Former Miss Korea contestant Ms. Park. (Reuters)

She ended up going to the same doctor as Kim.

Due to a series of post-surgical infections, she said, her right breast ended up half the size of the left.

"I regret it too much so I tried to kill myself twice. My mother got me to a hospital. I don't believe in people any more," said the 50-year-old Park.

Ms Park's botched breast augmentation. (Reuters)

A record from the Seoul central district court shows that the doctor has a pending criminal case on charges of violating medical law, which began in 2009 after several patients including Kim reported him to the authorities. The doctor's lawyer turned down Reuters' request for an interview.

The boom in South Korea's $5 billion plastic surgery industry - the world's largest - is facing a backlash, with formal complaints about botched procedures and dodgy doctors doubling in 2013 from a year earlier.

Some plastic surgeons say safety fears could stifle the country's nascent but fast-growing market for medical tourism, especially from China.

Complaints range from unqualified doctors to overly aggressive marketing to "ghost doctors," who stand in for more qualified doctors and perform surgery on unwitting, anaesthetised patients.

Cha Sang-myun, chairman of the Korean Association of Plastic Surgeons, which represents 1,500 plastic surgeons, is worried about their reputation. Cha and some lawmakers are among those calling for tighter supervision and stricter advertising rules.

"Now, patients from China are coming in the name of plastic surgery tourism but if things go on like this, I don't think they will come in the next few years," Cha said at his clinic in Seoul's Gangnam district, a prosperous area filled with such surgeries.

In a high profile case last December, a high school student ended up in a coma after double eyelid and nose surgeries.

"Advertising too much has made people think surgery is a commodity. People now think plastic surgery is are like buying stuff somewhere," added Cha, who has performed cosmetic surgery for more than 20 years.

In a high profile case last December, a high school student ended up in a coma after double eyelid and nose surgeries.

South Korea has the world's highest rate of plastic surgery patients. (Reuters)

Cha's group looked into the incident and found the hospital that performed the procedures had hired ghost doctors, and referred the case to prosecutors.

Critics blame lax regulation, excessive advertising, and a societal obsession with appearance for fuelling an industry which is running out of control.

South Korea is home to over 4,000 plastic surgery clinics and has the world's highest rate of plastic surgery patients, accounting for a quarter of all such procedures globally, according to government data and the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

The boom is gaining momentum, fuelled by such tourism. The number of visiting Chinese patients tripling between 2011 and 2013, government data shows.