Thoughts from the front lines

The Human Condition and the Quest for Perfection in South Korea

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In Margaret Atwood’s novels, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood, the desire to conquer and suppress the human condition is expressed on several occasions. Mortality is deemed the as humanity’s greatest insecurity and proves to be of great significance to the fate of humanity itself. The whole concept behind cheating the human condition by striving for immortality was so important to society that it lead to the extermination of the entire human race with the BlyssPluss Pill.

In Oryx and Crake we see that the luxurious Rejoovenesense hotel is totally funded by, as Crake describes it “‘Grief in the face of inevitable death […] The wish to stop time. The human condition.'” (Oryx and Crake, 292). In this passage Crake is referring to the money made from the rejuvenating products and treatments produced by the company.


In The Year of the Flood, we learn more about the company Anooyoo being that it is a place where “[ladies], frightened by the first signs of droop and pucker, then [come] out [of the AnooYoo Spa] again, buffed and tightened and resurfaced, irridiated and despotted”(The Year of the Flood, 263).

     We’re not selling only beauty, the AnooYoo Corp said in their staff instructionals. We’re selling hope. 

(The Year of the Flood, 263).

In recent years, North America has seen great movements aspiring to change the societal standards of beauty in our modern media. Young girls and boys are feeling the af002_innisfree-adpressures induced by the media to adopt and conform to their standards of what is beautiful. However, in South Korea, this issue is notably worse than what we are experiencing here in the West. Seoul, South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world. It is a city that’s standards of beauty revolve around perfectly made up, photoshopped and worked on celebrities that requires that people meet that standard if they want a chance at being successful. The young people of South Korea are feeling immense pressure from the professional world and from their personal relationships to live up to these particular beauty standards to the point where often family members will reward high school graduates with plastic surgery.  Even more mature citizens are feeling the pressure to reduce the signs of aging as if its a bad thing like presented in The Year of the Flood. According to Business Insider, South Korean surgeons perform approximately 20 procedures per 1000 people, where the U.S. performs only 13 procedures per 1000 people. 

     As described by a young man from Seoul presented by the short documentary done by Al Jazeera 101 East, “So many people have surgery, it’s just like wearing make-up.”

The most popular surgeries among the Korean people are facial reconstructive surgeries such as double eyelid surgery, anti-aging surgery, and jaw reconstruction surgery, in addition to surgeries such as breast augmentation and body contouring.



Though these pressures have compelled body activists to come out and promote self-love in the fight against societal beauty standards, one can only wonder how effective these movements will be in the long run. Stories such as Atwood’s make us question how deep rooted these societal standards are in our human nature. Will we ever be able to break free from this cycle? and if not, will humanity see a demise such as the one seen in Atwood’s trilogy? Only time will tell… however, it is clear from countries such as South Korea that we still have a long way to go.

If you would like to know more about the situation in South Korea today, take the time to check out these informative videos, they’re definitely worth the watch!

1: Al Jazeera 101 East

2: BuzzFeed

Alexa Schwarzwald


Works Cited:





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