I Knew This Korean Girl

I knew this Korean girl “Grace” whose mother died right after we graduated high school. I wasn’t very close with Grace, but I remember someone had told me she went to Korea “to mourn” her mother. And at the end of that summer Grace returned with a new face, I mean a whole new face, like something out of that Nicholas Cage movie when Nicholas Cage was somewhat normal – Face/Off. And Grace must have starved for that entire summer, she came back so skinny.

And then somehow our acquaintance grew to “chatting sometimes” and I learned from Grace how sudden and crushing her mother’s death had been. And how she’d always hated her own face, how she’d been told growing up that her face would prevent her from getting married, how Grace’s mother had always promised to get Grace’s face done for her. So Grace and only Grace was left a large sum of money in her mother’s will, with a wish for “Grace: To purchase a car and get all the plastic surgery you need to get married.”

Grace had in fact purchased a sexy new red car, epicanthal folds (ssangapul) in her eyelids, a new narrowed nose and bone-shaving in her cheekbones and chin. Bone-shaving?! And she was grateful to her mother for all of it.

It’s not that Grace’s real face was anything alarming, at all. It was simply what Korean mothers-in-law would deem “steamed bun” plump. Daughters-in-law with steamed bun faces were never in demand in Korean circles.

So that one summer Grace came back looking more like this:


If you haven’t read the complete story about the photos above, then you may not know that those are 20 individual Korean young ladies pictured and not just one in twenty different poses. Specifically, they are the contestants in this year’s Miss Korea 2013 beauty pageant. There’s hot debate over whether or not the these young women were photoshopped to appear more clone-like.

It’s clear though they’ve all been under the knife in plastic surgery indulgence, and that the “ideal” Korean woman is still required to have doe eyes and tall narrow noses and faces shaped like hearts. Cookie-cutter face is what I call it, judging from the masses in Korean magazines and pop culture. There are continued stories in the Korean news about spikes in divorce rates due to women having hidden their plastic surgery only to be found out later, after bearing children with small eyes and flat faces and wide noses.

I am neither cookie-cutter nor steamed bun face, but as a Korean daughter-in-law to a Belgian mother-in-law I’m happy my face was never an issue to begin with. Plastic surgery is far from a “Korean thing” but I can say Koreans take this shit to another level. And this isn’t to say every Korean woman is surgery-crazed, but it’s definitely a “thing” for so many.

~ Grace did get married and I do believe she continues to live happily ever after, or I hope she does. I never understood everything surrounding Grace and her mother’s last wishes, but it was their last exchange and meant to be understood only between them.

Always dishing,



  1. wow, that is sad when a culture (any culture) deems it neccessary to change their appearance in order to feel more attractive. I remember a M*A*S*H episode where Hawkeye was ask to change the appearance of a Korean eyes to look more american. He refused. I pray “Grace” is happy and healthy.

  2. Sparky

    That photo of the 20 Korean women is freakish to me. Very twilight zoneish. I worry about their self esteem issues and the misplaced value of “beauty” which in no culture lasts forever. For me it is our differences and irregularities that makes us all beautiful.

    1. Jun Song Author

      I think most Koreans are grounded and don’t follow crazes, but the ones in the public eye of entertainment do for sure. Kinda like America but Korea’s smaller so you see it way more 🙂

  3. Josie

    I am floored by those pictures. I thought I was looking at the same girl in different poses. I thank you for sharing so much of your culture with us. I learn something new each time. As far as you go Jun you are beautiful just the way you are.

  4. kcsmum

    Woah. I didn’t know about this Korean-plastic surgery connection! And it surprises me, yet I have learned, from you and others, how important marriage is and the esteem it buys you in the family. (Yes, I well remember the fruit peeling lessons wasted on your Belgian MIL). I hope Grace is loving life these days. For a hot minute I thought Grace was the girl down the street from MiRan who committed suicide. I’m glad I was wrong.

    1. Jun Song Author

      Ohhhh…no…I never knew Miran’s neighbor.

      I love my Korean heritage for so many different reasons, but sometimes I just shake my head and shrug :). I’ve never wanted to do anything to my face, but I can imagine how someone else would. But it was a whole new face!


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