Two Eyes in the Mirror Discusses Beauty in Korea, Part 2: The Eyes Have It

19 Apr

This is the second in a series of five guest posts by the delightful Ashley from Two Eyes in the Mirror, discussing Beauty in Korea. Different phenomenons, crazes, stats and the beauty dictatorship. You can see a list of contents in the introduction post. Come back tomorrow for part three! 

Beauty in Korea: The Eyes Have It

Eyes are a big deal in Korea (no pun intended). Many Koreans are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve the “ideal eye,” including having their eyes surgically altered and trying out new, potentially dangerous contacts. What is the ideal eye, you ask? It’s large, round, and has a crease.

“Asian Eyelid Surgery”
“Asian Eyelid Surgery,” also known as “East Asian blepharoplasty” or “Double Eyelid surgery,” is the most common cosmetic surgery operation in Korea. About one in two Asians already have a naturally-occurring crease, which leaves the other half with crease-less “single eyelids.” The surgery involves reshaping the skin around the monolid-eye to create a crease, thus changing the single eyelid to a double eyelid. The procedure ranges from $1000 to $4500. It is not a dangerous surgery if performed by an expert plastic surgeon, although it can leave scarring and swelling.  It is a purely cosmetic procedure.

Before & After Asian Eyelid Surgery 1

Double Eyelid surgery is not just contained to Korea. It is popular in other Asian countries, too, and the procedure is also offered in the US. A disproportionate amount of Asian celebrities have likely had the procedure done, including Ziyi Zhang, Ayumi Hamasaki, and Jackie Chan (although they might not be too keen to admit it!).

Asian Eyelid surgery is sometimes accompanied by epicanthoplasty, which removes the epicanthic fold.  The epicanthic fold is the skin fold of the upper eyelid that covers the inner corner of the eye.  This is what gives some Asians the appearance of having narrower, more almond-shaped eyes than other ethnicities.

The Epicanthal Fold, from minimal, to moderate, to prominent 2

But wait…why do epicanthic folds exist?
One hypothesis is that it is due to the climate.  Sunlight reflects more intensely off light colored surfaces, like snow and deserts.  The theory states that the eyelid of some Asians adapted to this environment in an attempt to protect the eyes from extra ultra-violent radiation and other harsh weather conditions, like wind and freezing temperatures.

Double Eyelid Glues & Tapes
In case surgery is a little too committal (or not in the budget), double eyelid glue and double eyelid tape has been invented. An 11 oz bottle of Ipum double eyelid glue costs about $10, and you can find it on If used properly, one can transform a single eyelid into a double eyelid–until the make-up comes off, at least.

Circle Contact Lenses
Circle contact lenses, also known as big eye contact lenses, were invented in South Korea. These contacts have a color covering the majority of the contact lens, which causes the color to go beyond the iris, which manipulates the ratio between eye and iris. This gives the appearance of a larger iris. They come in a variety of colors and are used as a fashion accessory, mostly by teenagers, to create an anime-esque look.

Circle Contact Lenses are available to purchase here

Circle contact lenses were almost exclusive to East Asian countries until Lady Gaga debuted big eyes in multiple scenes of her “Bad Romance” video. Although it is likely that Gaga’s eyes were digitally altered for the video, many teenagers and college-aged students try to recreate her look using these circle contact lenses. There are some concerns because, in most cases, these lenses are being sold without an approval from health services and could potentially lead to blindness. 3

Lady Gaga in the “Bad Romance” video

Is there any feature on your body that you would put all this time and effort into changing? What if it was risky?


5 Responses to “Two Eyes in the Mirror Discusses Beauty in Korea, Part 2: The Eyes Have It”

  1. Dahl April 19, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    God this is so scary! Can’t people just be comfortable with who they are?

  2. Shybiker April 19, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Interesting. I don’t believe in surgically altering your body merely to fit into society’s ideas of what’s beautiful or normal. That’s a social problem, not a medical one.

    My eyes, for unknown genetic reasons, are similar to Asian eyes in that my upper lid hangs over, which turns applying eye-makeup into a confusing task. I’d never change them even though they aren’t optimal from an aesthetic viewpoint.

    When I was 10, my parents had an operation done on my private parts for no good reason: everything was healthy and functional, but they believed surgery would make me look more “normal”. I wasn’t consulted and now, when I look at the four-inch scar there, I resent what they did and the society that encouraged them.

    • Ashley April 20, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

      Eeek, my condolences for what you had to go through when you were younger. I’m hoping people nowadays are learning to leave well enough alone if it doesn’t matter, and even if they can’t, at least let the person who it affects decide. What really bothers me is when parents choose sex reassignment surgery for their intersex infants. But I’ll save that discussion for some other time…

      That same kind of eyelid thing runs on my dad’s side of the family. His sister had to get surgery to change hers, partially for aesthetic reasons and partially because they were obstructing her vision.

      Thanks for your input!

  3. Evelina April 20, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    I think that it is unfortunate that this has to happen. I’ve heard/read anecdotes of Korean American Women who said that their mothers pressured them to undergo the eyelid surgery. 😦 And coming from a Taiwanese cultural background, bigger eyes with the fold are also more valued, but the craze and emphasis wasn’t as big as Korea or Japan. I personally think that ‘single’ eyelids are just as beautiful, and a valuable part of the cultural inheritance. :/

    • Ashley April 21, 2011 at 1:24 am #

      I agree with you! I think single eyelids are beautiful! The good thing is is that single eyelids won’t be permanently “lost” from Asian culture, since it’s not like the surgery changes an individual’s genetic make-up, it just changes their outward appearance. Thank goodness for that! Maybe someday, single eyelids will be seen as beautiful, and, like you said, valuable to Asian culture.

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