by Kim Junghyun
SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Double-eyelid surgery is so 1990's. So is a nose job.
For beauty-conscious South Koreans, whose endless pursuit of a more Westernized look has led to a thriving plastic surgery industry, operations that make their face smaller are the new "it" thing.
There is now a rapidly growing demand here for double-jaw surgery, which involves reconfiguring and aligning the upper and lower jaws and takes months for post-surgical recovery.
Though the surgery is originally developed to correct underbite and crossbite, among other orthodontic problems, more and more South Koreans are going under the knife to get a drastically slender, more Caucasian facial line.
In a country where double-eyelid surgery to get larger eyes is a common high school graduation gift from parents, the latest craze might not come as a big surprise.
"It could be easily assumed that 99 percent of South Korean celebrities got stuff done on their faces," said Dr. Park Sang- hoon, head of Seoul's ID Hospital, which specializes in double-jaw surgery.
The popularity of double-jaw surgery, which Dr. Park calls a " post-2000 phenomenon", also has a lot to do with a succession of South Korean celebrities who recently had their jaw bone cut and emerged looking like "totally different people" as countless Internet users enthused.
Comparing face sizes of celebrities is a common topic of discussion for netizens, who hardly hesitate to judge those with smaller faces are "winners".
The obsession is so widespread here that the term "V-line," which describes an oval face with a lean facial line and a sharp chin, has become a household word.
"It seems like having a smaller face is a dream for South Koreans," said Dr. Park, whose seven-story clinic is jam-packed with people wanting to reduce a prominent jaw. "Many still view Western looks as uniform standards of beauty."
No wonder "losers" are flocking to hundreds of plastic surgery clinics clustered alongside the so-called "beauty belt" in the affluent southern Seoul district of Gangnam.
The South Korean government does not keep its own statistics on cosmetic surgery, which is not covered by the national health insurance.
But according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS), a total of 361,988 surgical plastic surgery procedures and 408,925 non-surgical procedures were conducted in 2010 in South Korea.
Double-jaw surgery usually costs more than 10 million won (8, 690 U.S. dollars) and chin reduction surgery about half that price, but many of those who underwent the excruciating procedures say they got plenty of bang for the buck.
"I always thought I was neither pretty nor ugly, but I still wanted to be prettier," said a 25-year-old Chinese student, who identified herself only by her last name Wang.
With a sharper chin and taller nose bridge, her before-and- after pictures show the size of her face got noticeably smaller.
"They really worked," Wang said of the operations.
She is one of a growing number of foreigners who take advantage of South Korea's advanced cosmetic surgery technology. At the ID Hospital, where Wang received surgery, 10 to 15 percent of all patients are now foreigners.
The government's efforts to promote "medical tourism" coupled with the popularity of South Korean celebrities in the world, also help attract foreigners.
Still, the fad has a less palatable side to it.
According to the state-run Korea Consumer Agency, the number of reported cases of adverse effects of plastic surgery stood at 2, 984 in 2010, up from 1,901 cases in 2006.
Last year, a woman dissatisfied with her double-jaw surgery committed suicide, leading her family to sue a Gangnam clinic.
An unspecified number of people have reportedly died after double-jaw surgery, a major operation involving general anesthesia, due to excessive bleeding.
Critics also point out the looks-obsessed culture stifles diversity and distorts perceptions of natural beauty.
Celebrities who recently got double-jaw surgery, while becoming subject to much envy, also copped criticism that they now all look similar and lost individual charm.
"Some might blame us surgeons for making everyone look alike, but it's not like we can shape a face the way we really want to," Dr. Park said. "It is the society that ultimately decides what a desirable face should look like."