“I’ll get some cosmetic procedures done, but I hope I don’t end up looking like a Gangnam girl.”
I remember the first time I heard this from a Korean friend years ago. I was bewildered when she worried about being a ‘Gangnam beauty’ or ‘Gangnam girl.’ Isn’t Gangnam one of the poshest districts in Seoul? How come ‘Gangnam beauty’ had this negative connotation? I asked her out of plain curiosity.
For Koreans the term ‘Gangnam beauty’ refers to women who got so much cosmetic surgery done on their faces that they no longer look natural and seem to be just another in a series of beauty clones. Plastic surgery clinics line up, one after another, along Gangnam’s streets, hence the term.
Because of my friend’s words, when the Korean drama ‘My ID is Gangnam Beauty’ came out it instantly sparked my interest. At first glance the plot is the usual K-drama boy-meets-girl setup—confirmed by its cheesy teaser. However, I gave the first episode a chance anyway.
True enough, under the lid was way more than just a love story. It tackled beauty standards, our judgmental society, and sexism—all packed into just a single episode. Its well-written plot movement told me what to anticipate and the first 15 minutes had me hooked.
Plastic surgery is immensely common in South Korea, yet it still has a stigma that nobody wants to prod—how did they embrace this tension in a primetime weekend drama?
The JTBC drama ‘My ID is Gangnam Beauty’ was originally a webtoon novel about Kang Mirae (played by Im Soohyang) who doesn’t fit society’s beauty standards. She’s considered ‘ugly’ and was bullied by her peers in school. This pressure made her decide to undergo multiple cosmetic procedures before she entered university. Her plastic surgery was successful and now she can easily turn heads because of her beautiful looks. There’s just one problem—it’s too obvious and people can easily tell she had work done on her face. She then crosses paths with a former classmate from high school, Do Kyungseok (played by Cha Eunwoo), an extremely handsome guy with a cold personality due to his broken family background. Coincidentally, they attend the same university and Kyungseok is the only person who knows how Mirae looked prior to her surgery.
Living in a society that only cares about looks
At first, I hated Kang Mirae’s habit of constantly rating the faces of the women she comes across with, as if having a narrow nose bridge, V-line jaw, and doll-like eyes were the only factors for beauty points. As I watched more episodes, I began to understand where Mirae was coming from. It’s not like she wants to do it—in fact, she does it subconsciously because of her deeply rooted personal insecurities.
While some people undergo cosmetic surgery due to medical issues, Mirae sadly falls under the huge percentage of women who go under the knife because society ‘tells’ them to. Her long history of harassment truly destroyed her self-esteem and led her to develop into a person who constantly compares herself to other people within the framework of the beauty standards she knows. Seeing her act this way may be frustrating to watch, but as different angles of her character unfold, you will begin to feel her more and more.
Plastic surgery is okay, but it’s never a quick fix to everything
Undergoing plastic surgery is a personal decision and we have no right to judge whether it is the right or wrong thing to do for someone else. If there’s one thing this drama made me realize, it’s that plastic surgery is not always a quick fix for getting accepted and overcoming insecurities. The change needs to happen from within.
Kang Mirae’s successful plastic surgery didn’t instantly give her self-esteem a soaring lift. She’s still as timid as before and is still scared of how people see her physically. Mirae has her own flaws and this gives her character development an engrossing spin. As she learns how to embrace herself beyond just her physical aspects, we learn with her, one step at a time.
At one point, Mirae gets into a heated argument with Kyungseok, where he tells her to “fix her pathetic mindset [of merely judging people through their looks]”. It’s harsh, but it’s also a wakeup call for Mirae and she begins to see herself as more than just the ‘physical beauty’ her plastic surgery gave her.
A pretty face can’t mask an ugly heart
Among all the Korean dramas I’ve seen this year, I think ‘My ID is Gangnam Beauty’ also delivers the most deceitful villain of them all. Soo Ah is a natural beauty with an angelic smile that makes everybody swoon, however this character will make you throw punches in the air and roll your eyes to the back of your head in disdain.
And if you’re thinking it’s because she’s the classic villain that steals the boy from the girl, well that’s not it. This extremely manipulative character who goes beyond just getting Do Kyungseok’s attention will be sure to remind you of that one person whose name you wrote in your personal burn book. There’s no doubt that Soo Ah’s character is infuriating, but as you near the end of the drama, you will nevertheless pick up beautiful lessons about how we should see others. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so just watch the drama to see how events turn out!
It oozes girl power, women standing up against gender prejudice
A scenario in episode six sees senior male students giving a bunch of unsolicited advice to their female schoolmates on what they should change in order to look like ‘real women.’ This part felt quite personal to me, as I have experienced it myself. I remember being told by a male colleague that I’m pretty, but if I didn’t have my mole (facial beauty mark) and my round face, I would be ‘perfect.’ This happened at a company dinner and out of shock and embarrassment I wasn’t able to respond to it at the time, which I really regret.
Back to episode six: these awesome ladies make a striking comeback, putting their male seniors in their proper places! The fact that they did what I couldn’t do in the past made me exclaim, “You go, girl!”
A light touch that moves deeply
‘My ID is Gangnam Beauty’ is a drama written with a light heart that touches sensitive topics like sexism and plastic surgery, but remains collected and mindful of how viewers would feel. I really like the fact that they didn’t really show how Kang Mirae looked prior to her plastic surgery, avoiding creating a visual of what is considered ‘ugly.’ After all, the focus is not on how plastic surgery makes you look, but how you learn to love, respect, and appreciate yourself—with or without undergoing plastic surgery. We don’t have to change ourselves just to please everybody because doing so will only exhaust us as we chase after what others think is ‘perfect.’
I will end with the words Kang Mirae treasures, which once saved her life, “No matter what anyone says, you are the most precious person to yourself.”
‘My ID is Gangnam Beauty’ premiered on JTBC on July 27, 2018. It is currently available for streaming on viu.com in Southeast and South Asia, and in the Middle East.