Yongsan Garrison and the legacy of Plastic Surgery

Contributor: Karl Schutz

South Korea is the country with more plastic surgeries per capita in the world. Blepharoplasty or double eyelid surgery is the most common procedure being…

Topic: History, People, plastic surgery, Yongsan Legacy
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South Korea is the country with more plastic surgeries per capita in the world.
Blepharoplasty or double eyelid surgery is the most common procedure being the cheapest and less invasive. But it has a controversial past.

It is believed that it was first introduced in Korea in late 19th century by the Japanese and it was during the Korean War (1950-1953) that the surgery became popular when DR. Ralph Millard, an American pioneer of plastic surgery was stationed in Seoul to do reconstructive surgery for the war wounded. He wrote that he performed his first blepharoplasty when “a slant-eyes Korean interpreter, speaking excellent English, came in requesting to be made into a “round-eye”.

Photo Source: Karl Schutz

Before venturing into Plastic on Orientals, however, it seemed wise to become adjusted to their standard of beauty. On every Sunday night at a certain Officer’s Club there is ‘moose call’ in the form of a dinner dance.
The social gathering becomes a veritable laboratory for scientific comparison.

Once satisfied with his basic understanding of the “Oriental” aesthetic, Millard began operating on Korean patients at his MASH unit. The operations consisted mainly of reconstructive work: repairing cleft lips, working with lepers, fixing natural deformities, and healing war-related damages like napalm burns.
Amidst his reconstructive work came his more controversial venture into double eyelid surgery.

Millard’s invention of a new form of double eyelid surgery in 1953, then, should not be misconstrued as the invention of double eyelid surgery in East Asia. Physicians had been performing double eyelid operations there since the late nineteenth century, and a variety of methods for the surgery existed, varying by location. The important distinction to be made, however, is that Millard’s procedure departed from the other methods at the time and marked an innovation in the field.
Millard did not invent double eyelid surgery, but he did innovate.

Dr Millard included in his book two sets of before-and-after images of women who underwent his eyelid operation, a woman from the officer’s club he frequented, and a nurse. The captions commented that the woman from the officer’s club sought out the surgery for economic reasons, while the nurse “desired a touch of occidental beauty.”51 The woman from the officer’s club made her living entertaining American G.I.s, so her “economic” reasons were really aesthetic ones: if she looked more attractive to Americans, she would get more money. Millard made this motive more explicit in his autobiography, published years later in 2003, when he wrote,

“Several Oriental girls requested to be occidentalized in order to be more attractive to the American troops.”52 In each explanation of motives for Korean women, Millard’s impression was that they sought out the surgery for aesthetic reasons, requesting to be made closer to the American norm of beauty.

Photo Source: Karl Schutz


The Curious Beginnings of Double Eyelid Surgery in 1950s Korea by Karl Schutz
“The Face of ‘American Goodwill in Asia’: Ralph Millard, Howard Rusk, and the Curious Beginnings of Double Eyelid Surgery in 1950s Korea”