The dangers of the Korean Wave – at least in Thailand

According to the AFP (25 January 2013), people in Thailand are undergoing more and riskier plastic surgery because “they seek to recreate the surgically enhanced, doll-like appeal of their K-pop idols.”

Be that as it may, I really don’t think anyone can blame the Korean wave for this increase of vanity on the part of the Thais.  There has always been an effort – at least in the past couple of decades – to appear whiter. I remember many years ago while visiting Thailand that I should stay indoors during the daytime so as to keep my complexion white (considering I had just left the howling cold of winter and looked like a zombie – keeping my pasty white complexion was not on the top of my list).

Apparently, though, things have gone way too far:

Alarmingly high numbers of Thai men inject olive oil, beeswax, silicone and even paraffin into their genitals, in a misguided bid to enlarge their penises, according to one Bangkok urologist.

Skin lesions or serious infections are commonly the result, said Surat Kittisupaporn of the Police General Hospital, which sees up to 300 patients a month after botched penis treatments.

“The body reacts to the foreign substances. When there is chronic irritation or infection, it’ll be very hard to cure… it’ll be hard to even walk or take a shower,” he said, making surgery inevitable.

In the worst case, Surat was forced to remove a 50-year-old man’s genitals in November after he repeatedly injected olive oil into his penis.

In Korea I believe this is called the haebaragi (the sunflower) treatment – injecting silicon or whatnot into your small soldier so that he becomes thicker and more like a French tickler.

But it isn’t just the men:

A product promoter, or a so-called “pretty”, died in October when a gel-like filler meant to make her buttocks more shapely was injected into her bloodstream.

Her friend and fellow “pretty”, Nutchanunt Angkuttarothum, 25, said the tragedy had not deterred her from further surgery to add to a litany of procedures, including a nose job she has already undergone.

“We have to always take care of ourselves and look good, otherwise we wouldn’t look different from others”, she said after pouting for the cameras at a recent motorcycle launch event in Bangkok.

For women, the quest for bigger eyes, noses, breasts and bums is just one step in a wider bid to transform themselves.

Off-the-shelf skin whitening creams, including vaginal bleaching soaps, abound in the kingdom with many believing that a lighter skin reflects higher status and is more attractive to the opposite sex.

Vaginal bleaching soaps?  Gold, too, is used to enhance their bodies – not in the form of bling but as implants.

I like this closing quote:

“People don’t have to be white to be beautiful—good personality, having knowledge and other capacities are much more important,” Professor Suwirakorn said. “It’s better to have beauty from within.”

  • Liz

    Mr. Neff I have to say, for a historian of your stature I would never have thought you would stoop to this. (PS- I mean well, sir.)

  • Scott N

    historian? good lord..

  • robert neff

    Obviously I am missing something which was pretty much the point of the posting. First, I don’t understand this need for plastic surgery. I think in some cases it is needed – such as the results of accidents or birth defects but out of vanity – no. Second, I don’t think you can blame the Korea Wave for something for the events in Thailand as it has been happening for quite some time – in many many countries. Third, the haebaragi comment – I have always been interested in knowing more about the origin of this practice. You see the flyers and stickers everywhere and I have even seen signs along the road near my house advertising this type of plastic surgery. Perhaps Grand Narrative can provide us with some answers.

    And, Liz, I am sorry if I offended you with the posting – it was not intended.

  • nayacasey

    Liz, so much of history is comedy, it seems fine to have historians commenting on such foolishness at the time. But then, I guess it would be kind of like the president of the United States posting his NCAA basketball tournament picks. Not that anything that stupid would ever happen.^^

  • Scott N

    you don’t understand why people do things they don’t need to do?

  • WMunny

    I’m confused… they want to look like Koreans, but they’re ENLARGING their penises?

  • que337
  • robert neff

    Excellent one Q.

  • que337

    I linked it to figure out the missing logic in you post, but I do not think injecting EVOO into one’s penis is a Korean wave.

  • Cloudfive

    I think Neff’s approach to Koreans is less historian and more entomologist. Bugs are fascinating but weird.

  • stereo

    Thailand is known for cosmetic surgery and other traditional body treatment for quite a long time. K-pop influence is non-sense and unsubstantiated.

  • Brendon Carr

    Posting his picks?! They televise that fucking guy filling out his bracket and then his analysis of each choice while the ESPN reporter gushes and licks his bum.

  • pawikirogii

    if you understand that he despises korean men, you can understand why he really posted this tabloid fodder.

  • Sinister

    Surely dying from injecting olive oil into your penis must qualify you for a Darwin award?

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Women trying to bleach their genitals? They clearly don’t understand men if they that we’d care one way or the other.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    correction: it they think that’s we’d care

  • DC Musicfreak

    The good Mr Neff excels at the handling of arcana and quotidian historical detail, but he sucks, totally sucks, and I mean sucks as badly as pawigirogi sucks at reading comprehension, every time he tries, at humor. I mean well, too.

  • robert neff

    i have to agree with you on the sense of humor…i am horrible at it

  • Jieun K

    Americans are watching a reality show called Oval Office starring Obama and his coterie of aides on a joy ride for FOUR MORE YEARS. The ending, however, will be sad.

  • bumfromkorea

    I’m confused too. You write insulting shit like that here, and don’t expect angry responses from other Koreans?

  • ChuckRamone

    well, personally, instead of putting things in my penis, I like to put my penis in things to make it bigger.

  • cm

    This Thai guy named Nichkhun, from a KPOP boy band called 2PM is hugely popular in Thailand and his face is plastered all over Thailand.

  • yangachibastardo

    Sorry but if you still think women spiff themselves up to please men, you’re the one who didn’t understand much

  • zefreak

    You do realize that this is the 21st Century and people do things that aren’t “necessary” all the time? Arguments against plastic surgery based on lack of “necessity” are generally just rationalizations attempting to justify one’s gut reaction.

  • que337
  • keyinjpop

    How did the onahole feel?

  • Cloudfive

    So many words I don’t know. What’s an “onahole”?

  • keyinjpop
  • ChuckRamone


  • Charles Montgomery

    LOL.. always reassures me things back in the homeland are going well when the butthurt keep exposing it…

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Spare me the catty comments. I know it’s all about insecurity…But, why else would anyone feel insecure about that particular part of their body?

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Yes, and I’ve been told by a friend who lives in Thailand that the hospitals and surgeons are excellent.

  • feld_dog

    The pernicious influence of K-pop beauty standards on the generally shorter, darker people of SE Asia is real. I’ve had numerous conversations with women in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia etc. who, as soon as I say I live in Korea, gush about how beautiful Korean women are, and how ugly they think themselves are by comparison.

  • Cloudfive

    I believe bleaching (that area) started with the adult film industry(close-ups) and spread to trophy wives and Hollywood.

    Furthermore, only one sentence in the entire linked article mentions Koreans at all. Neff could just as easily have titled this post “The Influence of ancient Egypt on Thai Beauty Treatments” from this sentence:”Gold thread face implants, a tradition apparently stretching back to ancient Egypt”. This type of cherry picking in a simple article makes me suspect the morsels he chooses from other writers and presents as “history”.

  • Cloudfive

    Meanwhile, I lamented the day that bodies like Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian came into vogue. The question “do these pants make my butt look big?” changed to “I hope these pants make my butt look big”.

  • Thedrew

    He filmed a commercial with my daughter . Good guy!

  • yangachibastardo

    They wanna like what they see in the mirror when they get out of the shower ?

  • yangachibastardo

    Was it the “Let’s take a break” thing ?

    For some reason i can’t link

  • yangachibastardo

    Isn’t Nichkun of Chinese descent hence taller and whiter and not particulaly stereotipically Thai ?

  • cm

    His fluent Korean is pretty good, I was surprised. It’s about 85% accent free. I understand he’s a national hero in Thailand, but he may have grown up in California.

  • cm

    If you look at all the Kpop stars who are none Koreans like Nichkun and Victoria (there seems to be fair number of Thai and Chinese members in Kpop groups) , they fall into the Korean ideal and requirements of what beauty is considered to be.

  • yangachibastardo

    True true, Victoria is from Shandong though: aren’t Chinese people from there basically genetically the same as Koreans ?

    An exception might be Cross Gene’s Takuya who imo looks very Japanese and almost stereotipically j-pop

  • cm

    I’m not sure, since I’m not a genetic expert. But I do know a former Chinese kpop group member Han Geng (Super Junio), is born a Nanai – an ethnic minority group in China that are considered as Tungusic-Siberian-Manchu type people, similar to Koreans.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Yes, I’ve read of women in the adult industry getting that area bleached. It’s odd enough that those women get that done. It’s even stranger for someone who isn’t going to have spotlights and cameras 6 inches from her nether regions to worry about something like that.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Right, because people walk spreadeagle with their crotch high up in the air when they step out of the shower. 😉

  • keyinjpop

    Takuya is Japanese and did some acting there before debuting in Korea.

  • Excis2H8 .

    Sounds like someone is upset that beautiful Thais are into another Asian group (i.e., Koreans) than they are into the White man. I often hear fat bald White man return from Bangkok after knowing only the bar girls and tell me how Thai girls love the White man. I’m like – dude – you’re fat and bald – those Thai girls have posters of K-pop stars up in their room – not posters of Alfred Hitchcock. This article was so silly and misinformed that I had to give it one silly response. K-pop dangerous? To who? Oh because one Asian group idolizes another Asian group – it’s dangerous to the White man? Geez give me a break. Dangerous? Really?

  • Knut Holt

    There is only one acceptable way to get a nice as, and that is hard training combined with a good diet. Some herbal stimulants can however help the vitality of your penis, though.

  • Excis2H8 .

    What a dumbass ignorant comment. I’ve lived in BKK for years. One thing for sure is that the diversity of color and height is amazing and beautiful. Thais come in tall, light, dark, short, … most have double eyelids (something even the Koreans want). It is where Chinese, Indians, Malayans, Khmers, and even Persian blood mixed over the years to make Thais very unique. Yes there are short dark people, but that’s far from all there is. BKK is as vibrant a city as its people. The fact that they’re into K-Pop should make the Korean proud because Thais are into beautiful things. Too many people know only a subsection of the country and make a huge generalization.

  • Excis2H8 .

    Sounds like someone is upset that the beautiful Thais are more into another Asian group (i.e., the Koreans) rather than the White male standard. I often hear fat bald White men return from Bangkok after knowing only the bar girls and tell me how Thai girls love White men. I’m like – dude – you’re fat and bald – those Thai girls have posters of K-pop stars up in their room – not posters of Alfred Hitchcock. This article was so silly and misinformed that I had to give it one silly response. K-pop dangerous? To who? Oh because one Asian group idolizes another Asian group – it’s dangerous? Geez give me a break. Dangerous? Really? Plastic surgery is going on all over the world absent K-Pop.