Sharon Heijin Lee Lecture—The Geopolitics of Beauty: Transnational Circulations of Plastic Surgery, Pop, and Pleasure

Titsworth Marjorie Leff Miller ’53 Lecture Hall

Open to the public

/ Thursday


South Koreans undergo plastic surgery at the highest rates per capita globally. In addition, the medical tourism industry lures 150,000 medical tourists each year, a majority of whom travel from other parts of Asia to South Korea for cosmetic surgery. This talk examines how K-POP and K-Dramas are utilized by the cosmetic surgery industry as advertisements that circulate globally. Cosmetic surgery in South Korea is an embodiment of media that has implications for how we understand processes of imperial aesthetics and gendered racialization. By using social media platforms, South Korean cultural productions induce self-animation producing new materially embodied realities that illuminate how modernity looks in contemporary Asia. Arguing that race is not static, but gets resignified in regionally specific ways, this talk examines how racialized traits and plastic surgery procedures are deployed in the service of capitalist expansion even in the absence of white bodies.

Sharon Heijin Lee is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University whose research explores the imperial routes of culture and media. In addition to her book, The Geopolitics of Beauty, which maps plastic surgery in South Korea, Asia, and Asian America, Lee is co-editing two anthologies: From Bollywood to Hallyuwood, forthcoming from University of Hawai'i Press, examines global pop cultures and Fashion and Beauty in the Time of Asia tracks fashion and beauty as formations of Asian modernities. Lee has been published in Women and Performance: Journal of Feminist Theory and Frontiers: Journal of Women's Studies.