Columbia University, United States
So-Rim Lee’s paper, “Surgeons Who Wrote: Constructing the Public Discourse of Plastic Surgery,” examines the formation and transformation of public discourse on plastic surgery in South Korea by tracing newspaper op-eds and columns from the 1950s to the 1970s. While the medical discipline of plastic surgery (sŏnghyŏngoegwa) currently includes two subspecialties (“reconstructive” and “cosmetic” surgeries), such distinctions were nonexistent in South Korea well into the mid-1970s. In fact, reconstructive surgery aimed at restoring the malfunctioning body (e.g. cleft palate repair) was loosely included in the medical field of orthopedic surgery; and until plastic surgery became officially recognized as a medical subspecialty in 1973, cosmetic surgery (e.g. rhinoplasty) was considered a nonmedical practice solely undertaken for beauty (miyong) purposes, often looked down upon as frivolous, unnecessary, and even morally dubious. Many physicians practicing plastic surgery sought to change this public perception by writing op-eds and serialized columns for major newspapers. Whether they were offering medical knowledge on different plastic surgery procedures, telling stories of interesting cases, or answering reader questions, the surgeons made sure to tell the general public to seek licensed professionals. In so doing, they promoted their image as responsible medical doctors separate from illegitimate, “immoral” practitioners, appealing to public morality. Paying attention to the language, rhetoric, and gender dynamics in these texts, Lee traces how writing became a critical act of crafting a particular image of the plastic surgeon in this developmental phase of the medical discipline in South Korea.