Book Review: If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

South Korean beauty products are known in the world for their effectiveness and originality. On account of this, I have been curious to know if the booming beauty industry plays a role in having unrealistic expectations from their people, especially women. According to an article from the Huffington Post, Korean women have been using plastic surgery to keep up with the universal trends from before the 1990s. Among the many rhinoplasties, skin lightening and double eyelid surgeries are in the lead.

Taking above into account, Frances Cha’s ‘If I Had Your Face discusses the repercussions of nonsensical expectations and sexism that still prevails in South Korean society. The story is told from the perspective of four women- Ara, Kyuri, Miho and Wonna- who come from different walks of life.

I would live your life so much better than you, if I had your face.

Frances Cha

Kyuri is the bread winner for her family and has to look after her ailing mother. She has a pragmatic and realistic approach after working in a room salon for years. In her profession, she entertains rich businessmen while facing abuse at the hands of her cold-blooded employers.

Kyuri’s roommate, Miho, grew up in an orphanage and is a talented sculptor who got a scholarship at a university in New York. While growing as an artist, she is in a relationship with an affluent businessman.

Ara is a mute stylist who works at a hair salon. She is Kyuri’s hairstylist which contributes to bringing these women closer in their life. Ara is also obsessed with a singer from a K-Pop band.

Wonna lives with her husband in an apartment below Kyuri’s. Her husband is keen on starting a family however he does not have an income which supports this dream.

The powerfully interweaved tales of these women explore Korea’s unhealthy obsession with plastic surgery and pop culture. Enhancing your features by going under the knife is no big deal. It is, rather, encouraged and seen as an extension of makeup and self-care. Especially, when belonging to a profession that values your looks, plastic surgery is a necessity. You see the insecurity and envy in these characters who have their struggles. Through these ladies, Cha also shows how women are to most likely bear the brunt of classism that still lingers in society.

I could have done away with Wonna’s storyline, whose was the weakest and contributes little. As the author limelights various themes, I wanted more of each one’s perspective. With that being said, if you looking to know the working of South Korean beauty culture, this is a good starting point.

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