Flight attendants in South Korea reveal why plastic surgery is becoming the norm to get a job

Being a flight attendant is a dream job for many South Korean women. But there are serious barriers to join their ranks.

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Being a flight attendant is a dream job for many South Korean women. But there are serious barriers to join their ranks.
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Roman Babakin/Shutterstock

  • South Korea‘s youth unemployment is nearing “catastrophic” levels, a Korean finance minister said last year.
  • To secure a job, many young people in South Korea feel that their application, which must include a photo ID, has to be perfect.
  • Being a flight attendants is an especially enviable job in South Korea with plenty of competition. As a result, many aspiring flight attendants are turning to plastic surgery to increase their odds of securing the job.
  • Some plastic surgery clinics in South Korea are even making special packages for aspiring flight attendants, encouraging those women to slim their faces, widen their eyes, and upturn their mouths.

It was only 1993 when United flight attendants reported that they were fasting, purging, and taking laxatives to keep their figure – and their jobs. If the crew members weighed more than 11 pounds over the maximum, they would receive 10 days of unpaid temporary leave, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.

Such rules have since been softened or outright banned in much of the world. But flight attendant hopefuls in South Korea still report significant pressure to look a certain way – and it’s leading them to take drastic measures.

Leading Korean airlines in South Korea like Asiana Airlines and Korean Air dropped their height stipulation and softened their language requirements for aspiring flight attendants in 2015, local media reported.

But in practice, thanks to a combination of factors including the job application process and Korean standards of beauty, flight attendant hopefuls have reported feeling pressured by an unspoken requirement “to be more beautiful,” The Korea Herald reported.

“The flight attendants are actually the representative of the airline,” Sojin Lim, a 25-year-old Seoul resident who worked for a domestic Korean airline, told Business Insider. “How they look will affect the image of it, so they have to always look formal and neat.”


It’s typical for job applications in South Korea to require an ID photo. Because of that, many job applicants in South Korea say they feel the pressure to appear good-looking, whether it’s to be a flight attendant, an engineer, or a cashier.

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ID photos are the norm for résumés in Korea.
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Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Source: LA Times


In fact, a 2016 survey by Saramin, a Korean online job portal, found that more than 60% of human resources personnel feel an applicant’s appearance affects his or her candidacy.

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Through the interview process and a résumé photo, applicants in Korea know that a well-groomed appearance are needed for the job search.
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Lee Jae Won/Reuters

Source: Saramin


The Korean government is seeking to overturn the résumé photo requirement in sweeping regulations that would also ban employers from asking applicants their height, weight, family background, and hometown.

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The job search might get a lot easier in the coming years as the Korean government introduces new regulations.
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Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Source: Quartz


But for now, job applicants in South Korea report feeling pressured to create a flawless application package — including a perfect résumé photo — to snag a job.

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Job fairs and online forums are two places that the unemployed in Korea look for job-hunting advice.
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Truth Leem/Reuters

Source: LA Times


Some job applicants turn to photo editing to improve their résumé photos. “It looked like me but it wasn’t the real me,” Jina Chae, a 27-year-old Seoul resident, told Business Insider of her résumé photo, which was edited to make her eyes larger, face slimmer, and wrinkles banished. “It was like a made-up photo.”

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Many photo studios edit the résumé photo.
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Lee Jae Won/Reuters

“I would have to put my energy to take a good picture,” Saerang Cha, a Toronto-based business analyst who previously worked in Korea, told Business Insider. “I’m not saying that the pictures are the most important thing, but finding a job in Korea is incredibly hard. We just want everything to be perfect.”

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Every detail counts for job seekers in Korea.
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Thomas Peter/Reuters

Young college graduates are especially challenged as youth unemployment in South Korea has reached record highs. “As the economy goes bad, there aren’t many good jobs, and the competition is fierce,” 28-year-old Baek Eui-hyun told NPR in 2017.

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Academies, like the one pictured, help prepare job-seekers for interviewing, crafting their résumés and language tests.
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Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

Source: NPR


A dream job for many young South Korean women has been to become a flight attendant, a job that promises travel, new experiences, and great pay and perks. At $3,500 per month, it’s better paid than most jobs for women in South Korea.

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Lots of Korean women aspire to be flight attendants thanks to the good pay, perks, and prestige.
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Roman Babakin/Shutterstock

Source: PRI


“It’s a pride to be a fight attendant in Korea since most of the people think it’s a ‘classy’ job,” Sojin Lim, a 25-year-old Seoul resident who used to work for a domestic Korean airline, told Business Insider. “And of course, they get to travel around the world and earn much more money than the usual job in Korea.”

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Most flight attendants will find themselves based at Incheon International Airport, which is about an hour from Seoul and one of the world’s busiest airports.
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Sorbis/Shutterstock

The job is so competitive that more than 20,000 applicants might apply for a few hundred spots, and aspiring flight attendants sometimes apply nine times for the job. The application process requires physical tests and fluency in languages like English and Chinese.

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Domestic airlines, like Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, are popular choices for flight attendants, as well as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Lufthansa.
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Sorbis /Shutterstock

Source: PRI


During interviews, South Korean airlines often grade attendants on how well they do their hair and makeup and include this information on their personnel records, Lim said. “Because they always look perfectly formal and so neat, a lot of people envy them and dream to be a fight attendant,” she told Business Insider.

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Being perfectly groomed is no less important on the job than it is during the application process.
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Sorbis/Shutterstock

“I think you can compare it to some sort of beauty contest,” Pablo Lee, who directs a flight attendant academy, told The Korea Herald. “They have to be physically perfect.” More than 132 pounds is “kind of overweight,” he said.

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Being polished and professional at all time are musts for flight attendants.
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TonyV3112/Shutterstock

Source: The Korea Herald


Flight attendant academies in South Korea prepare would-be flight attendants for the interview process and teach students about the best grooming practices, as well as hospitality primers and how to nail English and Korean interviews. It takes six to 12 months of preparation from these academies.

Source: Daily Grid


Women who successfully landed a job as a flight attendant in 2017 who went through the Seoul-based Wing Sky Crew Academy were, on average, 24.7 years old, 5 foot 5 inches, and 110 pounds. They had an average Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) score of 700 points, indicating “limited working proficiency” in English language.

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Slenderness, youth and good English skills are non-negotiable for most flight attendants in Korea. Applicants older than 30 years old are rarely considered.
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Sorbis/Shutterstock

Source: Daily Grid


While looks may not be the most important part of a flight attendant’s application, many applicants report feeling the pressure of perfection. That’s why some women hoping to join the elite ranks of Korea’s flight attendant class consider or receive plastic surgery. And some clinics are capitalizing on this by offering special packages just for aspiring flight attendants.

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The pressure to look perfect in Korea, particularly in the airline industry, is intense.
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Roman Babakin/Shutterstock

Source: Herald Insight, Quartz


Reborn Aesthetic Clinic (not pictured) in Sinsa, a particularly wealthy neighborhood in Seoul’s Gangnam District, offers a special program for flight attendants, which involves forehead molding, eyelid surgery, a raised nose bridge, a V-line face shape, and smoother skin.

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Surgeries to slim the jaw, widen the eyes and raise the nose bridge are generally most common in Korea.
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Sam Ro/Business Insider

Source: Reborn Aesthetic Clinic


“So many people who dream of stewardess are frustrated,” reads the Reborn website, which has been translated into English. “They want to be a stewardess and dream of living in many countries, but they are frustrated and must abandon the dream because of their appearance. Those around you will remind you of this. ‘You can’t do it because you’re ugly,’ they say cruelly.”

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Cosmetic surgery in Korea tend to focus on the face, rather than the body.
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Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

Source: Reborn Aesthetic Clinic


Recipients of the so-called “smile surgery” can enjoy a slightly-upturned mouth at all times. South Korean surgeons told The Wall Street Journal in 2013 that flight attendants and others in the service industry frequently asked for this procedure.

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The “smile surgery” caused an uproar in Korea when the procedure was first popularized in 2013.
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Str Old/Reuters

Source: The Wall Street Journal


For those already enrolled in COSEA, a training school for flight attendants in South Korea, there are surgery discounts. A double eyelid surgery is 120 million Korean won, or $1,100.

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Eyelid surgeries, among the most common procedure in Korea, typically cost $2,000 to $4,000.
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Nir Elias/Reuters

Source: Dream Medical Group


The overall pressure to be beautiful is so intense in South Korea that one in five women have gotten cosmetic surgery, according to data from International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.

Source: The Atlantic


Dr. Cho Soo-young, a surgeon in South Korea, said lookism in South Korea is uniquely challenging. “In Korean society, the competition is very severe,” Cho said to Worldcrunch in 2014. “If they have a poor face and look old, they will lose to others in the competition. So in order to beat others, they need to change their face and their body.”

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Cosmetic surgery is a common high school graduation gift in South Korea, especially for girls.
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Jo Yong hak/Reuters

Source: Worldcrunch