The short answer: Because it pays to be beautiful
Yes, put simply, beautiful people earn more, attract quality mates and are given better opportunities, treatment and admiration by others in society. This is not only found in human nature, but even in the animal kingdom, especially in the case of male peacocks, who have colorful and ornate feathers solely for the purpose of attracting a mate. This concept is widely understood, accepted and recognized as a form of cultural capital and social currency, especially in Korean culture.
This may be an inconvenient truth to accept, but it’s been shown to be the case not only in evolutionary biology, but through dispassionately data driven research and studies conducted by economists worldwide. Koreans not only welcome this idea, but integrate it into their daily lives to such a degree, that medical beauty treatments such as plastic surgery are seen as valuable investments in ones socioeconomic success rather than a meaningless and vain pursuit.
Noted economist Daniel Hamermesh shows that the attractive are more likely to be employed, work more productively and profitably, receive more substantial pay, obtain loan approvals, negotiate loans with better terms, and have more handsome and highly educated spouses. Hamermesh explains why this happens and what it means for the beautiful–and the not-so-beautiful–among us. Source: Beauty Pays
Korea is also a very competitive society when it comes to finding a job or spouse. And there are many theories for why that’s the case, but in general, it’s because Korea is not a country rich with natural resources such as fertile soil, minerals, natural gas, oil etc… So for economic power and prosperity it must rely on its number one resource: human resources.
In this kind of environment, one survives and thrives by being a part of and accepted into socioeconomic groups for personal, educational, vocational, financial and spiritual growth. These groups range in exclusivity and pedigree, and many people are in competition to gain access into them, especially if they’re starting with a relatively equal footing in a confucian, collective and homogeneous society.
It should come to no surprise then that enhancing ones beauty can be considered a competitive advantage and way to come-in a cut above the rest, or at the very least, a means to blend in for those who were born with disadvantageous aesthetics.
Moreover, Korea is a grossly predominant male driven society, even though economic gender disparity is slowly shifting and getting better. Many women want an edge to get a job or draw attractive male suitors, so enhancing their beauty is seen as a valuable pursuit for that end. This demand for beauty is what has given rise to a large supply of plastic surgery clinics and a booming cosmetics industry.
Many people uninitiated with Korea, especially those in the international media, tend to criticize Korean society for their emphasis on beauty by saying it’s vain or shallow, but in reality, it’s just honest.
That’s not to say that Koreans can’t get carried away, and they do at times, especially when they let beauty standards and superficial pursuits take precedence over decency and compassion towards others.
For further reading: I provide some more insight into this here: