Korean Sociological Image #21: Calf Reduction Surgery

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery Advertisement Before AfterEstimated reading time: 4 minutes.

It’s one thing to be aware of the popularity of calf-reduction surgery on an abstract level, but quite another to see the results in the flesh.

Or rather, the reduction thereof. And, while I’m aghast at the notion of voluntarily having one’s nerves cut and muscle removed for any cosmetic surgery procedure, in this particular case the mind simply boggles at how anybody can consider the “after” picture as an improvement.

Unfortunately though, it is neither a mistake nor a satire, but is instead from a genuine advertisement in this month’s Busan edition of Cocofun (코코펀), a free local entertainment guide available in major cities. Here is the full version:

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery AdvertisementFor the record, I’m not labeling skinny calves as unattractive by definition, particularly if a woman—and it’s almost exclusively women who undergo calf-reduction surgery—has such legs naturally; as it happens, the difficulty of finding food I wasn’t allergic to when I was young meant that my own calves probably weren’t much bigger until my mid-teens. Buffing-up in my early-20s to compensate for my own body image issues then, naturally I also prefer healthy and active women over sedentary, thin ones today. But regardless of my background, I think I would always have struggled to understand how the muscle development naturally ensuing from an active lifestyle could ever be considered unattractive.

That isn’t the case in Korea and the rest of Northeast Asia however. For a good introduction as to why, I recommend this post at FeetManSeoul for starters, while some other sources, such as the following English guide to the procedure from this cosmetic surgery clinic in Seoul for instance, also mention the fact that “Asian women have shorter legs and thicker calves than Caucasian women.” But, lest one is tempted to read too much into that curious racial comparison though, by no means do all commentators on the subject indirectly refer to some alleged Caucasian ideal, and actually even this more direct description of the procedure from the same site fails to mention it.

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery (Source)

However, there may also generational differences to consider. Take 38 year-old singer and actor Uhm Jung-hwa below for instance, appearing in a press conference with 29 year-old actor Han Chae-young for their movie Are you living with the person you love? (지금 사랑하는 사람과 살고 있습니까?) in July 2007. Ironically, both are well-known for having received extensive cosmetic surgery, but as you can see, only Uhm Jung-hwa has retained her muscular legs. I find her much the more attractive for that reason, and—assuming that she had the procedure done herself—seriously wonder how much physical exertion Han Chae-young is capable of; did I mention that calf-reduction patients have to learn how to walk again?

Uhm Jung-Hwa Han Chae-young legs calvesBut while its voluntary nature may may mean that it’s too extreme of me to compare calf-reduction surgery akin to foot-binding at this point (although both do involve the physical disablement of women for the sake of a wholly artificial beauty ideal), I will go so far as to invoke Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792) here. For not only did she note that women being considered “too susceptible to sensibility and too fragile to be able to think clearly” was partially the consequence of not receiving the physical education that boys did (see here also), tellingly she also wrote that women are “taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison,” implying that if young women weren’t so encouraged to focus their attention on beauty and outward accomplishments, they could achieve just us much as men do.

Points to ponder in a country where health-food is promoted to elementary school girls on the basis of allegedly improving their face-shape and making their undeveloped breasts and buttocks bigger. And yet still people wonder why I’m so negative sometimes!

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

46 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #21: Calf Reduction Surgery

  1. That Asian women have a shorter legs and bulkier calfs i wonder ,is that opinion or fact ?

    I did notice that ,but there is not actual study on that..if i could i would take Caucasian and Asian women of same height and measure their legs . or do a survey ..

    Plus thin legs look bad..


    1. I am 5’2″ tall and wear a 30-inch inseam. I NEVER found a pair of pants to fit me while living in Korea and China. If the pants were the right length from waist to ankle, the rise was too long and the inseam too short, resulting in a baggy crotch hanging down too low. I won’t even get into the waist-to-hip ratio difference. There are short white women with short torsos and long legs like me and there are short white women with long torsos and short legs. Short Korean women almost always have long torsos and short legs.


  2. This reminds me of those ads in the United States for people who tattoo their bodies and faces, or those that get piercings all over their bodies, including those naughty bits. I think people that fall for such ads obviously haven’t read Mary Wollstonecraft.


  3. I think the legs on the right look more attractive than the legs on the left but do not think having thinner legs is worth permanently damaging one’s calf muscles. I suspect a little photo editing because the knobby knees are gone, too. Agree that Um Jung-hwa’s toned legs look better than Han Chae-young’s skinny limbs even though Han’s legs are longer.


  4. foremost, i must say that i really enjoy reading your blog. this form of plastic surgery is horrendous to me. i wonder how prevalent calf surgery is among Korean celebrities as the women in most of the music videos i have watched have legs that look like Han Chae-young’s. Han Chae-young is also skinner than Um Jung-hwa by far, could this be another generational difference? Or could it just be that Han Chae-young is simply skinny?

    and thanks for invoking Wollstonecraft.


    1. Thanks for the compliment, but especially for the link to your own blog: lot’s to keep me occupied there! And while we’re at it, on one post of yours you mentioned that you’re interested in finding other blogs like mine/ours, so let me point you in the direction of Appears, very much a (better) Japanese version of mine, albeit with less emphasis on advertising and more on music.

      As for how prevalent calf-surgery is here, I confess I need to do more research on that myself sorry, although I do know from the sources I link to that Korea is considered the world leader in it, and that the squeamish, invasive, muscle-removing versions of it are preferred over alternative calf-reducing methods preferred in the US.

      Also, of course Han Chae-young and Um Jung-hwa are just one example, however representative I think they probably are: again I’d need to look more closely at the legs of different generations of many more female celebrities to say anything with conviction…but I can think of worse research projects! More seriously though, you may be interested in the fact that it’s the youngest female musicians (Girls’ Generation, The Wondergirls) are encouraging a “sausage leg” craze here at the moment (wearing jeans that are several sizes too small), which you can read a little about here.


      1. you’re welcome! hope you enjoy my blog as well. thank you so much for the links. i find it very interesting that GG and Wondergirls are encouraging a ‘sausage leg’ craze so thanks for the link again.


  5. Disgusting… And the legs of the woman on the left are MUCH better than the woman on the right. In Japan some girls have the “daikon-ashi”, but I think it’s more related to diet than anything else–too many carbs. Rice, or other plain starches, make up more than 50% of the meal balance for a lot of people.


      1. daikon-ashi = mu-dari in Korean

        The length and muscle build of the legs has little to do with the high carb diet and more to do with genetics and physical activity. Indians and Pakistanis eat a high carb diet with rice and/or bread at every meal, and their legs tend to be long and slender even when they’re overweight.


  6. Now we know where the Korean ‘recovery’ is coming from. To think that people actually think this is worth spending money on – not just a week’s salary on, but money from their savings – for what? Is this surgery going to get you a job? A raise?

    This story, coupled with the 120 pound model being fired (http://www.radaronline.com/exclusives/2009/10/120-pound-ralph-lauren-model-fired-being-too-fat, among MANY other sources) makes me sick…


    1. Well that’s the thing: it would indeed get many women a job and/or raise. One can (and should) rail against judging women on their appearance, but if you’re a woman forced to live and work in a society with such a value system, then it’s perfectly rational and empowering to get a procedure done, and can and would be considered an investment much like a second degree or learning Japanese might be.

      For those reasons, I’m much less judgmental of people who’ve undergone cosmetic surgery then when I started writing about it 2 years ago.

      But I still have my limits, and this is definitely one of them. So, please forgive the pun, but this particular procedure is one on which Korean women should take more of a stand, or at least think a little bit more about. How on Earth can a fit and active woman’s legs be unattractive?


      1. How on Earth can a fit and active woman’s legs be unattractive?

        That’s a bit of a stretch. Are the ads saying a fit and active woman’s legs are unattractive? How is attractiveness determined? Evolutionary psychological principles? Social construction? Is attractiveness exogenous or endogenous in your model or assessment? What is the definative answer on attractiveness? What about the freedom to become transhuman? The questions are deeper than what is suggested, particularly if your statement can be construed as being normative.

        I am not putting words into your mouth, but it is my reading of the text. Vive Le Difference!


  7. I found amazing clip this half White (German) ,half Korean singer Isak is so beautiful and talented ..

    She has exelets white beuty ..she inherited more white than asian side..


  8. Last time off topic ,but what is your opinion on this half Korean beauty !!!
    i am in love with her ..she is much better than Hyori ..


  9. Not altogether unrelated to ancient foot binding mentioned above, another growing fad is cosmetic foot surgery designed to allow women to better wedge their tender feet into high-fashion stilettos and similar orthopedically-disastrous shoe designs.

    The potential for significant complications is not just limited to the foot, ankle, and toes since once leg alignment gets even slightly out of kilter, ill effects can ripple upward thus stressing the knees, hips, and spine and leading to all sorts of aches and pains.

    Interestingly, the most prominent U.S. practitioners seem to be podiatrists of East Asian descent, and so it would be intriguing to know if this new scourge is home-grown or imported from across the ocean. Wearing tall high heels does make the legs appear longer and the woman taller, and so cosmetic foot-plasties seem to address some of the same appearance concerns altered by Asian calf reduction operations.

    By the way, I greatly appreciate your intelligent site and all the work you must put into it. It’s clearly the best of its kind.


  10. No way! I love the bulbous calf muscles on Asian girl’s legs. It’s so damn hot. I think Asian ladies have the sexiest legs in the world. These’s nothing sexier than seeing those muscles flex, bulge and ripple as she walks in a pair of platform high heels.

    Why the hell would anyone want to do this stupid surgery. Don’t do it ladies!!! Please!!!! You have the best legs in the world!!!

    Love, Calfhunter


  11. I have the short and muscular legs and long torso, and sadly, all I can think of while reading this is “where do I get this surgery and how much does it cost”. :P


    1. If and when I get the money, I am getting the surgery! I’ve always hated my calves and I only wish to look like a woman, not a cross-dresser. :( I can’t wear shorts or skirts ever. I can be depressing.


  12. Both women and men who think they need to change their bodies with no health threat looming over them are hypnotized by the media and need to learn to love themselves. It really is sad.


  13. I’m sorry but I don’t understand the controversy over this. If the surgery is available and performed well, it obviously doesn’t come at a major cost to one’s ability to walk. In fact, I have heard from other sources that many people are able to walk home within days after the operation. Obviously, like any other plastic surgery, it is going to great lengths purely for aesthetic improvement, but in the day and age where technology is used for nearly everything, where is the harm? Especially if a surgery has been performed long enough and often enough to be declared safe. It’s a personal choice…


  14. I hate my bulky Asian cursed Calves, I envy those White/Black/Indian dudes at the gym!!! I am an Asian male by the way and I understand the pain that those Korean women are going through!!!


  15. This just shows how silly and depressing Korean society can be towards women with well shaped muscular calves. Ask any man, any real man what a pair of sexy legs look like. 99% of the time the answer will lie in a pair of well shaped calves. Shame on you Korean guys…go buy yourselves a pair of rubber gloves and some scissors!


    1. Agreed…and, not that men’s approval is required or anything like that, but I genuinely wonder how many of the women who undergo the procedure have ever actually asked a guy which kind of legs he finds the more attractive.

      Not that I think there’s much of a difference between Korean guys and Western guys in this respect though – Korean guys are just as “real” as they are anywhere else.


  16. “……and seriously wonder how much physical exertion Han Chae-young is capable of;”
    I’m disappointed to see this on this blog.Thinness does not equal weakness. I’ve always been much thinner than other women and yet I can outperform them because the muscle that I do have is denser and stronger. My muscles are simply more efficient.

    Would you put up a picture of a chubbier woman and say, “I seriously wonder how much physical exertion she’s capable of”?

    I’m guessing not. So let’s stop with the thinly veiled skinny-bashing.


    1. Hey, I did say “For the record, I’m not labeling skinny calves as unattractive by definition, particularly if a woman — and it’s overwhelmingly women who undergo calf-reduction surgery — has such legs naturally” earlier, so I think it’s a bit unfair to accuse me of “thinly veiled skinny-bashing” based on one single inattentive sentence later. Please give me the benefit of the doubt next time!

      Anyway, thanks for pointing out my mistake, and I’ve changed the text to read “I find her much the more attractive for that reason, and — assuming that she had the procedure done herself — seriously wonder how much physical exertion Han Chae-young is capable of”.


  17. Everyone is entitled to their opinions but it truly takes wearing the shoe to understand where its pinching. Every woman wants to be able to wear her skirts,short gown,shorts and bikini and maybe go with trousers,long skirt and gown once in a while not all her life.its really emotionally depressing to always be reminded by your calves that you can’t wear what every other lady wears.


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