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Asian Girl


(CNN) -- Lee Min kyong stretches on the ballet bar in the dance studio. The 12-year old is a little awkward and nervous in front of strangers, until the music begins.

Min-kyong moves to the classical tune, springing easily onto her toes, the very picture of childhood grace and poise. But when the music stops, she falls back into an awkward stance.

She lacks confidence, explains Min-kyongs mother, a problem she hopes will be solved when her pre-teen undergoes plastic surgery, to westernize her eyes.

Her mother, Jang Hyu-hee, says her daughter didnt ask for the surgery.

The definition of pretty, explains their plastic surgeon, is not the standard Asian face, but closer to a Caucasian face. Dr Kim Byung-gun is the head of Seoul, South Koreas biggest plastic surgery clinic, BK DongYang. The clinic is a dozen stories tall, with all of its operating rooms full on the day of Min kyongs surgery.

The surgeries, already popular among Koreans, are booming among newly rich, globally competitive, mainland Chinese, explains Dr Kim. About 30% of his patients are international and of that group, 90% are Chinese. Its why he speaks Mandarin and is partnering with two clinics in China.

Dr Kim believes in the global economy, investing in plastic surgery to slightly westernize the face will bring a return on the investment of 100 times, through more confidence, a better job and obtaining a better marital partner.

A global ideal doesnt stop at the face, says dental surgeon Jung Hak. Dr Jung says hes been fighting a trend. Korean mothers who have been bringing in their toddlers to have the muscle under the tongue that connects it to the bottom of the mouth surgically snipped.

Message or not, for Min-kyong, the 20-minute surgery has been well worth the cost and post-surgical discomfort. A few weeks later, she and her mother email to say shes happy with her new look. And when this 12-year-old stares at herself dancing in the studio, she no longer just sees her eyes. She sees a prettier girl.