Courtesy of Studio Animal.Using horror genre techniques, Beauty Water also shows how the pervasiveness of cosmetic procedures can create negative mental health impacts. Here again, the animation draws from an aspect of reality.In Seoul, close to one million plastic surgery procedures occur every year. There are at least 500 cosmetic surgery clinics in the Gangnam district alone, and advertisements for those clinics are widespread in highly trafficked areas. In fact, the Seoul Metro announced that it would reduce plastic surgery advertisements starting 2020, after many riders expressed discomfort about seeing so many advertisements about cosmetic procedures.This combination of pervasive advertisements, social media, and even K-pop can be a subconscious influence that pressures individuals to think of plastic surgery as a necessary universal remedy. Women are especially susceptible; the percentage of Korean women in their 20s who have had plastic surgery increased from 5% in 1994 to 31% in 2015.
While plastic surgery can provide positive improvements to many healthy individuals, it can also worsen mental health for those who use it as an unhealthy coping mechanism. For example, studies show that 7 to 12 percent of plastic surgery patients have some form of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (“BDD”). The majority of patients with BDD who have plastic surgery do not experience improvement to their BDD symptoms. Instead, those symptoms worsen as they seek multiple procedures on the same body features.
In the beginning of Beauty Water, Yaeji already shows a symptom of BDD: excessive camouflage. She wears baggy and heavy clothes to hide her weight, and spends all her time locked in her room to avoid public activities out of shame and embarrassment about her appearance.
While Yaeji gains new career opportunities using beauty water, her desperation to change her image remains the same. The film depicts the depth of this desperation by showing body horror style animations of flesh being cut from Yaeji’s body, and features being molded like clay to the desired shape. Just like how real people who live with BDD obsessively change an offending body part, Yaeji repeatedly turns to beauty water for body modifications—until she overuses the product and her body becomes unrecognizable.
While it may be easy to interpret Beauty Water as an overall condemnation of plastic surgery, that’s not necessarily the case. The movie acknowledges that plastic surgery does create benefits in a society that links beauty to socioeconomic standing. However, it also offers a cautionary tale that plastic surgery isn’t a cure-all. In Beauty Water, Yaeji suffers not because she undergoes cosmetic changes, but because she thinks those changes will solve all her problems. Ultimately, the film uses horror to effectively convey a message that will hopefully resonate with individuals turning to plastic surgery as the only solution: changing your looks doesn’t necessarily change who you are inside.