oli london
Photo courtesy of Oli London
Identity

We Spoke With a White Influencer Who Got 18 Surgeries to ‘Become Korean’

Oli London, who married a cardboard cutout of Jimin from BTS, says they won’t stop till they look exactly like him.
June 30, 2021, 10:53am

Oli London, a white British influencer who had earlier married a cardboard cutout of Jimin – a vocalist from the K-pop group BTS – has now come out as a “transracial non-binary Korean.” London told VICE that they have spent around £175,000 ($241,990) on plastic surgery to look like their favourite idol, Jimin.

London “came out” to the world about their “transition” through a tweet on June 19. “This is my new official flag for being a non-binary person who identifies as Korean,” the tweet read. Attached to the tweet was a photo of the Korean flag with rainbow stripes instead of the regular colours. 

Advertisement

Two days later, on June 21, they released a video on YouTube titled, “I’m Non Binary Korean…” where they said woke people were trying to “cancel” them. 

On June 26, they released yet another video titled, “Being KOREAN…” where they revealed they no longer identify as British. “My pronouns are they, them, Korean and Jimin. I look Korean and Korea is my home country,” they said in the video. However, the comments section of the video remained largely critical of them.

The 31-year-old influencer and musician told VICE over email that they first connected with Korean culture in 2013. “I was in Korea for a year and was teaching English. That one year changed my life forever,” they said. 

The same year, they underwent rhinoplasty in Korea to make their nose slimmer, but they claim it did not go as planned. “I had a botched and crooked nose and needed four additional procedures,” they said.

Most South Koreans in London’s video comments as well as the ones we reached out to, however, were not happy with London. 

“If they respected Korea, they wouldn’t change our country’s flag,” said 31-year-old Sanghwa “Eden” Shin, a South Korean living in Mumbai, India, for the last two years. “Yes, Korea is closeted about LGBT+ rights but this approach was disrespectful.”

London’s critics have called them out for appropriating Korean culture and being unhealthily obsessed with Jimin from BTS. Several tweets have also called them a “Sasaeng,” defined as a fan who has an abusive, obsessive relationship with a person/K-pop group. 

“I think this is fetishisation of the Korean community,” Soojinn J, a 29-year-old South Korean Canadian American from Toronto, Canada, told VICE. “While I am sympathetic to a person who wants to feel seen as they want to be, Oli London does not seem to respect Korean culture.

According to Soojinn, London seems to be attributing the whole of Korean culture to just K-pop and the general appearance of the Korean people. “Korean culture is much more than these two aspects, and it saddens me to see it reduced in this way by someone who has gone viral.”

Soojinn was introduced to London’s “coming out” story by a friend last week. “I was confused initially; how could you identify as another culture when you have no deep roots or understanding of it? I can understand the desire to have these plastic surgeries, but I cannot support a person who claims to be from a culture that they picked up when it was trending.”

FotoJet (53).jpg

Oli London when they were 22 (left) and after their surgeries meant to make them look like a K-pop idol (right).

“Transracial” has been a disputed term for ages. According to Merriam-Webster, the term means “involving, encompassing, or extending two or more races.” The term is primarily used for adoptees who are from a different race from their adopted family’s. 

To London, however, the term means someone who feels trapped in their own culture and ethnicity. “I have felt trapped in my own body ever since my visit to Korea all those years ago,” they told VICE. 

Advertisement

A small fraction of people online are equating being transgender and transracial as the same thing. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro also supported London.

There’s also a Facebook group where people say they’re transracial and discuss their future plans of action – in some cases, surgery.

“It’s so weird to see them flaunt their surgery,” said Sharon Kim, a 29-year-old South Korean living in Toronto, Canada. “When K-pop idols get work done, it’s very low-key, and the idols don’t talk about it either,” she said. 

Kim believes London’s dramatic surgeries are a result of the rise in plastic surgery in South Korea. “It’s almost funny that they [London] want surgery to look Korean while my own aunt offered to pay for my eyelid surgery as a graduation gift.”

South Korea has the highest ratio of cosmetic procedures per capita, and the practice has even become a rite of passage for some. Eyelid surgery, along with nose jobs and skin whitening, is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures in South Korea. In eyelid surgery, a crease is inserted above the eye to make it look bigger.

London’s most recent cosmetic procedures were a brow lift, temple lift, skin lightening injections, canthoplasty (surgery to alter the shape of the eye), and new dental crowns. They said they have more surgeries scheduled in the future. “I will never stop until I look like my Korean pop idol Jimin,” they said.

GettyImages-1045901568.jpg

Oli London having fillers around his eyes on August 2018 in London, England. Photo: Marcus Hessenberg / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

London isn’t the first person to identify as “transracial”. In 2015, activist Rachel Dolezal came under fire for trying to pass off as a Black woman while actually being white. 

In 2020, historian Jessica A. Krug released an essay on Medium where she revealed that she had been lying about being Black the whole time

Advertisement

Dolezal was a chapter president for the NAACP, a civil rights organisation in the U.S., and Krug was a former professor of African American studies at George Washington University. Both women were born into Caucasian families but self-identified as Black. 

In 2014, a Brazilian man got surgery to make his eyes look “more Asian” after spending a year in South Korea.

However, London does not have the same lived experiences as South Koreans and other Asians across the globe. As journalist Sandra Song points out in her article for Paper Magazine, London’s actions do not acknowledge the trauma, racism, and hardship South Koreans have to face. “What they’re doing is an appropriation of only the good (K-pop and food) without acknowledging the way our lives are still affected by all the racist, discriminatory and historical baggage caused by the West,” she wrote. “So yeah, obviously it's pretty sus that a white person is saying they're Korean.”

GettyImages-1045901490.jpg

Oli London posing with an old photograph of himself on August 2018 in London, England. Photo: Marcus Hessenberg / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

In the U.S, there has been a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes

Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit that works on tracking instances of violence and discrimination towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the U.S., reported over 6,603 hate incidents from March 2020 to March 2021. Verbal harassment made up 65.2 percent of the reported incidents. Chinese individuals reported the highest number of hate incidents (43.7 percent) followed by Koreans (16.6 percent).

Critics have also pointed out that being transgender and transracial aren’t the same, and that there is “no comparison” between the two. 

Filipino-American journalist and author Meredith Tulsan, who is transgender, pointed out in her article for The Guardian that Dolezal’s choice to darken her skin to pass as Black was an active choice, while transgender people’s decision to transition is almost always involuntary. “Transitioning is the product of a fundamental aspect of our humanity – gender – being foisted upon us over and over again from the time of our birth in a manner inconsistent with our own experience of our genders,” she wrote.

London, however, thinks “woke people” have unleashed a war on them. 

“Woke people and trolls will always attack people they deem different [by] society’s standards,” they told VICE. “Because I am unique and I don’t fit into the norm, these people target and bully me in an attempt to try to degrade me and make me feel bad about who I am. People that call me racist are the actual racists.”

As more conversations on race, gender, and sexuality open up, London remains firm with their position. “I have identified as Korean for the last four years and as transracial for the last two. I only found the courage to come out recently.”

GettyImages-1167721798.jpg

Oli London in Seoul's streets in 2019. Photo: Daniel Smukullia / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

But the South Koreans VICE spoke to are convinced London is doing this for social media clout and fame. “I’ve been living in India for the last few years. If I get surgery to look like a Bollywood actor, Indians will find that disrespectful, and that’s valid,” Shin said. “I think they [London] just want attention and fame. Ten years down the line, I highly doubt they'd still wanna look like Jimin.”

Follow Jaishree on Twitter and Instagram.