With acupuncture needles trembling from the corners of her mouth like cat’s whiskers, Moon Bo-in, 5, whined with fear. But the doctor, wearing a yellow gown patterned with cartoon characters, poked more needles into her wrists and scalp.
“It’s O.K., dear,” said her mother, Seo Hye-kyong. “It will help make you pretty and tall. It will make you Cinderella.”
Swayed by the increasingly popular conviction that height is crucial to success, South Korean parents are trying all manner of remedies to increase their children’s stature, spawning hundreds of growth clinics that offer hormone shots, traditional Eastern treatments and special exercises.
“In our society, it’s all about looks,” said Ms. Seo, 35. “I’m afraid my daughter is shorter than her peers. I don’t want her to be ridiculed and lose self-confidence because of her height.”
Ms. Seo spends $770 a month on treatments for her daughter and her 4-year-old son at one such clinic, Hamsoa, which has 50 branches across the country and offers a mix of acupuncture, aromatherapy and a twice-a-day tonic that contains deer antler, ginseng and other medicinal herbs.
Another mother at the clinic, Chang Young-hee, 54 and 4-foot-10, said her children had already experienced height discrimination. Both her daughters are college graduates and have good jobs, but when they reached marrying age, matchmakers regarded their short stature as a defect.
“It felt like a blow to the head,” Ms. Chang said. “I learned a lesson. If you fall behind in your studies, you can catch up later. But if you miss the time to grow, you miss it forever.”
Her daughters eventually married, but for the last four years, she has been taking her youngest child, Seo Dong-joon, to Kiness. The boy, now 15, knows his goal.
“If I’m tall, I’ll have an advantage selecting my future wife,” he said, holding an English vocabulary book, which he studies while exercising. “Short guys are teased at school.”