Impossible ideals: The true costs of Korea’s beauty standards?
Many people I talk to often become very confused when I say that I have female acquaintances who are Korean. Mainly as the first thing they ask me is how I manage to deal with their constant fussing about their appearance before laughing the matter off. But to me this is no joking point.
You see what most fail to understand is just how hard some of these women have it. For instance would they continue to laugh off the matter if I told them of the 18 year old I had recently met who had told me that she had just had her skin lightened and her jaw reshaped as these were considered her most ‘easily fixed features’. What is a joke to some is a serious issue to others. Idealistically, we often say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ but in reality in people will go to great lengths to obtain the now narrow definition of what is seen as beautiful to the world. Whether it be with cosmetic surgery or dermatological procedures the constant need to grasp for beauty is too much.
But let us not be mistaken and think that this just applies to Korean women though. Across the US cosmetic procedures are also increasing, though many of the procedures that take place in Korea do not often happen within the US. For instance double eyelid surgery. In Korea alone it is guessed that over half of females over the age of 18 have considered having this surgery or know many who have undergone it. And why? Because of the ideals that are pushed upon them by society and the media.
But it is not just the idea of physically changing ones appearance that gets pushed onto young women but also changing their mannerisms and the way they act around the opposite sex. Aegyo is a very popular concept in South Korea in which a woman will put on the pretense of being childlike; an act which men often find attractive. I am yet to see how any grown person could find this act appealing yet I do often see both male and female idols and celebrities act this way on variety shows and dramas.
This leads to me questioning if aegyo is a ‘Korean trait’ or a media construct to draw in viewers and establish what is attractive to others, as though a woman must be seen as cute and powerless in order to further themselves within their own society. In what way would someone convince themselves that being more ‘childlike’ would be sexy to a man; but is that not creepy?
It seems that both the perfect face and personality are considered to be the driving forces to success. For instance look at the 2012 London Olympics. For Korea a lot of focus was put on 18 year old rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon Jae, a talented young lady who was the personification of both beauty and talent. But we need to ask ourselves this question; had she been ‘average’ looking would the public have taken such a shine to her? Yes we like to say as humans that we only judge on the talent of a person but it is also obvious that as humans we often simply judge people by first appearances. I know this is a discussion that is brought up countless times by many people but it’s an important one as it impacts on how people view not only the people around them but also themselves.
So what are your views on this endless debate? Do people change themselves far too much in order to fit in within an unbalanced society?
Leave your comments below.
This is part of a series of posts about body image in K-pop and Korean society.