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.

snsd seohyun the face shop (1)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.

korean bb cream

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?

son yeon jaeIt 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.

The following two tabs change content below.


Co-founder and Editor at Beyond Hallyu
Lover of Korean hip-hop and indie music...and Unicorns.
  • kakashi

    very easy question in my opinion: yes, people pay far too much attention to their exterior instead of their interior, i.e. inner balance and happiness. It is just so much easier to go and get a different nose or a different chin and then believe – wrongly – that this has any true and lasting effect on their status and happiness in life. plastic surgery does not require “work”, just money. and just changing some traits on the outside does never make a human being beautiful. nor does it make you happy or successful.

    • Xavier Brinon

      The question is: do they pay attention to their appearance by themselves or is it forced upon them ?

      • ruenesia

        i think both of that play role in this sick-surgery-culture

      • sasha_BH

        A very good question. I believe that there are many factors that come
        together and have an influence on how we view our appearances within the
        society we are currently raised in. Regardless of age, race or sex
        there are always things that people wish to change about themselves but
        this is very rarely helped by the force the media has on us. They put
        forward a image of what is ‘appealing’ and some people find that they
        must fix themselves to fit that image. It’s wrong and I hope that
        someday this changes.

        Thank you for reading and leaving your opinion :)

    • sasha_BH

      I understand what you have said and I agree. It is wrong to believe that
      fixing the outside will lead to happiness on the inside but
      unfortunately this is what some people wrongly believe. It is never
      helped by all the media influence around and societies’ opinion on what
      makes a person ‘beautiful’.

      Thank you for reading and leaving your opinion :)

  • Cincinn

    More importantly……. Being a bitch with a ugly face… change the bitch into a pretty face….will she still be a bitch?… , she will be a pretty bitch. Ugliness shines no matter what you do to mask it.

  • Hannatu Adamu

    Indeed, people place too much emphasis on the physical and there is some truth that this attitude is encouraged by the cinemas which make more money. The truth is: the world has become a global village and now more than ever, there is better access to several forms which humanity can take–the internet is the CHIEF culprit here! In other words, there are more choices that people can make, where, before, they used to be content with what they had.