After watching this video, affectionately titled “Why are Koreans so into their Looks?”, and examining the nation’s trends under a sociological perspective, I suddenly became able to reconcile my ambiguous sentiments towards contemporary South Korean culture. I grew up in a traditional Vietnamese household where Caucasian beauty standards reigned supreme—leftovers from French imperial rule. I repudiated them and viewed South Korean culture, which took these standards and hoisted them to new levels, with a mixture of fascination and revulsion.
South Korea, with the world’s highest rate of cosmetic plastic surgery, serves as a case study of globalization’s implications. In the video, multiple young adults comment on the pivotal role of appearance in “surviving in such a competitive society (Why).” An ex-English teacher from Incheon states that it’s standard procedure for employers to require head and full body shots for employment consideration (Gwynne). With South Korea boasting the threateningly highest percentage of women (72%) in university attendance (an astounding increase since the 1980s), cultural emphasis placed on group solidarity and conformity, and its cosmetics, surgical, and entertainment industries constantly ever-expanding it’s so shock women are caving into the pressure to surgically alter their appearances (Hellgren). Eom Ga-yeong likely paid for a dangerous bone-shaving procedure to make her jaw more feminine, supporting Kilbourne’s claim that women are being dismembered—each part criticized individually. Although Kim Hyeon-ju was underweight, she went through painful fat-dissolving injections and carboxy shots to slim her body fat-ridden, taunt-worthy, “thick” thighs (Why), bolstering Bordo’s claim that focus has been shifted away from the skinny body and towards the sleek physique. Whitening creams, eyelid tape, circle lenses, and nose rollers are available for women uninterested in surgery, but still want to appear more Caucasian. Yet there is considerable backlash against those who aren’t naturally “beautiful.” Will women ever catch a break?
Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. Berkeley University of California Press, 1993
Gwynne, Ben. “Koreans are obsessed with personal appearance….” I Live In Korea. Blogspot, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://iliveinkorea.blogspot.com/2010/ 04/koreans-are-obsessed-with-personal.html>.
Hellgren, Tess. “Explaining Underweight BMI and Body Dissatisfaction among Young Korean Women.” Exposé 2011: 1-14. Print.
Jhally, Sut, dir. Killing Us Softly 4. Screenplay by Jean Kilbourne. 2010. Film.
Why are Koreans so into their looks? [Arirang Today]. Youtube.com. YouTube, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlV_OnBnGmI>.