“No, no, in Korea I’m ugly,” she said casually as though describing something as trivial as her hair color or the brand of shoe she was wearing. The statement was shared as though it were fact. In truth, it was fact because no Korean matches the Korean standard of beauty; well, not without a little help anyway.
Korean culture is obsessed with appearance. Many students within Korean schools keep mirrors either on their person or on their desk in order to monitor their appearance throughout the day. This may seem vapid to the foreign eye but with the cultural frankness of Koreans this is a necessity.
“In Korea, people describe other people as ugly. Its like the first thing they say,” Eunice Kim, a Korean female attending Rosslyn Academy reported.
This frankness fosters the social pressure that Koreans feel to be beautiful and to achieve those five requirements of Korean beauty. Those five things are the S-line, a small face, double eyelids or sang-koh-pul, big eyes, pale skin and a high nose. Any deviation from this standard is seen as ugly. Ugly is unacceptable.
Beauty in Korea is more than aesthetics, it’s a measure of success and conforming to the standards is believed to open economic opportunities. Those who aren’t born with the characteristics of a beautiful Korean often fake it. They often turn to make up or plastic surgery to create false images of “beauty.” It is quite a common practice to use tape to create the appearance of larger eyes or plastic surgery before a job interview. In fact, many schools hand out pamphlets for plastic surgery.
According to a recent study by The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, South Korea has the highest cosmetic surgery stats in the world. The most popular procedures are lipoplasty, rhinoplasty, and blepharoplasty. The fastest growing procedure is jaw surgery, in order to achieve a small face, or V-line as it is called. Surgery on the eyelids, however, is still the most popular procedure.
Anna Lee, a Korean woman who has written a thesis on cosmetic surgery in South Korea, would partially agree with this sentiment. She said that “Korean people are fixing their eyes because they are naturally made to believe that it is flawed.” She blames the influence of Western culture for causing Korean women to feel as though they are “inherently flawed.”
The Korean beauty standards sound intense; however, if this article had been about American beauty ideals, it would have been just as strange. Replace the S-line, a small face, double eyelids or sang-koh-pul, big eyes, pale skin and a high nose with large breasts, thin noses and full lips and the situation is the same. Over 5 million women in the U.S. have had breast augmentation surgery and 30% are between the ages of 20 and 29. This shows that society has put women under pressure in many cultures.
– Stanley Kalu