Pressure in the Republic of Korea (ROK) can be intense. And that pressure transfer over to Korean American culture, sometimes to an extreme. While many will talk about the pressure to get into a high level college, the pressure to make a lot of money and the pressure to have expensive material things, the pressure that is hardest to deal with at times is the pressure to look attractive. Korea is very image conscience, to the point that what others think can mean more than doing the right thing to many people.
I remember one time hearing from some Korean Americans that flight attendants for Korean flights had to meet a certain standard of beauty because it was felt that it was important for people going to Korea for the first time to only see attractive women on their way to Korea. In fact, it was considered an honor for one woman I know to have even been considered for a job as a flight attendant since it meant that she was very attractive. In my time, I’ve seen Korean women get upset because they were having trouble maintaining their size 0 shape (I didn’t know such a thing existed), Korean American women calling themselves fat, despite everyone around them insisting that they look perfectly fine and even some young Korean American women planning trips back to Seoul so they can have plastic surgery. Indeed, the pressure to feel perfect and beautiful shows itself in many different ways. (With most of them being very destructive.)
The reason for me writing this article is really because of 2 video clips. The first one, which I will not link, was of a Korean woman doing the news. At first, I thought she had a form of skin discoloration because her face was so much lighter than her neck. Then I realized that it was the amount of makeup they put on her. It wasn’t necessary to do that at all. She was well qualified, was clearly an intelligent woman and knew her job well. Yet, to fit a standard of beauty for the audience watching this news program, they made her face look as white, or pale, as possible.
For those who don’t know, pale skin is considered a sign of wealth and beauty to some in East Asia. It was felt that generations ago, rich people were indoors a lot, thus lacking sun exposure that would make their skin darker. This would cause them to look very pale and was viewed as being beautiful. However, people who were poor had to work out in the fields and in the sun a lot, causing them to have darker skin. Such ones were not seen as being as attractive, and thus is where many got the impression that darker skin is linked to poverty and being ugly. The stereotypes and lies given to Korean people have caused this to be the thought process for some down to this day.
So what was the other video about? It was a clip on my YouTube timeline from a channel called Guardian News. The video is entitled “South Korean Women Destroy Makeup (And Smash The Patriarchy)”. The video shows some young Korean women destroying their makeup, with one young woman saying that she wasn’t wearing all of this makeup for her own satisfaction. I asked one friend of mine about if it is true that some Korean women spend up to an hour to put on their makeup each day. She told me that for many women, it would take more than an hour to do this each day. So for her, she understood why some women would want to start going makeup free.
Is this the future of Korean beauty standards? That women shouldn’t have to wear a ton of makeup, lighten their skin and fit into a certain shape in order to be considered beautiful? I hope so. As a guy, it’s never attractive when you hug a woman and have a ton of makeup on your clothes afterwards. And usually, less makeup looks a lot better than a ton of makeup. And for many Korean women that I’ve seen, they look a lot better with their natural complexion, or struggling to be as small as possible. When men finally grow up, they realize that a woman’s true beauty is not the result of a makeup kit, crash diet or some surgery. It is the result of her heart and mind being the source of her beauty.
Do I expect this to catch on and be the newest trend in Korean and Korean American cultures? I’m not holding my breath on that. After all, plastic surgery, makeup and beauty products make a TON of money in South Korea. However, they don’t always result in happiness for the women who use them. Even men are now using some of these products and procedures to try and look beautiful. But as people grow and women realize that they can find true love and happiness without going to extremes to fit into the norm, Korea truly will become more beautiful.
To view the video from The Guardian, click here.