7.15.2010

Seoul Searching: The Darker the Berry...

So, an interesting thing about being in Seoul is the renewing of your self worth a little bit as a Black woman.

I knew Korea/Asia was going through a White/Pale Skin fetish but sometimes it's just overwhelming. The aesthetic here is Pale skin, big eyes, and a small face, so many Koreans-especially K-Pop stars-are lightening their skin and getting the Double-Eyelid surgery in an attempt to look whiter.

Sometimes, I hate going shopping because there are some stores, especially the European/American Brand Name Stores that have nothing but White models. We went to Forever 21 and nothing but WHITE models. They ranged from pale to sallow beige. Even the White girls I were with were annoyed. I mean you're in freaking Asia yet your 'diversity' is just white to tan caucasian girls. One store just had two asians, but they were so white, obviously mixed, and barely looked Asian. They got the whitest Koreans they could find.

I came up with a new rule: if you do not feature asian models or other colored models I will not buy from you. I really prefer the stores that do not have any ads, just mannequins modeling. Those are the only places I will spend my money.

Another thing is the subtle stabs when you hear the praising of pale skin. When I'm with my white friends some storekeepers will compliment them on their white skin and wished their skin was that pale. When we go out in the hot Korean sun, my Asian-American friends will complain that their skin might darken and slather on sunscreen. And finally one of the U.O.S. Korean boys when asked what kinda girls he prefers, he said light skinned girls. I told him "The Darker the Berry, the Sweeter the Juice".

That is my motto that I say repetitiously and it is one I say with pride and determination to try and break through mine and their consciousness that has been berated with images of White Supremacy for years. "Black is Beautiful" is what I repeat to myself over and over again.

And that is another thing. Apparently I'm racially ambiguous. A Korean woman told me I looked like Sandra Bullock...yeah. I excused myself to go nurse my adopted New Orleans baby.

My Korean roommate and even many whites didn't know my race and when I say Black, I always have to follow it up with "Full" and "No White people since slavery". I even have to show people a picture of my parents. I feel I should just carry around a Pictorial Family Tree wherever I go. The "ooh you are so exotic" kinda gets grating after awhile. I am no one's special snowflake. I am a proud Black woman.

Also I get a lot of stares here, mostly by older people. It's not so much staring as it is gawking at me which I get because I guess Koreans don't really see many foreigners but I always feel like they are trying to figure out what the hell I am. It seems the concept of race here is not as prevalent as it is America. Jaeyong, Jinsook, and many other Korean students had a hard time figuring out that the African Diaspora is a mosaic of skin colors, hair textures, and facial features. Well Jaeyong thought that Jessica Alba was black, but that's another story.

I am not the only one who gets stares. Many of my white friends and other foreign students get stares and hostile glares while here. However, some of the white foreigners unfortunately conflate the stares with racism. I corrected my friend who conceded that what she was experiencing in no way mirrors what people of color go through. I don't at all think it's racism that I'm experiencing but apparently it's just a curiosity thing as they don't see too many foreigners. I'm fine with it now, I kind of like the attention.

Sometime it all gets frustrating and irritating and grates on my self esteem, but I try to ignore it because I am having such a fun time and I also get some Korean men who break custom to say hello to me, which is fun. Also it's fun having staring contests on the subways.

Picture: *Sorry* My friend Maegan from Kentucky and me on the Right, I'm the girl in Red sorry*

16 comments:

  1. When I'm with my white friends some storekeepers will compliment them on their white skin and wished their skin was that pale. When we go out in the hot Korean sun, my Asian-American friends will complain that their skin might darken and slather on sunscreen.

    Highly interesting, but not surprising. I guess they haven't gotten the memo that white people are trying really, really hard to look like black folks. Entire industries are flourishing off the fact that even white people no longer want to look like white people.

    Supposedly though, the "darker-skinned" look is supposed to be slowly creeping up in popularity thanks to stars like Lee Hyori, so hopefully that trend will go the way of the dinosaurs one day.

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  2. Lee Hyori is very pretty. Good to know she's not white-washin' it.

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  3. thank you for sharing, this is very interesting

    Do you mind sharing what circumstances brought you to South Korea and how long you are staying?Are you doing study abroad?

    Also what does U.O.S. stand for?

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  4. Also the super pale thing seems to be only for women. Joon from Mblaq is the considered the most attractive member and he is the darkest. I think his skin color is what makes him so easy to recognize for me, as a black person I am used to recognizing people by skin tone from a distance.

    Perhaps Lee Hyrori is helping to create a more inclusive beauty standard just as Rain has with his "small eyes", helped expand the definition of attractive men.

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  5. @moddest-goddess
    Sorry I should have made it clear. I am a 2nd-year Mechanical Engineer studying abroad until July 31st taking Beginning Korean Language at the University of Seoul.

    @Cinnamon
    It's ironic because the girl in the picture as well as a Korean American who was adopted by whites were both mistaken for Black by my Korean friend Jaeyong...Of course his black-dar is off but they find it surprising that they want to darken their skin

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  6. @Bcbgrl33

    Okay, I'm LMAO @ black-dar! Whoo! I needed that. People at work probably think I'm crazy...

    Also, I find it interesting that Koreans seem to have a love/hate thing going on with white people. They try so hard for that white aesthetic, but are about two steps away from loathing them at the same time. Wow...what is it about one small race of people that can so thoroughly jack up the mentality of so many other races of people?

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  7. Very interesting indeed. Mechanical Engineering? I like the sound of it and certainly not enough women in the field.

    It saddens me to watch White Racism internalized by POC. The eyelid surgeries, skin lightening and preference for all that is Caucasian really sickens me.

    POC must remain vigilant/conscious/aware of the trickery going on.

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  8. skin lightening and preference for all that is Caucasian really sickens me.

    Have you seen Sammy Sosa lately? *big ass shudder*

    I hate that we feel the need to do this to ourselves. We're all so beautiful, yet we want to try to look like some pretend version of beauty that's not really all that, IMO. I mean, they want to look like us. Why can't we seem to get that?

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  9. @ Cinnamon. I can't even LOOK @ Sammy Sosa anymore. His appearance disturbs me so much. I was raised in an environment, where who we are was celebrated and cherished.

    I can't imagine hating being what I am. I was raised to have pride in and love for my people. It angers me to see what Sosa and so many people have done to themselves in the name of "beauty".

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  10. OMFG! What in the hell is wrong with Sammy Sosa? He's disgusting. I can't imagine hating myself that much. It's unthinkable. Good gods... shiver/choke!

    Regarding the Koreans. Honestly speaking, I've only been to Seoul and Pusan four times and it's always been under the "guise" of work. Mostly, I was interested in yakinuki (Korean BBQ) and shopping (it's so cheap by comparison).

    It's painful to think of them in "white/pale" mode especially since the Korean women who are successful here are always either blasian or deeply tanned. I can't help but wonder if that internal hatred sent them racing for the LooneyBin (Japan is a crazy-assed country).

    Contrary to worldwide opinion, Japanese, as a whole, don't particular care for "white" people. There used to be more "white models" than there are now, but that wasn't an indication that people wanted to look like them. Young women certainly don't desire to look like perceived-whores. Many Japanese already have double eyelids because Japan is probably one of the top 10 miscegenated countries in the world. No one knows this because the Japanese love dropping the word - homogeneous. *scam* My husband only secretly acknowledges his Ainu heritage, but he'll never admit to being part Korean or Russian.

    Do Japanese like big eyes? Sure they do. Dolls have big eyes and lots of people here like women who look like dolls. Make-up can create this effect if it's necessary. In general, the artificial creation of double-eyelids is not common. It had the potential to be because a famous celebrity got it done (this is a fad country); however, the media outlets were all over his ass like yellow on a happily ripe banana, so that didn't go anywhere.

    Dark skin? In summer, most people darken nicely and evenly. Some darken to an incredible degree. Take a peek at Japanese baseball players and golfers at the peak of summer. Dark skin isn't particularly cherished though, but that that isn't because of racism. It's due to rank. Japan is a rank-based society. If a person is consistently dark, that indicates that he or she works either works outside (as in construction worker) or is homeless (therefore less than clean). Lighter skin indicates middle-class, an office position and access to hot water. Cleanliness is next to Godliness in Japan. They also tend not to lay out to get a tan on the beach because they're too busy eating the before-mentioned yakiniku. Eating is the second favorite past-time in Japan. Baseball (not Sumo or karate/judo) is first. Crying profusely is third. Go figure.

    I'm starting to feel much better about living here. These people might be clueless about a great many things, but at least they love themselves... to excess.

    Of course, there are wannabes everywhere....

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  11. @ Hateya

    I'm starting to feel much better about living here.

    Glad to hear it!!!

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  12. @Ankhesen

    I never intend to be the bearer of bad news!!! Glad to be of positive assistance on this topic.

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  13. @ cinnamon

    Yeah...Sammy Sosa? *shudder*

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  14. Oh quick Update...I'm the Black girl on the RIGHT not the Left. Girl on the Left is my friend, Meagan sorry for the Confusion

    @cinnamon
    Sorry for making your coworkers think your crazy lol I really need to teach him Black-dar because he thought that Jessica Alba was black...I love my friend

    @Lenoxave
    >It saddens me to watch White Racism internalized by POC. The eyelid surgeries, skin lightening and preference for all that is Caucasian really sickens me.
    POC must remain vigilant/conscious/aware of the trickery going on.

    I had an incredibly interesting conversation with my ISS program director, Jamie, who is a Korean woman who is incredibly fluent in English and Korean and we were talking about skin bleaching creams and the Korean people's mentality. Her response really put everything in perspective so I will write a post about it :D

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  15. @Bcbgrl33

    Her response really put everything in perspective so I will write a post about it :D

    I look forward to her perspective. I wonder if she mentioned middle-aged women and whitening creams. In my haste to respond, I forgot the most obvious reason. The paler the skin is in Japan, the younger the person is perceived to be. The term "whitening" in advertisements often means "fade."

    No one believes me when I tell them how old I am. I'm grateful to all of my black African ancestors for blessing me with this beautiful vibrant brown skin. I'm particularly happy with it in summer. In winter, I tend to get a little splotchy and I don't like that at all.

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