1.27.2014

Beauty is Only Skin Deep....That's What Ugly People Say

"Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves," the First Lady told People magazine. "Right now, I don't imagine that I would go that route, but I've also learned to never say never." ~Michelle Obama; People Magazine Januray 2014

Do you agree?  In the states there are a lot of critics of plastic surgery. Some suggest that you should just be proud of who you are "Embrace what God gave you" they say. Age gracefully. Celebrities and non celebrities alike advocate for inner beauty, but is that a realistic thing to do? Perhaps, in the Good 'Ol USA...maybe?

Here in Korea the words "Inner Beauty" do not exist. At least, I don't think so. I don't think the concept of inner beauty can be explained in this society. Here, it's the outer beauty that counts. It's the outer beauty that makes you a star. Its the outer beauty that gets you a job, a goofd husband, money, beautiful children, a good life. Thus, in order to achieve that outer beauty you must: HAVE PLASTIC SURGERY. Simple as that. Even my middle school students know this.

Me: If you are sad what should you do?
Students: Do plastic surgery.



Advertisements for surgery are everywhere. There are several TV shows in Korea dedicted to plastic surgery. I see women who look perfectly fine worrying about their weight, the ssize off their chin, the size of their noses. Every one of my female co-workers keeps a mirror on their desk and so do my female students. During lunch and after lunch they dedicate time to reapplying...and reapplying again.   There are mirrors everywhere in Korea...just so that people can check themselves out. And men are no exception. Is this vanity or just wanting to look good? Stepping away from Korea, here is a Chinese advertisement for plastic surgery...the tagline says it all.

"The only thing you have to worry about after plastic surgery is the explaining you will have to do to your children"
My coworker was telling me that her sister had eyelid surgery...you know to get the "western" double eyelid. She said this out of the blue as if we were talking about the weather. I told my co-worker...you know its not common in the US to just have cosmetic surgery. Its a huge deal and costly. She was confused. A week or two later she tells me that over the Winter Break she is planning to get a filler in her nose..."because its too small" she says. So, I say "Really? You want to switch noses then?" and she she goes "No, no!"

My other female co-workers ask me all the time what the standard of beauty is in America and I tell them that its changing all the time. Look at the actress Lupita Nyong'o in that red dress at the Golden Globes.


She is now being photographed everywhere, looking fabulous. She is "beauty" at the moment. Angelina Jolie is beauty. Jennifer Lopez is beauty. Beyonce is beauty. Mindy Kaling is beauty. These are all very different women with different kinds of beauty. Although minority women still have a hard time breaking the "beauty" barriers, we are pushing through in many ways. But in Korea, there is one beauty: Lilly white skin, big round double eye-lid eyes, pink lips, small face. Did you know there is a cconact lens that makes your eyes look larger? When you land here you notice that everyone, especially the women (all jokes and puns aside) look the same.  Uniformed beauty.

A few months ago I had my open class where two other foreign teachers and teachers from my school come and watch me teach a lesson. The foreign techers are my friends. One is a tall natural haired girl from Queens, New York and the other is tall, very pale (she says so herself) small faced blonde-haired girl from Maryland. My students went gaga over the white girl. Saying things like "Teacher we want her, change" and "Is she a model?"

After lunch I took my friends to the women teacher's lounge (yes, we have one of those) to meet my female co-workers and one of them...who I thought was progressive and ahead of the times says to the blonde girl "Oh my gosh all the students love you, you are so beautiful like a model. You have such a small face and pale skin and blonde hair".

I gave my co-workers this exact look.

I was like dang!! Really? All of that though? It kind of hurt my feelings. Everyday when I come in they're all like "Oh my, you are so pretty". When I change my hair they say "Wow your hair is so beautiful, you're so pretty". Now, I wonder what they really think. Are they just being nice. It can get to your head a bit and you start to think "Dang, plastic surgery in Korea is so cheap, should I"...

Until next time Good People

32 comments:

  1. NO you shouldn't unless its something you want when you are 60! Or after you are done having kids and you want to put the love cushions back to their upright position! Don't worry yourself about your coworkers. I don't think they are being mean or lying to you. Its just that they are so condition for this one ideal of beauty they cannot be open to something different.

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  2. The picture of that family says pretty much everything.

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  3. ""Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves," the First Lady told People magazine. "Right now, I don't imagine that I would go that route, but I've also learned to never say never." ~Michelle Obama; People Magazine Januray 2014

    Do you agree?"

    > Yes, I agree. But I disagree on social pressure and conditioning on what people should look like. I don't care if one person has plastic surgery. I do care if it's a phenomenon that leads to uniformity and generalized unsatisfaction of the population. People already are somewhat insecure about our looks (depends on individuals), why society should make it a lot worse for us? I think that one should also be free to not do anything to alter their looks as well and NOT be judged or lose a job offer for it (when the job has nothing to do with looking good or dealing with clients).

    Also, be careful when you say "western" double eyelid. I know you put it between inverted brackets but still, I think some Asians won't appreciate it as double eyelid is an Asian trait as well.

    You're lucky, you have people telling you on a daily basis that your're beautiful, not my case lol but then I'm not in Korea. I've heard that even some straight men tell other men they look good. The important thing to remember here is that people actually find you beautiful. I don't think that they would bother lying to you constantly, I really don't think so, because from what I've read, they're more direct when it comes to looks. If they thought you were fat, they would have told you.

    Now, keep in mind that their beauty standards are twofold (may I say? hopefully I make sense): the Korean beauty is what they want for themselves, you already listed all the traits. And then the Western beautieS are on a different page, they don't really want them for themselves, usually, but they like them and can appreciate them. What's happening here is that your blonde co-worker corresponds to the ideal image of the West that they see on TV and advertisement in positive ways on a regular basis. Just like Lor said. Media is power. Most people say that fair hair and fair eyes are beautiful. I do think that Koreans are open to different beauties but not as much as Caucasian beauty, which is what they're the most used to.

    As for the inner beauty thing being "non existent" in Korea...I'd be interested in reading some essays about it by Korean (and non Korean) academics. I do think it exists and is appreciated though, the inner beauty in their country, in their way. Like inner beauty could be a synonym for pleasant personality, conservative values, self-discipline, hard work. Just watch Kdramas, even if it's a kind of really deluded reality...
    I have some ideas about it but it's all mixed up in my mind. I think that they're not so different from us, their socio-economic status and history is just what divides us on this issue to me. We're so used to being in a rich country that inner beauty and individualism is something we can focus on. Social mobility in Korea is harder, I heard as well. So beauty can boost one in this.

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    1. "People already are somewhat insecure about our looks (depends on individuals), why society should make it a lot worse for us?"

      > Sorry, I forgot to replace "our" by "them" and "us" by "them".
      Can't believe my post was so long.

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    2. You know what is funny...everybody has double eyelids...white, black, Asian, etc. But here in Korea its seen as a Western/Caucasian trait. Haha

      "Now, keep in mind that their beauty standards are twofold (may I say? hopefully I make sense): the Korean beauty is what they want for themselves, you already listed all the traits. And then the Western beautieS are on a different page, they don't really want them for themselves, usually, but they like them and can appreciate them."

      They want that look and some will bleach and dye their hair or buy the circle contact lenses or use the double eyelid tape. However, what I find is that they are too afraid to do it. They are not real risk takers...I see this with my co-workers. They never ever change their hair, their style of dress...EVER...they come to work looking the same as in they dress alike. So, they admire what they want from afar. Not everyone is like my co-workers, who happen to be very conservative Christians.

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    3. I agree, but what about black celebrities and ordinary people as well who do the same? Is it because they want to look white? Like, we ordinary black people often wear weaves and dye our hair and people are not saying that we want to look white (I think?). As for those who bleach their skin...I'll never understand but I guess they want to look lighter skinned...basically, as most will never be able to achieve the caucasian complexion.

      OK, Koreans take it to another level lol right, with the plastic surgery thing, probably because many can afford it, and I also am a bit skeptical as to what "Korean" beauty has become these days. But hey, I'm not in Korea so I can't judge them or know their real motives.
      I've read an article on beyondhallyu on Korean beauty standards, you might want to check it out, it's a 3-article series, it gives you a real historical / social background context and explanation.
      http://beyondhallyu.com/culture/reframing-the-korean-plastic-surgery-debate-pt-1-debunking-western-media/
      http://beyondhallyu.com/culture/reframing-the-korean-plastic-surgery-debate-pt-2-the-imf-crisis-and-the-rise-of-hypercompetitiveness/
      http://beyondhallyu.com/culture/reframing-the-korean-plastic-surgery-debate-pt-3-modern-history-traditional-culture/

      It's a really complex issue, and I'm still confused about it lol

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  4. I think plastic surgery for the purposes of looking "more beautiful"is mind-boggling. I feel like it somehow takes away from a persons life lessons. Just like people who are super rich and buy whatever they want whenever they want. Most people are very beautiful, everyone is in their own way, and it's really sad when people look at themselves and have to change something to blend in or feel good about themselves. Most people who age without plastic surgery are much more beautiful than those who chose to partake in it.

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  5. In a country where resumes come with photos it is understandable that people are going to do whatever they can to their looks to get ahead. Plenty of studies about the USA have come out that prove that good looking people make more money, tall guys, slim people get promoted and get hired more often than people that do not fit the current beauty standard. As far as them making a fuss over your blonde coworker, that is just Hollywood exporting that image all over the world to the point where they are surprised that brown hair exists in America. The historical dramas I've seen suggest that western European were originally considered scary looking at first contact. Also there was a South Korean talk show with a naturally blonde Korean as a guest and he talked about how he was discriminated against for his looks. Like Myra said, blonde is ok on white people, ok to dye your hair if you want to experiment but I don't think it part of the Korean beauty standard.

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    1. There are a lot of blonde Korean girls walking around here. But you may be right about it not being a Korean beauty standard...Its more of the shape of the nose, eyes, and face that they want. I went shopping with my co-worker and she wanted this pink blazer. It was really nice. She looked in the mirror while wearing it and said..."I am too dark for this color" Huh? Really? I made her buy it. She wore it to school and someone told her she looked too dark. So if she's too dark, what the heck am I? Its things like that that make me sad or disappointed.

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    2. She looked in the mirror while wearing it and said..."I am too dark for this color" Huh? Really? I made her buy it. She wore it to school and someone told her she looked too dark. So if she's too dark, what the heck am I? Its things like that that make me sad or disappointed.

      And that's y'all's cue to tell whoever that was to go sip on some haterade.

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    3. "blonde is ok on white people, ok to dye your hair if you want to experiment but I don't think it part of the Korean beauty standard."

      > Yes. It reminds me an article I read a while ago about a woman and her daughter who felt a bit "marginalized" by their peers because they had natural blue eyes. Yes. Some people say they have "cat eyes".
      There was also this half Russian Korean kid who was bullied by his classmates because of his looks (he had blue eyes or fair hair, I don't remember) and his foreign-ness.

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    4. Too dark to wear pink? WTF Pink looks great on darker skin tones. One of my white coworkers complained that she only looked good in brown and blue while I could wear all sorts of brights and pastels. I avoid blue or white but anything with red or green undertones looks fantastic.

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  6. The U.S may have their own beauty standards of being a blonde blue eyed skinny woman but the difference between us and Korea (along with many Asian countries) is that POCs..especially Black people will defy it and we have a chance to see beauty because of our exposure to other people whether its media, on billboards. In Korea, not so much. You're born into this standard, its citizens seem to be indifferent about it and unless you're White, there is no "others" ..or not enough minorities for them to appreciate other standards of beauty. I can see why some of them resort to plastic surgery and that White is right in that country.

    I was looking at Lupita and how stars like Leo DiCaprio and Jared Leto keep hogging on her and they are rumoring that Jared and she dating (He's attractive but I don't see her doing it) .It's like mediaa did want to believe that the biggest/hottest men in Hollywood and said that Jared was flirting with some White actress that looked average compared to Lupita.If you look at some of those pictures they you'll see why they may be saying. Even if the rumors were true,can you blame them?She is a very beautiful woman.

    Lupita reminds me of Grace Jones .Her short cut and beautiful face. I look at how White society defines beauty. Its like going through a mail processing center.They just take a quick glace and give their stamp of approval of being beautiful. Frankly, I don't not because there aren't no beautiful White women.. there are.Its just that if I look at the same thing ,day in and day out, it's just there to me.The uniqueness and appeal is gone. Most time when you hear media talk about beautiful White women, I hate to say it but most of them you hear say is pretty are average. They rarely say why they are beautiful.

    Not long ago Cin wrote an article on here called "Saudi men ain't s---t" and if you ask me who are the hottest men in the world, I promise you it will be a Black man or another group of POCs. Don't get me wrong, I loved me some Paul Walker before he got killed, but overall, I think that POCs get my attention more.If you were to ask me why..for example... why I think that Arab /Middle Eastern guys are good looking, I would say I love their jet Black big curly hair (If they have it),olive/tan/creamy complexion and their eyes..they're so pretty as they're eyes look like it have eyeliner on them. It is reasons like those why I see certain guys to be attractive. White White people, they don't really describe their beauty/good looks. It's automatically assumed that White people are suppose to be beautiful and no description for them is needed. As long as you meet the status quo of beauty, you're just that.

    I love Lupita's beauty because its not out societal norm. She's realistic. She doesn't have long hair but it doesn't take away from her natural beauty. I just love that flawless skin of her. Its so clear that its not funny. I grew up in a White community and back then men.. Black and White was fawning over the late Far rah Fawcett. Up into the late seventies and early eighties, there we're no Black beauties.Would you believe a darker skinned Thai woman made me see beauty clearer? (I thought that she was a Black woman because we were the same color...lol!)

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    1. Not long ago Cin wrote an article on here called "Saudi men ain't s---t"

      Actually, that was on the Black Girls Club, and it was written by TheVoiceofReason (ironically).

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  7. It can get to your head a bit and you start to think "Dang, plastic surgery in Korea is so cheap, should I"...

    Woman, don't you dare.

    My students went gaga over the white girl. Saying things like "Teacher we want her, change" and "Is she a model?"

    ..."Oh my gosh all the students love you, you are so beautiful like a model. You have such a small face and pale skin and blonde hair".


    You know...the way Mirai Nagasu was recently robbed over here in the US should've come as a reminder that if you ain't the real thing, the original thing, substitutions will not be accepted. Ashley Wagner was a blonde, all-American golden girl. Mirai was not.

    And not all the plastic surgery, sun-dodging, and hair bleaching will change that. When folks want a white girl, nothing else will do.

    Now would be a great time for Korean social activists to rise up and make some serious noise. For a country which produces so many beautiful historical dramas filled with cultural and ethnic pride, it's extremely disappointing - and somewhat confusing - to see them so ardently chasing white Western beauty.

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    1. No worries Ank, I won't. But yes, with such a rich history it is indeed very disappointing. There is a self-esteem issue, especially with women in Korea. I will be honest the men in Korea can be extremely beautiful. So beautiful that you wonder, how do women compete with them. Not only that, they are also competing with the white girls.

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  8. I guess this explains bit about why my Korean roommate a few semesters back looked so confused when my friend and me where debating this very topic.

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  9. Good example of when plastic surgery goes wrong. Korean TV host.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2547481/South-Korean-presenter-ruins-looks-drastic-jaw-surgery-achieve-heart-shaped-face.html

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    1. Wow.... they really did mess the woman. Not only did they make her face too pointed, but she look older than she probably is. Last year, there was another case of a SK actress that ruined her looks with cooking oil (also on dailymail.May 7th2013) .She really harmed her face.

      Its sad the lengths some people will to look good. In a country like SK where looking good and being lighter skinned is the standard, its hard for some women to have any self worth.

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    2. Typo--meant to say "they really messed up this woman's face" and the last sentence first line .Also meant to say "It sad the lengths some people will go to look good.In a country where being looking good and being lighter skinned is the standard,it would be hard for them to have any self worth."

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    3. @M I remember seeing that woman. See I bet she is thinking she was fine before and now she is totally screwed up. Its like Mickey Rourke or Joyce Wildenstein. South Korea reminds me of the Stepford Wives movie (the original not the Nicole Kidman one). Everyone is trying to be the same.

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  10. This reminds me of two videos:

    http://youtu.be/0wWKjxxM6q8

    http://youtu.be/GoFcTV_B6hM

    The first one, and episode of Vice, talks about plastic surgery in Korea. I think the part worth noting starts at 25:35 when the host (who pisses me off for various reasons) is shocked when she figures out that she hurt the girl's feelings by saying she looks different. Seeing how much the girl wanted to look like the host was so sad. :/

    The second video was made by a girl who was completely oblivious that she was describing white privilege until she was put in her place in the comments (which she eventually hid, of course). Note that she first posted the video without all the justifications and lies that everything was just "a joke". Her attitude is the result of being seen as the "ideal". All in all, I think the desire for surgery is to reach this "ideal"...which we all know is not the "best".

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    1. Oh man, I remember watching that Vice episode. The host got on my nerves, she's so condescending the whole time (that's also apparent in the part where she finds out that some people dress as punks just for the style and don't embrace the culture that goes with it. Pretty ironic that she's being judgmental, while white people do the exact same thing).
      In both those videos, those women are confronted with how warped society is, but instead of seeing things as they are they come out kind of proud of being the subjects of such admiration. It was painful to watch.

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  11. Ironically, in that very first before/after picture up top, my eyes - quite naturally - gravitate to the natural woman to the left. My eyes literally resist looking right because, quite frankly that woman scares me.

    Has anyone watched the Korean film "The Housemaid"? Remember the lady of the house? That actress obviously had work done, and her eyes scared the living shit out of me. She'd had so much flesh "cut back", if you will, that her eyes took up most of her face. It was horrifying.

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    1. How warped is your thinking that looking like a cartoon/anime character is desirable?

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    2. I feel like with that kind of surgery, they reach the uncanny valley very fast... but because that look is replicated over and over again it became desirable for those women. We still see it as unsettling because we're not used to that kind of look, but it's become somewhat of a norm. Kind of scary that now surgery is the "normal" route.

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  12. Korea is a homogenous society, different kinds of beauty, beauty when it comes to people of color is something very new. I am glad I am in Korea and they get to see my inner and outer beauty. As Korea becomes more open I am sure that the standards of beauty will evolve and include an array of different shades. Well, I hope so at least. I can see openness in some of my students so I know that Korea is on its way.

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  13. I found your blog to be very interesting. You are correct in that Korea is a homogenous society and the standards of beauty are different. Cultures that lack our diversity fail to appreciate the inner and outer beauty of the individual. In America we have every skin color and (natural) hair color under the sun, each beautiful in their own right. As for plastic surgery...no way. I am old school. Unless you have a physical deformity or deviated septum that needs correcting, leave the face alone. By the way...I am the father of the "small headed" girl. She has found the obsession over the size of her head to be both amusing and unnerving. Strange what some societies fixate on. What is really sad is the number of girls over there who believe plastic surgery will solve all their problems. They still have to be comfortable with who they are on the inside.

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    1. Sorry...did not see the policy on posting as anonymous before hitting send. As the author did not name the co-workers in her narrative I chose to respect their anonymity as well by not using my full name. I should have just posted as Brian. My apologies.

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    2. You can use initials or nicknames.

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    3. Thank you Brian for your post. Yes, its the young girls that we teach here who suffer the most. Its so disheartening....and I think that we as teachers here from other countries have a responsibility to expose them to different kinds of beauty and to embrace their unique inner and outer beauty.

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