Dear fellow women who believe that all Koreans are shallow,
I recently read a few articles on Huffington Post and Buzzfeed on South Korean beauty standards. I would just like to say that I would be surprised if no one else has spoken up to correct your articles.
I am very aware of stereotypes and misconceptions that foreigners hold about South Koreans. Many believe that we are but K-Pop obsessed, hyper-intense machines that believe that every flaw can be fixed with a nose job or double eyelid surgery. Although I will concede that most Koreans do hold academic rigor to a high standard, many of the other points above are unfair and untrue. I am not naïve enough to believe that this will change any time soon.
But the point of views you have presented in your articles are extremely one-sided and rather offensive. I understand that many of the people writing these articles have had unpleasant experiences while shopping in Korea or with Korean girls, but the sweeping generalizations you make throughout your articles are hurtful and inaccurate.
For example, one article (written by a non-Korean) said that in South Korea, “physical appearance is everything.” It also said that “the importance of being beautiful is drilled into Koreans’ minds from such a young age.” I disagree. Never once have I been told that being beautiful is the most important thing I can offer. Never once have my friends been pressured to get plastic surgery to “fix” aspects of themselves that they find unattractive.
Physical appearance is most certainly not considered to be “everything.” My family, both immediate and extended, has never once tried to measure me “purely by [my] beauty” – I have never been told that I am measured by my looks or even my grades, but rather my character. I have never been reprimanded for not being beautiful or smart enough–my parents have always stressed the importance of being a good person, even before academic excellence.
It is true that Korean people do value fashion and appearance. I believe it somehow relates to the prevalent Asian concept of “saving face.” We do not want to leave the house looking like a mess; we do not want the public to know we are having a rough day. This, I concede. In the long run, an obsession with saving face can potentially be harmful and unhealthy. But being mildly concerned about one’s appearance and wanting to look put together does not automatically translate into shallowness.
As for plastic surgery, women who get their appearances “fixed” rarely make drastic changes. Rather, the usage of plastic surgery in Korea is more for enhancing facial features and tucking away small flaws. A good chunk of the people who get double eyelid surgery don’t even get surgery for the aesthetics of it all: rather, with age, monolids lose their layer of fat and start to sag over the eye, making the lids heavy and difficult to lift up. Even at a young age, monolids can cause straight eyelashes to bend inward and prick eyes, making them itchy and uncomfortable. But even on this, I also concede. I agree that a heavy reliance on plastic surgery can be toxic.
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But even in a day and age where we celebrate all women for being beautiful no matter what they look like, it can be hard to believe you are beautiful when all you see in the mirror is a glaring flaw. After all, we notice the most clearly what everyone else overlooks. We all shake our heads in shame when we hear stories of men who degrade women for wearing makeup. We fight back; we say, “Makeup makes me feel confident. What’s wrong with being confident?” We cheer as Demi Lovato sings about it. But then women turn their backs on the rest of us and try to make Koreans feel bad for wanting to make changes. I know a few people who have chosen to go under the knife, and they all described the experience as oddly liberating and empowering.
Isn’t that what we are all about? Empowerment?
As for the part where multiple people seem to look down upon Korean people in their articles by saying that inner beauty “does not translate,” I believe the approach may have been wrong. Not every English word is applicable in other languages. Not many people use the word beautiful to describe things that cannot physically be beautiful.
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Korean people value honesty, kindness, empathy, perseverance, love, care, and respect just as much as the next ethnic group does. No matter what ties you may or may not have to Korea, whether or not you are ethnically Korean, it is unfair to make assumptions and generalizations about the entirety of the population based off of what you have seen perpetuated in the media or a small percentage of the population. You cannot make claims about what Korean parents do or do not drill into their children’s’ minds at young ages. You cannot say that physical beauty is everything. You cannot say that we are defined by the percentages of women who receive plastic surgery. The “shallow” people you believe represent Koreans are a tiny sample size of the whole, beautiful, loving, and kind population of Korean women who do not believe that physical beauty is everything.