SoKo: A thing of beauty
[click title for link]
Beauty, much like fashion, is an issue the world over so again, I’m not referring to an issue which is unique to SoKo. I am, however referring to the unique way in which SoKo deals with it.
I recently came across these pictures of South Korean women post-plastic surgery by the artist Ji Yeo and it immediately stirred something inside of me. That ‘something’ can best be described as a mix of bewilderment, sadness and one small part resignation. Although I was a foreigner and not subjected to the same standards and pressures which the locals were, it didn’t stop me from noticing the scrutiny of the female form: women are simultaneously encouraged to be cute AND sexy. Those are polar opposites, though. On top of that, women are often judged first and foremost on the basis of their attractiveness and it’s easy to see where the national plastic surgery craze stems from.
Speaking with a co-worker, I asked what traits Korean men often looked for in women. Her response, “How pretty she is. Her face. Her body.” To be fair, she was an older woman who was already married and admitted that she loved her husband for his personality and the feeling was mutual. As someone who is comfortably married, her opinion might simply be her glancing in on youth culture and their apparent motivations. Nevertheless, when there are ideas such as these floating around coupled with mandatory photos on job applications, it becomes imperative that you nip and tuck away newly discovered imperfections, zap away fat, overhaul your dental state and subject yourself to painful recovery that accompanies these bewildering procedures.
SoKo is a country where shame over surgical procedures is thrown to the wind and women openly wear bandages over noses and sunglasses in subways to mask freshly operated on eyes. This brazen display of cosmetic work is almost a badge of honor because it says, “Whatever it takes”.
Here at home, I’d recently struck up a conversation with a Korean American and before long, we were laughing over all the procedures we knew: the ubiquitous double eyelid surgery, injection of fat under the eye (mimicking the same feature commonly seen on infants in promotion of ‘looking cute’), jaw shaving (to slim down what many Koreans view as faces which are ‘too round’ and ‘too wide’), breast augmentation and calf reduction surgery (slimming athletic calves otherwise viewed as too muscular). It highlighted issues which in the West, were not even noticeable let alone fixated upon.
My bewilderment stemmed from so many people casually going under the knife. I’d met a 15 year old girl in my town who at her mother’s urging, underwent double eyelid surgery and was soon to get her nose done. Her mother simply felt “it was necessary, her eyes were too small and her nose could be ‘sharper’.” When I hear surgery, my mind drifts towards emergency circumstances rather than casual affairs done over lunch breaks.
The sadness comes when I remember how females scrutinize their image and talk of losing just a few pounds when they already live in healthy bodies.
Fortunately, I see it for what it is: protection of social capital. They are judged on the basis of their looks to the point that appearance can be viewed as a kind of currency. By extension, every adjustment of a loose strand of hair, reapplication of lipstick on the train and cosmetic procedure is merely a necessary form of asset management.