I recently came across an article provocatively titled “I Wasn’t Beautiful Enough to Live in South Korea.” The half-Korean author, Ashley Perez, spent time in Korea teaching English and felt that the beauty standards were far too extreme. I knew I wanted to share her story, but it’s taken me some time to formulate my thoughts on it.
In Korea, the ideal beauty has pale skin, a double-folded eyelid, a smaller head, and is very thin. These standards are widely recognized and openly discussed as evidenced by this video from Seoulistic. It’s a bit jarring in its honesty, even though the narrator often gives the disclaimer that these criteria depend on personal taste.
The article and video may be shocking to people who aren’t Korean, but not much of this surprised me. Growing up with a Korean mother, one thing I have accepted is that many Korean women are extremely blunt. There is not a lot of subtlety when it comes to appearance, and egos are certainly not coddled. My mother isn’t shy to tell me when I am a bit heavier than normal. She’s also constantly criticizing her “moon face,” which is the common vernacular for a larger head shape.
I called her to discuss the article, and she agreed that Korea is pretty tough on women in general. She has very dark skin and doesn’t remember being teased about that but was looked down upon for being poor. In Korea, having darker skin is a sign of “lower class” because it signifies that your ancestors had to work outside.
I do find it really sad that Korean girls are put under so much pressure to fit into these standards. It’s particularly alarming that so many young people are going under the knife or using lightening creams to achieve them.
On the other hand, I feel as though a similar video could have been made about American beauty ideals. Of course, the criteria would be different: perhaps larger breasts, thin noses and full lips would make our list. Just because we are a more PC nation doesn’t mean that our young women don’t feel the same kind of pressure. Over 5 million women in the U.S. have had breast augmentation surgery and of that, 30% are between the ages of 20 and 29, according to this infographic compiled by plastic surgeon, Dr. Donald Brown.
In Ashley Perez’s story, a young girl is referred to as “The Mayor of Africa” by her classmates for having darker skin. However, when I was in Junior High, I was also tormented by my classmates for having darker skin and being half-Asian. The name they gave me was “Samoan.” Nowadays being from the same islands as Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) could be a compliment, but I assure you that in small-town Maine in the ’80s, it was not intended that way.
I truly do believe that our culture has evolved and diversity is more celebrated than when I was a child. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still incredible demands on American women, and bullying in our schools is an out-of-control problem.
Still, it’s pretty discouraging to see articles like these about Korea. I’ve never been, and it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to go. I’ve known for a long time, however, that the trip will do little for my vanity and that I may even be treated rudely. Being racially mixed has traditionally been looked down upon by Koreans, as described in this thoughtful post. I can easily just accept this as the way it is for now and not let it bother me. But I’m older and secure with who I am. I hope that girls in both South Korea and the U.S. can make it through the massive insecurity of youth and join me on the other side.