Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Not Beautiful Enough To Live in Korea?

This piece raises some interesting notions regarding beauty as cosmopolitan construction, and as a result, the importance, influence and impact that East Asian beauty standards have on the people who make up those countries. Much can be gleaned from the author’s personal experience in Korea, particularly when it comes to ideas surrounding the shaping of one’s body in order to better serve the state. The article, however, is also extremely flawed, almost offensive – essentially making East Asians (and Koreans in particular) out to be a shallow, superficial people who place the value of appearance over everything else.

The issues:

The author completely blames Korea’s beauty culture for her feelings of inadequacy while there, placing accountability on the society as a whole for what she perceives to be their obsession with looking a certain way. While I do personally understand her struggles with being told she was too big to fit certain clothing, or too dark for skin makeup – I typically go to Korea twice a year, for a month or two at a time – I do not think blame for such feelings can, nor should, be placed wholly on a culture’s tendency towards achieving a certain ideal. The issue, as I have stated in my analysis of the Japanese plastic surgeons’ article, is complex –  to say the least. As both a Korean and an American, and having lived in both places, the ethnocentricity from which the author interprets her experience in Korea is glaringly obvious. She is not being malicious, but she is speaking from ignorance in some ways – and her broad generalizations are something I wish to address, so the reader can get another perspective before making value judgements.

To start, Korea is a culture of brutal honesty and straightforwardness – decidedly different from America’s tendency toward political correctness/aversion to sensitive topics like money, weight and appearance. It was certainly something I had to learn, but once I did, it was clear to me that people weren’t being out of line or brash when commenting on my size or skin color (at least, not in their eyes) – they were being completely in line, when looking at cultural norms. This, of course, is not to say Koreans aren’t being offensive or insensitive (at least, from an American perspective) when making observations – but it’s an important distinction to make between them just being clueless, or worse, totally impolite and shallow – and them just being, well, Korean (aka different from American). To look at and interpret their behavior from only a Western perspective can result in writing off a whole nation of people as various unfavorable adjectives – totally unfair, not to mention incorrect and misguided.

Second, the author doesn’t take accountability for her own expectations and her own actions. She came into Korea expecting to fit in, “excited” to finally look like the majority – but she isn’t fully Korean (she’s Cuban and Filipino as well, which adds a lot of variation to her looks), so that seems to me to be setting herself up for failure. Why blame Koreans for pointing out what to them are facts? In a culture where everything is pointed out at face value, with something as small as if someone’s hair is messy, it seems to me that she’s blaming them for not living up to her standards of accepting her. I’m not saying Koreans are “in the right” but I am saying that she’s not coming from an educated perspective, in terms of culture and accountability. The author also blames Korea for not having skin products or sizes that fit her attempt to fit in, making her feel badly about herself. That, to me, seems unfair as well: after all, no one forced her to try and fit in, that was a choice all of her own, driven perhaps by insecurity or maybe peer pressure, but an autonomous decision all the same.

She also seems hypocritical in her judgement, picking and choosing what is acceptable and what is not: While she criticizes the nation’s people for all striving to “look the same way” (also a complete over-generalization), she also expects them to offer products that deviate from that supposed norm? That seems antithetical to me. She complains of “giving up,” being tired of “living in a culture [she] literally couldn’t fit into despite [her] best efforts.” Again, if it was her trying to fit in, how is that a fault of Korea’s that she wasn’t able to? If most Korean women tend to be biologically smaller than American women – and they are, from my experience, naturally more petite even without dieting – or lighter-skinned, which many are naturally, it must make sense that the goods reflect the market. Supply and demand. Do Korean women try to exercise control over some of these natural factors? Absolutely – sunscreen and long sleeves are abundant, as are trendy diets – but that doesn’t necessarily mean people are trying to be something they’re not. They see it as enhancing or preserving a quality they already have to some extent. Why blame how you are feeling (which is really more of an indication of what one’s previous expectations were) on everything but yourself? Especially when it comes to something like appearance – the author admits to feeling self-conscious about her looks while living in the States – and feelings of worthlessness, which have more to do with oneself than anyone/anything else.

Another issue: her language is too broad, and places too many generalizations on a whole nation of people. Who said she couldn’t fit in? Everyone? Anyone at all? I’ve seen African-Americans be accepted into Korean society even more so than some Korean-Americans. Who says Korea’s beauty standards are unattainable? Were they just not achievable for her, and thus now not realistic? I know many Korean women who feel happy and beautiful in their own skin, who other Koreans consider beautiful, who don’t fit into the street-vendor clothing sizes. I know plus size Korean women who have no trouble finding options. Was it really “impossible” to find clothing that fit, or was she just not looking outside of where she wanted to believe she had to look? There are always exceptions. And they should be acknowledged, before one goes down the very dangerous road of making assumptions about an entire nation full of people. Cough cough, Japanese surgeons! 

Perez, Ashly. "I Wasn't Beautiful Enough To Live In South Korea." BuzzFeed. N.p., 31 May 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2017. 

Contents of this path:

This page has tags:

Contents of this tag:

This page has replies: