Is Korea the most beauty obsessed country?

I remember, about 8 months after arriving in Korea, a friend telling me that one of her students was absent from school because she was being “stretched”.  Having never heard of this term before I asked her what she meant. She explained that the elementary school girl was gone to have a surgery that would make her taller in the future. I’ll spare you the gruesome details but  you can read it yourself at this link, At that time, I remember thinking “what kind of parents would 1) waste that much money and 2) put that young girl through all that pain and suffering for some ridiculous non-essential surgery.  To say I was totally shocked by the story is an understatement. As time went by, however, I started to notice beauty more and now there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not bombarded with beauty related advertising. 

First, let’s look at the most superficial beauty and that’s cosmetics.The cosmetics market in Korea is worth 8.9 trillion won, about 7.9 million dollars. Koreans are obsessed. I was going to type Korean women but stopped because men here wear B.B. cream and use all kinds of cosmetic products. 

 Foreign cosmetics brands, which dominate the ground floor of every department store, are at the highest price in Korea.  Koreans will spend any amount of money on cosmetics.    There are products for everything, the most popular being the “whitening” products.  Koreans are obsessed with white skin.  B.B. creams, hand creams, foundations, moisturizer, everything promises a whiter skin.  In every town , no matter how small, the street is lined with different stores all selling lotions and potions to give you the most beautiful white skin, Etude House, Inisfree, Tony Moly, The Faceshop, the list goes on and on. 

I teach kindergarten and have children at school who have lotion rubbed on their skin twice a day, not for any medicinal purposes but solely for cosmetic reasons. My oldest student is our age 6. 

You can then move to the more dramatic form of beauty, plastic surgery. A short trip on the bus or subway exposes you to a bombardment of advertisements for plastic surgery, anything from breast enhancement to nose jobs to double eyelid surgery. One in every five women in Seoul have undergone plastic surgery. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery suggesting that taking population into account, South Korea is the world’s largest market for plastic surgery.  This kind of surgery is now, not only more affordable but more easily accessed. Entire areas of Seoul, like Apgujong, are almost exclusively dedicated to plastic surgery. 

In my circle of Korean friends, I have known fellow teachers to spend summer vacation time “getting a new nose”.  I and I’m sure other foreign girls here in Korea, have had my teachers touch, poke examine and pictures of my nose so they can “tell the doctor the type they want”. 

But, what does this artificial, superficial idea of beauty do to Koreans and especially young Koreans? I recently watched a video It’s interesting how the girl makes the link between stress and the idea of beauty in Korea.   The effects of this on young girls and the consequences is a trend we’re seeing now in South Korea.  What the society here makes of beauty and expects from women is beyond belief.  The idea that beauty comes from within doesn’t particularly exist in Korea and if you’re not aesthetically beautiful here, the notion is, that you’ll never stand out from the crowd.

Two years later, if I were to hear the stretching story now, I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit shocked.  When we connect the pressure of being beautiful with the pressure of study, work, parenting on women here, is it any wonder Korea has one of the highest female suicide rates in the world?

11 thoughts on “Is Korea the most beauty obsessed country?

  1. I ask myself, “Do they know where to draw the line”?. No amount of products or surgery will make you a better person on the inside!

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  3. I’ve lived here for 3.5 years now and still feel a sense of disbelief with the ridiculous amount of importance that is placed on looks. I read a statistic that 63% of adult women in Korea (I can’t remember the specific age bracket) have had eye surgery.

    Whenever I bring this up with Korean friends, they always tell me, “well, people in Hollywood get it done, so why is it wrong if I do it?” and they have a point. But I think the difference is that Korea has such a narrow notion of beauty, and the idea that brown skin is ‘dirty’ is what makes it more disturbing. I’ve even heard of jaw reconstructions and facial bone removal to have the prized, “small face.” To this day, I still don’t understand what a small face is.

    I wish more emphasis would be placed on personality here, but with the K-Pop girl groups and actresses who have abnormally large eyes, ridiculously small waists, and unnaturally bleached skin, I doubt it’ll happen any time soon. The only thing I can do is when my students ask me what Korean girls are beautiful, I tell them 2NE1 and Sistar – they’re the only girls with any kinds of figure and individuality in the K-Pop world, and I tell them that men don’t like skinny girls that look like they could break at any second.

    • There is a reason korean women are skinny, we do not have a choice,
      In europe, i was surprised how women had a baby on their arm.
      Yes arm, not arms.
      At first i thought they were super strong.
      Not, its becuase they have much wider hop bones then me.
      The hip bones jut outwards, so they can rest the baby on their pelvis bone,
      And straddle the child on it.
      No korean women can do that.
      We have beautiful torso structure,
      But we have no hips,
      Asses that sag and are long,
      You need to be bone thin to have a waist.
      Else, you will look boxy and fat.
      Korean women look much fatter than they actually are.
      So they are really skinny.
      Sistar members have good bone structure.
      They have hips,
      They can have more flesh on their bones and pull it off,
      But for the normal korean girl with a boxy figure,
      You need to burn all the fat in the middle to look like you have a waist.

  4. Let me enlighten you
    I am a korean woman.
    Beauty is universal.
    There are some trends,
    But its pretty much the same regardless of time and place.
    What the ancient chinese found beautiful was the same as what romans found hot,
    There is a reason we koreans have a narrow definition of beauty.
    We all look the same!
    So the same stuff enhances our features.
    Ignorant people say this is a westernized approach,
    No,what we find beautiful has been the same for millennia,
    Difference is,in the past korean people were not looking for beauty,
    they were looking for women that looked like good baby poppers.
    Now in this stance,
    Compared to the universal ideal.
    Korean women have big heads that are flat at the to and flat at the back,
    Sort of squarish.
    Not at all pretty.
    Why do you think korean women rarely have short hair?
    They have ugly heads.
    Short necks,
    Beautiful rib carriages.
    Small breasts,
    Huge, dark nipples.
    Very narrow hip bones,
    Long, sagging hips that are flat as a board.
    Short , thick limbs,
    Big fat hands and feet.
    We have really bad bone and muscle structure.
    Caucasians have far better muscle and bone structure,
    Blacks, most ideal.
    They have such beautiful head shapes,
    Extremely slow metabolisms.
    We gain weight easily,but age really slowly as well.
    Great hair.
    As opposed to western women and black women who a lot of times have to get extensions
    my family doesnt get gray till their 60s
    And thick hair to the very end,
    We have great thick skin,
    And lots of subcutaneous fat, so we will appear youthful for a long time,
    But no cottage cheese!
    Little or no body hair.
    Considering that skin is the biggest organ,
    Not bad:
    Now you wondered why do koreans want a small face?
    Because their faces are disportionately big,
    Necks short,
    Torso and hips long and limbs short,
    They look shorter than they actually are.
    A smaller face will greatly elongate your figure.
    A smaller face also has to do with age.
    Your face grows bigger with age.
    It doesnt show much i caucasians.
    As you age, your chew and talk all those years,
    Muscle builds up on your jaws.
    Face get bigger.
    Plus as the fat on the face goes,
    The face becomes more conclave,
    Creating a shadow on both sides of the nose,
    Making it look bigger,
    Think of a western face,
    No conclave, filled to the brim.
    The front of the face is hense bright,
    And the sides darker.
    The sides of your face is sort of shaven off in this wa
    So The face looks smaller than it actually is.
    But if your face caves in beside the sides of hour nose,
    And is flat as koreans are,
    The sides of your face is not dark at all
    So no effect of shadow shaving of the sides of the face,
    And the cavong in of the face doesnt help at all.
    Plus, your face skin saggs with age,
    This makes the face look longer and neck shorter.
    Now white skin.
    Why do koreans obsess over white skin.
    It works for flat faces.
    Lee hyori and hwang shin hae, have western bone structure,
    So they have deep tans,
    They can pull it off.
    Now what is a western face?
    Big nose and eyes?
    No… That can be found naturally.
    The biggest difference is the philtrum.
    This has to do with the face caving in beside the nose,
    Now, from the profile,
    Most westerners philtrums point upwards,
    Or is at least straight,
    Asians most go down,
    This means the mouth (not the lips, that is hot)is sticking out.
    Sort of like an ape in severe cases.
    Add the caving in feature of the sides of the nose.
    You have a big, flat, asian face.
    The western philtrum can be achieved,
    To some extent via plastic surgery and braces,
    But only so much.
    Nowadays many opt for that.
    The biggest difference between movie stars and normal people on the street is that Part.
    Especially the philtrum and around it.
    It gives the western look.
    Another western feature.
    Cheekbone direction.
    Asians cheekbones rutt outwards.
    Making the already big face look bigger.
    Caucasian faces cheekboens face go from the back of the face to the front.
    This is possible because their faces are not flat like us.
    Let me tell you this.
    Flat faces look horrible with dark skin!
    But for lee hyori with her western cheekbones and philtrum,
    Tanning is hot.
    So she sports a deep tan.
    Koreans are not obsessed with certain things because they are stupid,
    Its quite the opposite.
    As we all look alike,
    What works for us is pretty much the same.
    White skin is also a sign of youth.
    Asians skin darken and yellow with age.
    I chuckle when ignorant westerners think it has to do with them
    I am a cold tone winter.
    Very very fair and pink skinned with jet black hair and eyes.
    I look best in black and white,
    But at the department store,
    They always give me pink or lemon yellow ,
    You cant wear this later when your are yellow as a toad!
    I hope this helps.

    • Basically, in so many words:

      You have just listed the pros and cons of different races, which you are right.

      You have found faults withing each group, again, you are right.

      You are basically saying no one is perfect.
      Accept the latter.

  5. I think, the thing that they are lacking are confidence. I mean, you can’t blame a girl who wanted to be pretty and being in such extreme society where appearance matters the most makes a decision to do plastic surgery. But i must agree that, this obsession had become rather severe in South Korea. They’re are some who maybe didn’t care much but I know that for those who had always been left out and doesn’t get enough attention probably tend to do cosmetic surgery. Nevertheless, friends support are very encouraging, and its not wrong to feel insecure about ourselves sometimes, but remember that we are all special in our own ways.

  6. Aww come on, as if north americans are not obsessed with looks either. There are more women in america wearing make up and getting botox (to look younger) and even having breast and butt implants than in Asia.

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