South Korea is one of the capital countries or one of the Meccas of beauty trends and plastic surgery.
Being beautiful or not will dictate how you’re perceived. From job applications to just walking into a store to buy something. Even when applying to be a teacher, you must send a picture with your application. One individual (Simon from Eat Your Kimchi / Simon and Martina) did that and he was told that he was too “good-looking” to teach at the school he was applying for because he was supposedly handsome and would tempt the female students at the school. Some others have applied and were rejected for having dark-skin. It is at times seen as unattractive and associated with the low class.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to interview a KPOP fan on the ideals of beauty standards. The beauty of this was that she was a westerner looking from a lens at the KPOP culture and how it has influenced beauty standards in South Korea.
As I sat with her while she was browsing the internet on the computer on Korean reality shows, she commented with a calm expression that, “from a westerner’s point of view, the weight regulations in South Korea are ridiculous,”. She understood that it had to do with a lot of Korean culture and the body structures of Asians. However, she further stated, “I read somewhere that during the Korean war, Korea was facing a famine. Food was limited and the appreciation of food (some of it) stemmed from this history. That is why people today watch what they eat.”
This was a very interesting theory. And shed a little light on the weight matter. She and I both agreed that today it was even more than just history. It was a business. South Korea has foreigners flocking in on every side of the globe wanting plastic surgery or having surgical procedures done to remove their body fat. Vanessa mentioned, “A lot of people strive to be plastic surgeons there,”. This also was interesting and I noted that most of them were male.
The third level to this booming obsession with beauty is the KPOP culture. It is also a business. Using males and females to cater for a certain target market. But the ones who face more pressure are the females, particularly KPOP female idols. They are made to look cute, get plastic surgery such as having their chins chiseled for a small face in order to look beautiful and cater for the middle-aged men who consume KPOP. This way, these female idols are highly sexualized and objectified. A typical show that is sponsored by men for men using teenagers is Produce 101. Vanessa mentioned how young those girls are and they are exposed to such mature concepts and are basically molded to look cute. They are usually as young as 15 years old.
As the interview progressed we touched base on a show called Unpretty Rapstar, a show for upcoming female rappers to go head on and win a contract to a record label. However, these women are judged on the show by men. And the women who work on the production team, we only see them interviewing the contestants or consoling them when they are having a hard time. The first concerns that the rapper contestants have is if their opponents are beautiful or pretty – not the fact that they have great rap skills.
“The winning of the rapper also involves popularity. The most popular rapper usually ends up winning. They are the ones that are usually the beautiful,” Vanessa mentions. Honestly some of the lead singers or popular ones in female KPOP bands are the ones considered the visuals. The most beautiful one in the groups get more attention. They usually get the most attention in the competition. As a result, the ones who come into the competition without any fame usually don’t get a lot of popularity votes and support from the audience/voters.
These women also are restricted to two categories: either the tough rebellious female rapper who has “swag” (Vanessa hates the term) or some sexy female rapper. “These women must constantly explain themselves that they are not just females and that they are not just pretty. Why is that?” We both agreed that KPOP culture – particularly objectification of women was highly regulated by a patriarchal power. So are the beauty standards of the country.
Weight and beauty regulations are not just there to make the country homogeneous – they are also there to police women and make a profit out of it.
Vanessa could not state whether she would change her body image if she ever were to live in South Korea the answer would wait until she gets there and experiences the place for herself.
The reason some people consider going to Korea to do plastic surgery is due to the KPOP they watch and consume. Time will tell if Korea will change the beauty standards and advocate a more natural look for the female idols.