The Destructive Effects Of South Korea’s Beauty Standards


South Korea is notoriously known for its hyper-focus on appearance and cosmetic surgery. The extreme focus on appearance leads women to want to conform to society and spend thousands of dollars on plastic surgery. The fixation of certain features can lead someone’s self-esteem down the drain, and when every institution in South Korea reinforces the idea of beauty, it is truly an epidemic.

Although caring about how appearance may sometimes be important, I would argue that it is more harmful than it is helpful. I suggest that the strain of beauty is due to South Korea’s embedded listening culture and social conformity. Many women become self-critical and as a result, feel a sense of unworthiness and resort to plastic surgery. The reason why plastic surgery may be more harmful than it is helpful is because even after spending tons of money to change ones features to look like everybody else, it does not repair the internal feelings of insecurity and inferiority. It is only a mask that provides a shallow sense of confidence and only adds onto the cycle of being self-critical in the long run.

If South Korea did not have such an intense pressure on looking a certain way, then women would be able to embrace their differences and care more in depth about character rather than appearance. Unfortunately, in South Korea there is absolutely no room for looking different or having a unique trait when South Korea’s culture is blinded to a very one dimensional view on beauty.

I am a Korean American, and if there’s anything about Korean culture that I am most familiar with, it’s the beauty standard. Since my middle school years, I have always felt an extreme insecurity about my features. I so deeply wanted to feel beautiful and admired. In South Korea, having double eyelids is the standard. It is what makes a woman’s eyes appear rounder and bigger. I grew up with monolids, and believe it or not, this little thing ended up being one of my biggest weaknesses. I never knew something as subtle as a crease would affect me, but it scarred me for years on end.

Unfortunately, in South Korea there is absolutely no room for looking different or having a unique trait when South Korea’s culture is blinded to a very one dimensional view on beauty. Trends are important to follow and individuality is not typically glorified in the same way it is in the United States. And Korea is a very classist country; looking “wealthy” is the beauty standard. For example, pale skin is seen as beautiful bc wealthy people did not work out in the fields or farms, so tan skin is associated with “low class.” Koreans are very appearance-conscious, it’s part of the culture. It’s a matter of being presentable. Being presentable is considered to be a sign of respect and an indicator that you aren’t lazy. When people apply to schools or jobs, they have to submit a picture of themselves. If you take Korean airlines, you will notice that all the flight attendants are attractive, and that is no coincidence. Koreans take great pride in being presentable, and it is clear in every aspect in Korean culture.

Even in Korean cosmetics there is usually only foundation for lighter skin; it’s rare for companies to manufacture and produce products for tan skin. There is even a product that exists to whiten skin with a quick spray to the face and body. It changes girls skin from a neutral pale face to an extremely flawless, white porcelain look. In America, the image of looking innocent and youthful isn’t common in teenagers. In fact, most teen girls want to appear older and more mature. However, Koreans are against this. This is why there is a huge emphasis on looking youthful and innocent. Skin care in Korea is a ten step process with products that cost an absurd amount of money. From skin care to light skin, every little thing is meticulously fixed to perfection.

As kids grow up to be teens, the emphasis on appearance is still very present. Many stars in the K-pop industry often have gotten multiple procedures on their faces to appear a certain way, with little regard to the fact that much of their fan bases consists of teens and young adults. These teens quickly associate being a star with looking beautiful. Once again, it leads people to believe that being beautiful will equate to being more successful.

If South Korea did not put such an intense pressure on looking a certain way, then women would feel like they could walk out the door without any makeup, without feelings of unworthiness, and without pressures to get plastic surgery. There would be a shift in focus from appearance to character, which would push people to better themselves as people and improve their lives rather than wanting to change their faces. Changing one’s appearance because of feelings of unworthiness is a very damaging cycle, and that deep insecurity might never be healed, even with tons of money going into plastic surgery. However, bettering oneself and improving character is a very rewarding outcome. It might even overpower the effects that looks currently have. It could potentially push people to care more about their internal traits. This would, of course, push for a better society, and I hope for that day to come.