Learning What Beauty Means

A few months before I went to visit Korea, I wrote a post called “Korean 101: Do You Look Good Enough?” that talked about the obsession with looks that Korean society seems to be currently undergoing.

It was something that I was afraid to be confronted with in the Motherland. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I know what it feels like to be looked down on and made fun of just because of physical appearances. I did not want to have to see others being subjected to the same kind of pressures they didn’t deserve.

I don’t know if I ended up being as constantly bombarded with it as I thought I’d be, but in any case, I still saw plenty of ads of young celebrities who have all probably had plastic surgery to make their faces look “perfect.” And the before- and after-surgery shots of both young girls’ and guys’ faces displayed in the subways and magazines just made my heart wrench into a knot.

Not too long after landing in Korea …

One day, someone said something in response to one of my protests that made me think really hard. They pointed out that for some of these girls, getting their faces done can give them a confidence that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

And it’s really not a point to just dismiss.

I started to think, am I really one to judge? Am I one to believe that this kind of pressure isn’t everywhere, including in my own country, and that I don’t succumb in some way or another to externally prescribed standards of what is considered “beautiful”? Don’t most of us?

Advertising “beauty” in the city

Here is my issue in particular with the Korea plastic surgery craze: it seems, from what I’ve learned, that girls at an extremely young age are told that looking “beautiful” is one of the — perhaps, the most — important things in life.

It is what you need to be successful, as is actually the case when you have to submit your headshot with a job or college application. Friends and mothers will be the first to tell you what’s wrong with your face and what you need to get fixed. Their celebrity “role models” all look like the “after” shots that you too can look like if you just book an appointment with the surgeon.

Basically, these young people don’t stand a chance to learn any other standard of beauty.

I feel that at least when I was growing up, I had time to develop my own personality and consider things like being creative, funny, and smart as what made me a cool person. My mom thought I was so cute with my chubby face and never put me down for having on a few extra pounds.

It was only when people started commenting that the way I looked was “wrong,” that I started looking at myself differently and feeling insecure.

Flipping through a magazine at a Korean restaurant

I think that having started out with different standards of what being an attractive person means has helped me to not totally lose myself in society’s standards of attractiveness.

I don’t know what’s going on with young kids here (in Canada) today. Are the pressures mounting against them to look a certain way to fit in and feel happy with themselves? Are they being bombarded at an ever-younger age than my generation was?

Whatever the case, my hope is that young people growing up get a chance to develop other standards of beauty and success — their own standards. Because once the real pressures start coming on full-force, they will need some powerful weapons to battle those outside voices with.

– Cafe <3

What are your experiences in learning what “beauty” means? How do you think we can help young people grow up with a more positive self-image?

A great blog post I read that speaks to this issue: http://louisepageblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/the-pressure-to-be-thin/

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