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[GUEST BLOGGER WEEK] The Oh So "Superficial" South Koreans: A Tale Of Beauty Ideals & Plastic Surgery

Welcome to the last Guest Blogger Week post!  It's been so awesome to host these fabulous women here on Oddness/Weirdness for the past week.  I thank them from the bottom of my heart for taking the time out of their busy schedules to participate, and I hope you enjoyed the posts as I did.

This last post is by nancakes's Nani and she's written another slightly controversial post, this one about her take on South Korea's beauty standards.  If you haven't read Nani's previous Guest Blogger Week rant about crazy Kpop fans, you can do so by clicking here and, as always, if you agree or disagree you can sound off in the comments below.

The Oh So "Superficial" South Koreans

Hello folks of the interwebz. I'm bringing to you an entry that touches upon a topic widely known within the kpop fandoms: beauty ideals (and plastic surgery) - and why looks matter so damn much in the country of oppas and gee gee babies. If you want further analysis on this topic, I actually did a term paper on South Korea and plastic surgery a while ago, so if you're interested, you can find it HERE. ^__^)/ 

I know that the whole plastic surgery/beauty ideal in Korea can be a very touchy topic to some people, but I'll give you my two cents on it. Please keep in mind (I can't believe I'm doing a disclaimer.. ugh) that this is my opinion and my personal experience. I am not Korean. I lived in Korea for a year and studied Korean culture, history and society long before that. I'm not trying to "lecture" anyone or slander celebs for having done surgery. I'm simply trying to enlighten some of you kpop fans out there, who may be rather confused or even misinformed about how and why looks matter so much. So yeah, if you're interested in a little information - please keep reading.

Anyway, let's start out with the basics. Back in the day (during early Choseon dynasty and before that) the ideal body type was very much like the western ideal; short, rather full bodies, large chest, round faces and pale skin to symbolize wealth. With time the ideal, just like in the Western world, changed drastically. But where Western societies like to define a person's look by the whole package, Koreans tend to pick out individual features and emphasize them. People don't necessarily need to be perfect in every aspect, but having a single feature or two that meet the "ideal" are usually sufficient for others to notice and praise it. Some of the most popular "features" that people like to talk about are as follows...

Long legs

SNSD - UEE (After School)

S-line (both in face and body)

When I was first introduced to this "ideal" I was extremely confused. I met a girl at a bar in Shinchon last year, and the first thing she said to me was "Your face's s-line is amazing" and I had no clue wtf she was talking about. She then had to explain to me several times that it refers to the s-like curve that goes from the forehead, down between the eyes and then rises again along the nose bridge. Yeah, it's odd. An example of an amazing s-line in face can be found with the Japanese musician and actor, Gackt. His s-line is fucking rocking, ok - yeah, he's not Korean but LOOK AT HIS FACE OMG -dead-. The body example is of the ever-so-beautiful (and fit) UEE of After School. I reckon the picture explains itself. Chest and booty - that's ironically what the Koreans want. -cough-

Big, bright eyes

Along with the well-known "aegyo sal" (애교살), which means "aegyo/cute flesh", big, bright eyes are a sign of health and youth - therefore big eyes that can reflect a lot of light are considered healthy and beautiful. ^__^)/ The images are of Hyeri from Girl's Day and of 2NE1's Park Bom.

Full lips

The typical (and extremely enviable) Korean lip usually has both top and bottom lip full and in slight ^/v-shapes respectively for upper and bottom lip. It doesn't seem that the lips are "ultra" important, but the Koreans seem to appreciate the particular full upper lip. 

Light, even skin

I'm guessing the lightness stems from the "old days" where light skin symbolized wealth. In my experience it's not very difficult to be light-skinned in Korea, simply because the sun doesn't get reflected much. I'm not sure if it's the pollution, but I never sunburned at all in Korea, nor did I get a tan - and I was out in the sun quite a lot. 

Koreans are crazy into skincare and every cosmetic brand has extensive lines for both women and men. However, contrary to much belief among international kpop fans, Koreans RARELY have perfect skin. BB cream helps. If you walk the streets of any city in Korea, you'll notice that the majority of both boys and girls have major acne scarring and impurities. So next time you catch yourself thinking "Omg oppa's skin so perfect" - think again. lol. It's most likely not.


I'm guessing the v-chin is popular because it - obviously - creates the illusion of a very slim face. Many ulzzangs take their pictures from a high angle because it gives the illusion of a v-chin and therefore also gives the illusion of a slim jaw and neck.

Sharp jawline

This is mostly seen in men and from what I've understood from my Korean guy friends, the sharp jawline is ideal because it symbolizes masculinity and strength. Take from that what you wish..

The abs

Yes, of course. It's not particular to Korean society anyway, but hey! I got to look at loads of fit guys searching for these, so why the fuck not? Especially Lee Joon (MBLAQ) is often seen flashing his perfect abs on stage or in variety/talk shows, endlessly known for being fit as fuck - even though he always claims to never be in shape. Lol lies. We also have (Rain) on the right, who of course is known for flashing his body at every given opportunity. 

Just like in the Western modern countries, Korean guys love to "innocently" emphasize their abs when possible. My good friend "discretely" showed me some pictures of his abs, and me being dumb and drunk went "Who's that?" and he went -innocent eye twinkle of pride- "That's me ^__^" and I apparently said "Lol fuck no it ain't" and kept scrolling on to the next photo. It hurt his pride, I reckon, but how was I supposed to know that his scrawny ass was actually fit as fuck and not just skinny? You can just never tell with those Korean boys :C

Of course these are not the only features that will define you as attractive in Korea, but these particular ones are quite typical. Most of them are also achievable even if the gracious hands of the Lord were not on your side when you were born. Plastic surgery is nowhere near as taboo in Korea as it appears to be in the Western world. It seems to me that the Western world is very harsh on people who get these procedures done, and almost get angry when someone admits to having had plastic surgery done to enhance their looks. I'm not sure if we get angry because others can afford to improve and we cannot, but it certainly seems that we cannot deal with the fact that some people have the money to "cheat" and simply have these things "produced" for them. Remember all those times you've heard of someone who had surgery and everybody went "Omg what a pity" while in reality the person actually looks much better? Yeah, envy is a bitch and her color is green.

I see so many Western fans shaming, bitching and whining as soon as their idol is revealed to have had surgery done - especially some Jessica Jung fans are still dumb enough to defend her, saying she's all natural and only had her teeth done. lol, wake up, people. She had surgery and there's no shame in that.

Actually, while many Westerners think that surgery is cheating, surgery and any type of "body enhancement" is a good thing in Korea. Society expects you to take good care of yourself; this does not only mean studying hard, honoring your heritage and doing well at work - it also means improving your looks whenever and however. Your looks are considered an investment. Living in a society like South Korea where everybody's expected to get A+ in all classes, competition for a job is very hard. Imagine everyone going to a job interview; they all have the same grades (A+), they all have amazing references and they are all equally inexperienced as they're all just graduated from the same university.

 I'm not claiming that any of the two men above had or have not had surgery, nor that either of them are unattractive. I'm just trying to make a point ok. And I know that age matters but when I looked up "ugly Korean men" there we no useful pictures.. wtf

As harsh as it sounds, the one who's the better looking will in 9/10 cases get the job. This means that surgery is not just for idols - it's for everyone. Korea is the country in the world with the most plastic surgery procedures performed. In a society where competition is so rough, you need to do your very best to be the best - in looks, education, family and work. It all counts whether you like it or not. 

I personally don't think plastic surgery is a bad thing - I think it's admirable that some people are willing to endure the pain and take the risk to go under the knife. Hell, if I had the money, I'd probably get shit done too.

My main point with this entry is basically to open your eyes a bit. Surgery is not and shouldn't be a big deal. Hell, many high schoolers get plastic surgery (eyelid surgery or rhinoplasty) gifted as a graduation gift from their parents before moving on to uni or into whatever field of work they've specialized in during their uni years. Their parents want them to do their best and they want their children to succeed in life. It really bothers me that many international fans get SO SUPER DEFENSIVE every time their idol is called out on having had surgery. It's not a big deal in Korea and it shouldn't be to you either. Them having had surgery doesn't change their talent nor their qualities as people. Why look down on anyone who's had plastic surgery? Be they your favorite kpop idol or your neighbor, it doesn't fucking matter. The shaming needs to stop and it needs to stop here. 

Along with that, can we also stop the annoying tendency of claiming that "Koreans want to look white"? Cause that is just ridiculous. -__-" Being white does not make you perfect nor "ideal" in Korea. Sure, I got a lot of compliments for having light 반짝반짝-eyes and pale skin,  but I actually overheard two Korean girls on the subway discussing whether or not they believed I was "natural" or had surgery in Korea. Cause come on.. my eye crease couldn't possibly be THAT deep naturally, right? -facepalm-

I know that I mention "ideal" a lot, and even though there are plenty of them, doesn't mean that ideals are an end-all-be-all. You see idols claiming to have a particular ideal all the time, and (just like normal people) they usually end up with someone who's far from their claimed ideal type. Ugh, ideal type.. So Korean of me to say.  

Who's your ideal type? I bet you're just like me.. You can list a whole bunch of features for your "ideal type" but the people you date are nothing like them at all. hur hur. Anyway, I'm sorry to have wasted... quite a lot of your time. Uhh, yeah. Sorry. Hope you enjoyed reading or at least looking at pictures! ^3^)/ All the love to you guys! And thanks to Erika for inviting me yet again to take up space on your spectacular blog! w00t w00t!

About the author:

Line, aka Nani is a student living in Copenhagen, Denmark.  She loves Kpop but does not like what she calls "delusional fangirls", and was able to become closely acquainted with both of those things while living in South Korea.  She also loves ulzzang and kpop/idol fashion and is expecting Jang Geun Seok to stop playing around and just marry her sometime soon, so they can have his genetically blessed kids.  You can find more of her writings on her blog nancakes.

This concludes Guest Blogger Week, the fall edition.  You can read all previous and current posts from the 1st Guest Blogger Week by clicking here.  Please let us know what you think below.  Interested in participating next time?  Contact me here!

Source: Written by Nani of  Take out with full credit. Images credited where due.

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  1. Loved this post! + Ended up reading you're entire paper about it, enlightened I feel -inner Yoda-

  2. I think there's a fine line between "fitting ideals" and "being happy". Sure, some people get surgery to fit the ideals and thereby become more attractive to whom ever they'd like to attract - what do I know - but I feel that we should give everyone the space, they need, to aim for what makes them happy with themselves. ^__^)/

  3. Thank you for reading! ^3^)/

  4. The issue with plastic surgery is that every time you go "under the knife", you put your life at risk. The biggest complications usually revolve under anesthesia, however there can be many post-op complications too. People do die under cosmetic plastic surgery, and it could be argued that if that person gave less fucks about their appearance (hence not having the surgery), they would still be alive. Looks "to die for" can be taken quite literally.

    That's not say that plastic surgery should never be done - sometimes fixing that feature of your body/face can help someone's self esteem immensely. And people have the right to do whatever the fuck they want to themselves.

    In Korea, however, there is a lot of societal pressure to have those "ideal features" that you explored above, but there is also a cultural acceptance to put yourself at risk to "look good." This could be because they are not aware of the dangers of plastic surgery, or that the pressure/desire to look "good" far outweighs their own lives.

    Compared to a Western society, there is a lot more resistance against plastic surgeries. This does not mean Western cultures are exempt from beauty ideals. Alternatively it just leads to this hypocritical, unrealistic attitude; YOU MUST BE BORN BEAUTIFUL. If you're ugly you're ridiculed, if you change your face to be "beautiful", you're ridiculed again; fucked if you do, fucked if you don't. But at least people are encouraged to consider other options before pursuing plastic surgery.

    Surgery is a big deal, and cosmetic plastic surgery is an (arguably) avoidable big deal. It could be argued that compared to Korea, Western cultures value health/living over aesthetics - however, at the expense of your self esteem.

    Just saying.

  5. South korea plastic surgery Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with extra information? It is extremely helpful for me.


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