Looking Good Matters: The Quest for Beauty Perfection

Posted on April 6, 2011

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A plastic surgery advertisement in a Seoul subway station. Source: Naver

by Hyejin Jeon

– Appearance can be as important as one’s capacity on a resume.

– Employers insist that discrimination based on appearance has been abolished on the surface, but continue to adhere to lookism when making hiring decisions.

Many words have more than one meaning. In Korean society, appearance does not simply mean physical looks. It can also represent one’s ability and social status. The majority of Korean society seems to agree with this idea.

Chinese-Canadian Sharon Kwan, 28, expressed her opinion about lookism in Korea. “Koreans, especially Korean women, are under pressure to have a well-developed body, slim thighs, and smooth skin. The atmosphere of accepting this kind of idea in society pushes us women into dieting even if we are foreigners and do not share that same concept of beauty,” she said.

In fact, a recent survey found that 60 percent of Korean women in their twenties have dieted although the majority of them are of normal weight (44.1 percent) or underweight (52.1 percent). Also, 34.2 percent of female college students and 50.3 percent of female high school students say that they are willing to have plastic surgery to improve their looks.

Some people insist that pursuing beauty perfection is human nature, but the phenomena of dieting and unnecessary cosmetic surgery arise from the social expectation to do so rather than to satisfy themselves. People who come under cultural pressure to express one’s worth using their appearance are more likely to be critical of their appearance. Improving their appearance is not a personal desire but a sort of social duty to get a good job, make more money, or find a mate.

“I don’t know why I think like this, but women who are slim are more beautiful. That is kind of a fact. I think everyone agrees with this idea and beautiful women can get lots of benefit in various ways. So there is no other choice,” said 24-year-old college student Aera-Oh, who registered for a three month diet program that cost $1800 dollars. She said that the only reason she was willing to endure spending a huge amount of money for beauty was so she could be slim.

In recent years, Korean men have also been put under pressure to look good. Metrosexuality and ubersexuality are quite familiar concepts in Korea. Male job-seeker Myungsik Kim said that developing one’s appearance is not just for women anymore.

“I heard that according to psychologists, one’s physical appearance makes up 55 percent of a first impression. That matters for guys as well, especially for people who want to get a job like me,” said Kim. “Some of my guy friends go to skin clinics and diet just like women. I know that pressure related with appearance affects women more, but there is no exception for men anymore in Korean society.”

This social atmosphere is strengthened by two factors. One is the capitalization of the body and the other is the choice of people to minimize their losses in a looks-conscious society. Those two factors are interconnected.

Currently, it is difficult to deny that we are judged by our appearance. Media often show that good looks are the most important thing in life. This fact means that Korea has to deal with lookism in our society not just as an aesthetic issue but also as a legal and political issue.

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