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Two Eyes in the Mirror Discusses Beauty in Korea, Part 5: Discussion and Conclusion

22 Apr

This is the fifth in a series of five guest posts by the delightful Ashley from Two Eyes in the Mirror, discussing Beauty in Korea. Different phenomenons, crazes, stats and the beauty dictatorship. You can see a list of contents in the introduction post. What do you think? 

Beauty in Korea: Discussion and Conclusion

 Our Beauty in Korea series has covered many things. We’ve learned about skin lightening, double eyelid creases, thinness, and small faces. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Koreans regularly undergo more surgeries which we haven’t discussed here, including rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, calf reduction surgery, and forehead augmentation. It is hard to understand why Korea is so wrapped up in physical appearances unless one has experienced it firsthand. Both Amy and myself attempted to talk to Koreans, Korean immigrants, and Korean Americans to get their perspectives.

Why? To Appear More Western.
One Korean woman Amy spoke with, who had double eyelid surgery when she was much younger, said she, “understands why many women have surgery or use various techniques to try and look more ‘Western’–it’s no wonder considering what a global superpower America is.” She recognizes, however, that not all people think like this, and many are not trying to look “not Korean.”

A “Foreigner” in Korea
As a Caucasian Westerner in South Korea, Amy finds herself having difficulty fitting into clothing, mainly because of her larger chest. She finds many people comment on her chest, using shocked, yet complimenting voices. Her students are envious of her “‘glamorous’ body, curly hair, long eyelashes, small face, and big eyes.” When told that they, along with all their Korean features, are beautiful, they reply with, “Yes, maybe we are beautiful, but you are more beautiful.”

Why? …What?
One Korean woman, who immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, had no idea what I meant when asked about the cultural standards of beauty in Korea. She did acknowledge that some of her relatives have undergone surgical procedures in Korea, supposedly because it is cheap there. At first I was a bit shocked: how could she not know about the emphasis on beauty in Korea?! But, after thinking about it, it makes sense: she left Korea in the 70s. Plastic surgery was unheard of for the common Korean. Even beauty pageant queens looked different, according to one article. 1 From this, we can understand that beauty standards have changed quite recently.

Why? What Others Say
There is high speculation among everyone whether Koreans change their appearance to become more Westernized or if they do it for some other reason. Some credit it to Korea’s conformist nature: Korean citizens see that the most successful people in the world are thin, have double eyelids, etc. They watch their celebrities go in for cosmetic surgery and come out looking more “beautiful.” So, naturally they want to do it too. 2

Of course, there is no way to determine the real cause of Korea’s fixation with physical appearance. Korean citizens and outsiders may have their opinions, but in the end, they are merely speculations. So, what do you think? Why is Korea so obsessed with appearance?


Two Eyes in the Mirror Discusses Beauty in Korea, Part 4: Thin Is In.

21 Apr

This is the fourth in a series of five guest posts by the delightful Ashley from Two Eyes in the Mirror, discussing Beauty in Korea. Different phenomenons, crazes, stats and the beauty dictatorship. You can see a list of contents in the introduction post. Come back tomorrow for part five!

Im Ji Hye: 49kg (108 lbs) @ 172cm (5’5″) 1

Hwang Mi Hee: 51kg (112 lbs) @ 174cm (5’7″) 2

Kang Seung-hyun was the first Asian winner of the Ford Supermodel of the World contest held in 2008. She is 178cm (5’10”) and weighs 51kg (112 lbs). 3

What do all of these girls have in common besides being Korean models? They’re all technically underweight, with B.M.I.’s ranging from 16.1-16.8 (anything under 18.5 is considered underweight). Of course, you might expect this of supermodels, but the thin trend extends into the general Korean public, too.

The “Lines”
Korea has invented terms that refer to the ideal body/face “line.” As mentioned previously, the desired “V-line” is a slim face that tapers down to a point at the chin. There are even face rollers designed to help transform one’s face into a V-line face (some Koreans swear by them, although experts say they don’t have any effect on the face).

Lee Seung Gi rolls his face on a television program. 4

Women want the ideal “S-line” body shape, which refers to how a woman’s body may look if viewed from the side: ample bust and butt but a very slim waist (think of the much-desired “Hourglass figure” in western culture). There’s also the dreaded D-line (a fat belly) and B-line (big bust and big abdomen), along with a host of other terms. Check this out for more information!

An advertisement for an “S-line” body shape. 5

Eating Disorders & Extreme Weight Loss
Eating disorders are on the rise in Asia. While people are starving from famine in North Korea, South Koreans are purposely not eating because thin is in. Liposuction surgeons have popped up in the capital, and diet pills, cellulite creams, and weight loss teas are becoming increasingly popular. 6 In the past, Koreans went to obesity clinics because they were, in fact, obese, and wanted to eliminate fat for health reasons. These days, more and more young people are going to these clinics wishing to get rid of the fat along their chest, back, thigh, and buttocks so they can look more stylish in their clothing. 7. Some clinics agree to perform surgeries on people of normal weight in order to collect insurance reimbursements. 7

For people who want to be stylish, being thin isn’t just a desire, it’s a necessity. A lot of fashionable Korean clothing only comes in one or two sizes–roughly extra, extra small and extra small–around the equivalent to American sizes 0, 2, and 4. 8 Many “foreigners” have a difficult time finding clothing in Korea that fits them because of the sizing. In fact, these trousers are a size extra, extra-large.

From what you’ve read here, who do you think is more concerned with appearance: South Korea or the “western world”? Would you ever consider weight-loss surgery if you were not obese?

Two Eyes in the Mirror Discusses Beauty in Korea, Part 3: The Small-Face Phenomenon.

20 Apr

This is the third in a series of five guest posts by the delightful Ashley from Two Eyes in the Mirror, discussing Beauty in Korea. Different phenomenons, crazes, stats and the beauty dictatorship. You can see a list of contents in the introduction post. Come back tomorrow for part four!

Beauty in Korea: the Small-Face Phenomenon

This is part three in a five-post series about Beauty in Korea. You can see a list of contents in the introduction post.

In Korea–for reasons no one seems to understand–the smaller your face is, the more beautiful you are considered. Koreans commonly believe that a small face photographs extremely well, and most celebrities in Korea do have smaller faces. 1

Koh Ara, a model and actress, has a 17cm face.2 How big is yours?

Jaw Reduction Surgery
Jaw shaving, or jaw reduction surgery, is a surgical procedure that involves making the traditionally-wide Korean face smaller. This involves shaving down the chin and cheek bones or removing fat. 3 The chin can be reshaped into the desired “V-line,” or, if totally underdeveloped in the first place, a chin augmentation can be performed using a chin implant. Oval or round face shapes are not ideal; a heart-shaped face is considered the most beautiful.

Also available is a non-surgical jaw reduction that involves injecting Botox into the jaw muscle. When injected overtime, the Botox weakens the strength of the muscle and ultimately reduces the size of this muscle. This is much less risky than “jaw shaving.” 4

These are before and after pictures of a girl who underwent “square jaw reduction” in Seoul.5

Many Korean celebrities have had numerous plastic surgery procedures, including jaw reduction (although many do not admit it). Here are some before and after pictures of famous Korean celebrities:

Kim Ah Joong

Park Min Yeong

Korean announcer

Sneaky Photo Tricks
We’ve all read those crazy tips on how to look thin in photos. Well, Koreans have some tips of their own, only they use these tricks to make their face appear smaller in photos.

You can simply lean back a bit so your face is behind the other person’s in the picture, making yours appear smaller by nature…

Or you can just cover up half your face with your hands. 6

Do you think a small face is more beautiful? What would you be more apt to try: surgical jaw reduction or sneaky photo tricks? Neither? What about liposuction or a sneaky photo trick?

Two Eyes in the Mirror Discusses Beauty in Korea, Part 2: The Eyes Have It

19 Apr

This is the second in a series of five guest posts by the delightful Ashley from Two Eyes in the Mirror, discussing Beauty in Korea. Different phenomenons, crazes, stats and the beauty dictatorship. You can see a list of contents in the introduction post. Come back tomorrow for part three! 

Beauty in Korea: The Eyes Have It

Eyes are a big deal in Korea (no pun intended). Many Koreans are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve the “ideal eye,” including having their eyes surgically altered and trying out new, potentially dangerous contacts. What is the ideal eye, you ask? It’s large, round, and has a crease.

“Asian Eyelid Surgery”
“Asian Eyelid Surgery,” also known as “East Asian blepharoplasty” or “Double Eyelid surgery,” is the most common cosmetic surgery operation in Korea. About one in two Asians already have a naturally-occurring crease, which leaves the other half with crease-less “single eyelids.” The surgery involves reshaping the skin around the monolid-eye to create a crease, thus changing the single eyelid to a double eyelid. The procedure ranges from $1000 to $4500. It is not a dangerous surgery if performed by an expert plastic surgeon, although it can leave scarring and swelling.  It is a purely cosmetic procedure.

Before & After Asian Eyelid Surgery 1

Double Eyelid surgery is not just contained to Korea. It is popular in other Asian countries, too, and the procedure is also offered in the US. A disproportionate amount of Asian celebrities have likely had the procedure done, including Ziyi Zhang, Ayumi Hamasaki, and Jackie Chan (although they might not be too keen to admit it!).

Asian Eyelid surgery is sometimes accompanied by epicanthoplasty, which removes the epicanthic fold.  The epicanthic fold is the skin fold of the upper eyelid that covers the inner corner of the eye.  This is what gives some Asians the appearance of having narrower, more almond-shaped eyes than other ethnicities.

The Epicanthal Fold, from minimal, to moderate, to prominent 2

But wait…why do epicanthic folds exist?
One hypothesis is that it is due to the climate.  Sunlight reflects more intensely off light colored surfaces, like snow and deserts.  The theory states that the eyelid of some Asians adapted to this environment in an attempt to protect the eyes from extra ultra-violent radiation and other harsh weather conditions, like wind and freezing temperatures.

Double Eyelid Glues & Tapes
In case surgery is a little too committal (or not in the budget), double eyelid glue and double eyelid tape has been invented. An 11 oz bottle of Ipum double eyelid glue costs about $10, and you can find it on If used properly, one can transform a single eyelid into a double eyelid–until the make-up comes off, at least.

Circle Contact Lenses
Circle contact lenses, also known as big eye contact lenses, were invented in South Korea. These contacts have a color covering the majority of the contact lens, which causes the color to go beyond the iris, which manipulates the ratio between eye and iris. This gives the appearance of a larger iris. They come in a variety of colors and are used as a fashion accessory, mostly by teenagers, to create an anime-esque look.

Circle Contact Lenses are available to purchase here

Circle contact lenses were almost exclusive to East Asian countries until Lady Gaga debuted big eyes in multiple scenes of her “Bad Romance” video. Although it is likely that Gaga’s eyes were digitally altered for the video, many teenagers and college-aged students try to recreate her look using these circle contact lenses. There are some concerns because, in most cases, these lenses are being sold without an approval from health services and could potentially lead to blindness. 3

Lady Gaga in the “Bad Romance” video

Is there any feature on your body that you would put all this time and effort into changing? What if it was risky?

Guest post from Ashley at Two Eyes in the Mirror: Beauty in Korea

18 Apr

This is the first in a series of five guest posts by the delightful Ashley from Two Eyes in the Mirror, discussing beauty in Korea. Different phenomenons, crazes, stats and the beauty dictatorship. Come back tomorrow for part two!

Beauty in Korea: An Introduction & Skin Lightening

If you live in the so-called “Western World,” you know that, much of the time, the “ideal appearance” of a woman is akin to a Mattel Barbie doll: blonde hair, blue eyes, and big boobs. Being tall, thin, and tan doesn’t hurt, either. Plastic surgery is common in the United States, with operations for breast enlargement leading the pack, followed by lipsuction. 1 We often hear debates about celebrities and their plastic surgery adventures. Did Lindsay get a boob job? How much surgery did Megan Fox have? Did Tyra Banks have her nose done? We listen to it all the time. But could you imagine living in a culture where plastic surgery was the norm for just about everyone? Meet Korea.

Estimates range that 50-75% of South Korean women in their 20s have undergone some form of cosmetic surgery. 1, 2 Researchers have found that 8 out of 10 women over the age of 18 feel that they need plastic surgery to improve their appearance. 3 These “facts” may be somewhat exaggerated, but it is no secret that many, many Koreans are fixated on their appearance. Most celebrities have gone under the knife, and instead of discussing whether Pamela Anderson got her boobs done again, Koreans are debating whether Kim Ah Joong had her jaw surgically reduced or if Kim Yu-Na (remember the winter Olympics last year?) could possibly be so naturally beautiful.

Welcome to a series of posts focused on Korean Beauty. Throughout the week, we will be focusing on various topics related to the cultural standard of beauty in Korea. None of these posts are meant to be conclusive discussions of the matter; the issues are far too complex for that. The posting schedule will be as follows:

  • Part 1: Introduction & Skin Lightening
  • Part 2: “The Eyes Have It:” Big Eyes in Korea
  • Part 3: The Small-Face Phenomenon
  • Part 4: Thin is In
  • Part 5: Discussion and Conclusion

We’re going to jump right in today and begin discussing skin lightening.

Why Light?

According to research, in the tradition of Korean shamanism, white skin is respected. Korean shamanism-legend has it that the first superhuman was born white. People with white skin in Korea have long been thought of as “noble,” and Koreans have been trying to lighten their skin since the Koyrŏ dynasty, which began around the year 918. 4

You’ve likely heard in one of your history classes that, in the past, being tan was associated with being poor, since poor people worked in the fields under the hot sun, thus bronzing their skin. The upper class, however, stayed happily inside or in the shade, allowing their skin to remain the palest shade of white. Although this has changed in modern-day Western culture (tanning booth, anyone?), it has not changed in Korea, and the media only supports this notion. 5 A survey found that most advertisements for beauty products in Korea featured a light-skinned, Caucasian model. 6 Girls as young as preschool-age already have it embedded into their minds that dark is ugly and white is beautiful. 7

Korean celebrities at SK-II Whitening “Celebration” Party. SK-II products can be found at Saks Fifth Avenue.

How to Skin Lighten

Skin lightening is an estimated $18 billion market in Asia. Some surveys estimate that 4 in 10 women in Asian countries use a skin lightening cream. Lightening the skin can be achieved in several ways.  Creams are one popular option, as are pills, laser treatments, and injections.  This is not risk-free; some poorer women use illegal chemicals to whiten their skin, which harm and disfigure them, and even some of the government-sanctioned skin lightening products contain dangerous levels of mercury. In addition, skin lightening can cause the loss of melanin, which leaves the skin more susceptible to skin damage and cancer. 8, 9

Putting it in Perspective
In the United States, the indoor tanning industry is worth an estimated $5 billion. 10 The population of the U.S. is about 310 million, so you can roughly figure that 2 out of any 10 U.S. women go tanning, as opposed to the 4 out of 10 women that use skin lightening cream in Asian countries. Although statistics are not available for Korea, the skin lightening market in neighboring Japan was worth about $6 billion in 2001, whose population is around 125 million. The skin lightening market in Korea is growing by at least 10% every year. 11 The bottom line? Koreans spend a lot of money on skin lightening products and procedures.

Do you care about how tan or light you are? Would you spend your money on products to make your skin darker or lighter? How far would you go?