Monday, May 23, 2011

that big nose you've got is sexy


This, ladies and gentlemen, is my nose. I'm going to have to admit that it's not my favorite feature. It's not a 'cute' or 'pert' little nose by any means, and it's verging on Roman. And that ridiculous bump at the top? Well, luckily my glasses sit atop that and disguise it from public view. This is the sort of nose that fashion and beauty obsessed women in the US might consider altering via plastic surgery... but not so here in Korea.

My students are incredibly impressed by my 'high nose' and often compliment me on it. ("Oh teacher! Your nose is so high! So beautiful!") No, they're not being sarcastic - a high nose is considered a mark of beauty in Korea. I've had several students ask me in all seriousness if I've had plastic surgery to get my nose this high. Plastic surgery? To give myself a big nose? Really? Yes. This is a hugely common surgery in South Korea.

Plastic surgery is very common in this country, and it's fairly affordable - much more so than in the US. I once heard the tale of an American here teaching English who availed herself of the affordable plastic surgery and had all sorts of work done... except a nose job. She, like many a large-nosed American female, wanted a cute, pert, little nose. She was told they didn't know how to do that - they made noses bigger, not smaller.

Having what many Western women consider to be a "big nose" is not the only Western feature that is considered a beauty standard here in Korea. Two other biggies of beauty are big eyes and white skin.

Most Asians (and, as such, most Koreans) do not have the double-folded eyelids that nearly all Westerners are born with. This gives them almond-shaped eyes - which many Westerners view as exotic. Oh, how the grass is always greener. Here in Korea (and across Asia, apparently) having plastic surgery to create an artificial double eyelid and make the eyes bigger is incredibly popular. It is a common high-school graduation gift from parents to their children. Here in Korea, 'beautiful people' are considered more likely to succeed - parents give their kids this gift, hoping that it will give them the extra edge they need to be successful in this hyper-competitive society. (Here's a link to before and after pics, so you'll see what I'm talking about.) Middle and high school students (and those without the funds for plastic surgery) often resort to various glue products to give the double eyelid effect. I have one student who glues some sort of cosmetic strip along her eyelid to give the effect of a double eyelid.

White skin is also considered beautiful. I'd say the two most common advertisements on television are for fast-cash loans and skin bleach products. When buying makeup, lotion, or sunscreen in Korea, already light-skinned folk such as myself must be careful to make sure said products don't include a bleaching agent, as many, many do.

One thing I love about Korea is the fact that I can walk down the street and be stopped by strangers - both men and women - who want to tell me that I'm beautiful. I know what they mean is I'm thin, have a big nose, white skin, and double eyelids... but it's always a boost to the ego nonetheless! That being said, one aspect of Korea that I've never been able to wrap my head around (despite four lengthy trips to this country) is the fact that on the one hand Koreans are incredibly proud of the Korean Race, and of their culture and heritage... and yet the standard of beauty is, essentially, a white woman. (Not to mention the 30,000+ native English speakers that are imported every year to teach English to Korean school kids, but that's a topic for another day.)

A young American documentary filmmaker named Kelley Katzenmeyer is making a documentary on the lives of Korean high school students. She had initially intended to make it a documentary on the academic pressures placed on Korean students (again, a topic for another day) - but after living in Korea and attending a Korean high school, she has decided to change the focus of her documentary to include the beauty-pressures placed on Korean girls. Check it out! She's on kickstarter, hoping to get funded. I'd love to see this documentary made, and I kicked in $25. You should, too.

1 comment:

Eve said...

I'm glad I found this blog post -- the Korean "beauty myth" mystifies me as well.

I did contribute to that film -- am glad I did. Really looking forward to it.