Or rather, feeling beautiful matters. Before I came to South Korea everyone kept saying I was doomed. Cause of the North Korea crisis you ask? No. The difference in food? No. Navigating the culture norms? Nope. I was doomed because I didn’t fit the “Korean Beauty Standard”. All the beauty/makeup Youtube channels (even now) are constantly flooded with in depth questions about what makes one beautiful in South Korea. Well I can tell you having porcelain skin is one; nearly every sheet mask happily offers to whiten “dull” “dark” skin. Even products that have a completely different objective include whitening agents so that when skincare shopping, all the fine print must be read. Unfortunately, the “pale skin” standard even extends to children; where I once walked into a group of students taunting a darker skinned boy, calling him “dirty.”
Another “standard” is having the V shaped chin. Yet another is being skinny (stick- figure- I -drew- in -first grade -skinny). Or having straight hair. It goes on and on.
Even once I got here, I didn’t realize how these beauty ideals could affect ones emotional state until something happened in class.
I’m an elementary school teacher and for one week I taught a group of 3rd-4th graders camp; the theme was “Avatar : The Last Airbender” ( a spectacular kids show). In one particular activity the kids were to look at two pictures, a villian(Zuko) and a hero( Katara); then use adjectives to describe them.
The instant I showed Katara hands shot up describing her has “bad” “evil” and “mean”. For Zuko it was “cool” “nice” and “good”. I was puzzled until the students explained that “Katara was bad” because she was ‘ugly” and she was ugly because she was “dark.” The opposite was true of Zuko.
When I asked the kids why Katara was “bad” for having dark skin they calmly explained because she could use plastic surgery or whitening cream to change what she was born with and make herself beautiful.
As I searched the kids faces it struck me that they weren’t being cruel; to them it was simply a matter of fact. To them the standards were everywhere and it already informed how they saw people. They truly believed that in this society being “beautiful” meant being treated better, thus being better. Being good.
I knew about these standards; knew I didn’t and wouldn’t fit.
But I also knew that as a black woman with curly natural hair and a bit of extra “protective fat”; I couldn’t hide. Nor did I want to.
I knew unless I reminded myself (and others) that I am beautiful even if I don’t fit “Korean Beauty”; I’d slip into believing I wasn’t good. Thinking I don’t matter.
So here’s a video for anyone living in Korea who’s starting to doubt their beauty. You are beautiful. The standards are ridiculous. Don’t let your fear of being “other” stop you from enjoying life.💖 #peace
Comments by Mika