An Eye-Opening Experience

:

I know that, as a Westerner, I have different ingrained cultural norms, concepts of polite behavior, and ideas about what is socially acceptable than many Koreans.  During my year here, I have tried to remember that I am a guest in someone else’s culture, and that I should respect their ideas and practices.  Ric and I try to be culturally mindful and polite whenever possible.

But I’m about to throw all that out the window and have a good ol’ fashioned American freakout here for a minute.   You’ve been warned.

I know that, as a Westerner, I have different ingrained cultural norms, concepts of polite behavior, and ideas about what is socially acceptable than many Koreans.  During my year here, I have tried to remember that I am a guest in someone else’s culture, and that I should respect their ideas and practices.  Ric and I try to be culturally mindful and polite whenever possible.

But I’m about to throw all that out the window and have a good ol’ fashioned American freakout here for a minute.   You’ve been warned.

I have known for a long time that South Korea is possibly the most image-obsessed country in the world.  Women totter down the street here with impossibly high heels on and impeccable makeup even during the dog days.  Korea is one of only two countries in the world where it’s legal to require a photograph on a job application. Fashion is a big deal here, and Friday night dates to the movies often look like Milan runway shows–for both genders.  And, something like 80 percent of the Korean adult population has had some kind of plastic surgery.  

This has taken me a little getting used to.  While I value taking care of my body, looking put together, and (as explained in my last post) having cute clothes, I’ve never really hopped on the high fashion, high maintenance bandwagon.  My makeup routine on a normal day consists of a little mascara and maybe some lip balm. And my hair has been pulled up in a still-wet-from-the-shower messy bun ever since it got too hot to wear it long.  While I can admire style, I just can’t get it together enough to figure out how to do all that stuff on a regular basis and still get the amount of sleep I need to function.  (Confession:  My daughter taught me how to apply eyeliner, and after three years of practice, I still suck at it.  Probably because my idea of practicing is dragging all my makeup supplies out then begging her to do it for me.)

Obviously, I have some preconceived notions about how far one should go to pursue physical beauty.  So I try not to judge when my coworkers come in with Botox patches attached to their cheeks.  And I keep my mouth shut when our parents pull 10-13 year old children out of their English lessons to send them to fat camps where they whittle their (not very substantial) weights down to something more socially acceptable.  

But plastic surgery on a nine year old is where I draw the line.  One of my beginner English students came in to school today with her eyes still stitched and Vasolined from the plastic surgery she underwent this weekend.  

Blepharoplasty, a procedure that reshapes the eye to give you a creased double eyelid, is the most common surgical procedure here in Korea.  Most women here have had it because most Koreans are born without a double eyelid.  (The single eyelid, combined with their almond shape, is what makes Asian eyes look, well, Asian.)  

I have all kind of personal issues with this surgery in general.  I am generally wary of the kind of blind pursuit of white beauty that gets forced on so many women (and men) of color in our society.  I wish we lived in a world that was more about encouraging people to find and celebrate the things about them that are unique and beautiful–be it African-American curly hair, a curvy Latin figure, or those exotic Asian eyes.  However, I also know that it’s easy and a little hypocritical to lecture about pursuing beauty when you’re lucky enough to be born with the very traits most of these processes seek to emulate, like straight hair and eyelids that crease naturally.  I know that adult women are perfectly capable of making their own decisions with regard to their appearance, and that American culture is certainly no stranger to unnecessary medical procedures in the pursuit of beauty, whether those take the form of braces or boob jobs.  

And maybe signing your nine year old up for eyelid surgery is no worse than deciding your adolescent needs braces so her smile will be prettier.  But from where I’m standing, it sure feels a lot more invasive. I mean, what gives you the right to decide that your nine year old is ugly enough to warrant surgical alteration?   And it feels like I live in a culture that sends children, particularly girls, the message that the features were born with simply aren’t good enough.  Is that really how any culture should be raising its daughters?  

 

Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Beauty, Creeped Out, Korea



Leave a Comment