South Korea is fascinated with fashion and physique

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South Korea is fascinated with fashion and physique

Skin Food is a popular cosmetics company in South Korea.

Skin Food is a popular cosmetics company in South Korea.

Alan Rose

Skin Food is a popular cosmetics company in South Korea.

Alan Rose

Alan Rose

Skin Food is a popular cosmetics company in South Korea.

Jasmin Ruiz, Reporter

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South Korea is known as the Land of the Morning Calm, but its fashion capital, Seoul, never sleeps. It’s easy to see that fashion is important, and at first glance it might appear that Koreans have unique looks of their own. However, there is one particular trend that is common among many South Koreans.

“As I observed, Koreans prefer to look like white people,” said Caroline Luo, an exchange student from China who was studying at Chonnam National University in Gwangju this past summer. “That is why Korean girls like to use BB cushions to make their skin as white as possible.”

Korean culture values lighter skin. Just like having a fancy car or nice apartment, having white skin is a way of showing that you are high class. Many girls and women wear makeup with sunscreen in it so they don’t burn, and others wear makeup that makes their skin whiter. Skin Food is a popular cosmetic store in Korea. Their cosmetics include bright colors and beautiful shades of pinks and reds, but they also carry a popular foundation that only comes in two light shades.

Other Koreans choose to change their looks permanently. Plastic surgery is booming in South Korea, and it’s common to see people wearing face bandages as they heal from recent surgery.

“Plastic surgery is starting to get normal,” Minju Kim, a graduate student studying at Seoul National University, said. “I see a lot of my friends doing cosmetic surgery.”

Double eyelids, nose sculpting and lip enhancements are particularly popular modifications, and advertisements for plastic surgery are ubiquitous. The New Yorker recently reported that South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world, and children are increasingly requesting it. Kim said even though the surgery is becoming much more common, Koreans should spend more time considering the risks and potential consequences.

The intense focus on physical appearance affects men, as well. In addition to keeping up with the latest fashion trends, Korean popular culture expects men to maintain lean, fit physiques instead of bulking up.

“Females don’t like that and prefer the thin, muscled body,” Namgunghyeon, a university student in Gwangju, said.

Korean culture has been criticized for prizing a particular type of look and promoting homogeneity over individualism. However, the Seoul neighborhood of Itaewon stands out because it is different. It is one of the city’s international areas, where people from Africa, Europe, the Americas, and other parts of Asia live and work. Being different comes with the territory, and Itaewon is known as a place where people can purchase clothing and shoes in sizes much larger than what can be found in trendy Korean clothing stores. Still, larger body types can be a curiosity to folks on the street.

“When I first moved to Korea, I was almost 100 pounds heavier than I am now,” said Lisa Hellier, an English teacher and West Texas A&M journalism graduate who recently lived in Seoul. “So I definitely noticed stares from people.”

Hellier said when she first moved to Korea in 2013, people would stare at her, but she never understood if it was because of her body size or if it was because she was a foreigner. Her weight wasn’t the only issue, either; Hellier is taller than most of the Koreans she met. She admits that Korean culture has rubbed off on her a bit. She said she puts more effort into her skincare routine and thinks about her appearance more than she used to. But she says she lost weight because of Korea’s healthier lifestyle, not because of pressure to meet a particular body standard.

The author, back left, with some of her WTAsia2015 classmates in Seoul, South Korea.

The author, back left, with some of her WTAsia2015 travelers in Seoul, South Korea.

 

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