Escape the Corset: Koreans push back


Art by Accolade staff reporter Katherine Kim

Katherine Kim, Assistant Feature Editor

Behind all the trends surrounding South Korea, what people may not know is  how much emphasis Korea puts on the need to look presentable– no matter the price. Plastic surgery rates, celebrities and makeup all show how Koreans obsess over the concept of beauty.

South Korea is known for its beautiful celebrities and style, which are heavily influenced by Korean dramas and Korean pop. 

However, lookism–a tendency where people primarily judge others based on their physical appearance– has grown out of proportion. Now Koreans are encouraged to get plastic surgery to look a certain way; women spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fit the ideal definition of beauty.

According to an article from Business Insider, published on June 28, 2018, Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgeries per capita in the world with reportedly 22% of Korean women going under the knife. 

From the news article “’Escape the corset”: South Korean women rebel against strict beauty standards. Korean females who used to spend much of their effort and time on their looks are now dropping their makeup pouches and fighting against the unrealistic standards of Korean beauty. 

I came across this movement months ago, when youtuber Lina Bae uploaded a video stating that “it is okay to not be pretty.” Before this video, many Korean viewers had commented negative things about her appearance, exemplifying the normality of this toxic behavior. 

This harmful society, where children and adults are judged based on their looks, has been too much. I’m glad that South Koreans are partaking in the ‘Escape the corset’ movement.

As a Korean born and living in America, the need to constantly look presentable is definitely not as demanding as it would be in Korea. Being around Koreans as well as non-Koreans has opened my eyes to different beauty standards that each country has, and I certainly prefer the less judgemental American life.

For example, in South Korea, people with big eyes, a small face and v-shaped chins are considered more ideal and attractive. Although the want for these certain looks aren’t problematic, it becomes an issue when people begin to obsess over the ideal look and go to extreme measures to achieve them, which leads to more young Koreans feeling insecure. 

Listening to my friend’s story of an experience she had while visiting she visited South Korea truly shocked me. 

This close friend of mine, who I consider to be very pretty has a medical condition affecting her appearance. When she was walking on the streets of Korea, she was passed by a group of females in South Korea who commented rude remarks about her, calling her “ugly.” 

These unnecessary and negative judgements further showed me that Korea is a place full of unaccepting and overcritical people.

She opened up to me and told me that she would never expect to hear those kind of things in America, while she would constantly be wary about her looks in South Korea.

In addition, Youtube videos from Asian Boss, a channel that interviews people about their opinions on news and controversial topics, once asked native Koreans what the most ideal weight was for women and most said with an underweight answer.

Videos like these show why so many Korean women strive to look a certain way even if it becomes an unhealthy habit.

Along with these videos, I came across an online NPR article a few months ago addressing a favorable change that is taking shape in South Korea.

Titled, “ ‘Escape The Corset’ And Reject Their Country’s Beauty Ideals,” it profiles the work of South Korean photographer Jeon Bora, who has been exhibiting images of black-and-white photographic photos of young women.

Through her exhibitions, Bora seeks to document women who reject the country’s standards of beauty, by destroying their makeup and cutting their hair short, to show support for this feminist movement. Women are posting videos on social media and motivating others to do the same.

Her third such exhibit–open only to women–was housed in Seoul’s Gangnam district, known for fashion, according to the article.

When I first read this article I wasn’t too surprised because I already knew of the growing feminists in Korea. I thought it was good that young Korean women were starting to speak out.

The desire for people to present themselves as constantly perfect in South Korea is not just for confidence but because of the pressure in society. If a female were to come with no makeup to a workplace in South Korea, it would actually be deemed unprofessional and impolite.

This unhealthy environment has been something that has corrupted Korea for a long time, and it’s heartwarming to know things are starting to change. 

The anti-corset movement also challenges Koreans’ patriarchal views where the expectations for female beauty are much higher than those for men.

As someone growing up in Southern California, I don’t think that there is a need for this type of movement here. I believe that as of right now, South Korean society is a lot more judgmental and actually needs more of these types of movements.