"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Feminine Beauty–The Case Of South Korea

The female form has been idolized for millennia.  The picture below The Venus of Willendorf dates from 24,000 BCE.

More familiar are the images of Greek and Roman women, none more well-known than the Venus de Milo


More recent are those by Velazquez, Goya, and Rubens shown respectively, below

Painters and sculptors have found the female form to be alluring and symbolic of Nature’s beauty.  Shakespeare wrote of beauty in the same way, when he wrote of his Dark Lady.  His later Sonnets are reflections on her beauty and on Nature’s beauty. Sonnet 127 is his first in a series:
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
But now is black beauty's successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature's power,
Fairing the foul with art's false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland'ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
There has been no decline in male appreciation of female beauty over the centuries, and today’s popular magazines – both for women and men – display the current cultural ideal:

Image result for images cover gentlemen's quarterly   

The difference today is that ‘objectification’ of women as sexual objects is a big issue.  Men should stop looking at women through a jaded sexual lens and see them for what they are – intelligent, caring, whatever; and women should stop expressing themselves in the very fashion that highlights their sexual nature.
Women in America are still schizophrenic about the whole brains-and-beauty thing.  If the popular culture is any indication, they want to look sexy, alluring, and irresistible; but somehow want men to ignore this display.  Some cultures, like Italy, seem to have balanced the two.  When an attractive woman gets in an elevator in Rome, men are anything but indifferent.  Rather than look up at the ceiling or peck away at their I-Phones like their American counterparts, Roman men will look admiringly at her clothes, her hair, her shoes, her makeup, and her figure.  They – the woman and her male admirers – have no problem getting off on the same floor and working together.

In The Atlantic (5.25.13) Zara Stone writes of what she calls the ‘self-racism’ of Korean women who are opting for cosmetic surgery at four times the rate of American women – one in five Korean women will submit to the procedure to look Western.  They want less Asian-looking eyelids, and more Western-looking faces.  In other words, lose the round face, the flat nose, and the slanty eyes. Below, form Stone’s article are pictures of Miss Korea 1960 and the winner of 2012.


This transformation is particularly complicated because it in fact is modeled after a very Asian ideal – the anime girl:

It isn’t so much that Korean women want to look like Western women; but that they want to look like anime women who look like Western woman – an important difference.

The American feminist-inspired assumption is that millions of young Korean women have been mindlessly seduced by the West, the media, and by popular culture.  They are mutilating themselves to adhere to a current cultural standard of beauty.  Of course there is nothing new in this:

However, Korean culture is complex.  There is an extremely high premium placed on work, family, intellectual achievement, and success for both men and women; and that current standards for beauty – rightly or wrongly – are important ingredients for female achievement:
"There's a real problem when you make generalizations about a whole country full of women, that they're all culturally duped," [a Korean-American professor at NYU] said in an interview. "There are certain economic situations happening in Korea and America that might impel different choices. We -- Americans -- might not see plastic surgery on the same level here that we see in Korea. But we do see people looking to the consumer market for help in their personal lives. Weigh that through an economic framework, and it's what you're seeing in Korea today."
Korean society, like most, has placed a high value on feminine beauty; and has unashamedly kept it as a criterion for hiring.  When applying for a job, a woman’s physical appearance is very much taken into consideration.  The assessment is upfront and center; and the only difference between Korea and America is that the Koreans admit that they assess a woman’s appearance and Americans do not.  However, it is well-known that we, like any other cultural group, will take beautiful, well-dressed, poised, confident women over ugly ones – regardless of professional qualifications – any day of the year.  American employers just won’t – and can’t – admit it.

So, what are we Americans to make of this Korean cultural trend? Koreans have their own standards for female beauty which have changed over the years, just like those in America.  Beauty is important for Koreans as well as for Americans, and both cultures celebrate it.  Both cultures do their share of ‘mutilation whether body piercings, tattoos, nose jobs, breast augmentation, or eyelid modification; and both cultures always express a preference for beautiful people over ugly ones.

Is it the numbers that disturb us – 20 percent of Korean women opting for plastic surgery does seem a lot?  It shouldn’t, because Korean society is far more homogeneous than ours; and we have white, black, Asian, Latino, Arab, Native American standards to deal with.  Not everyone wants thicker lips, straighter hair, or less slanty eyes. Is it what appears to be a slavish obsession with beauty?  Not with our own beauty fetish.  It can only be the unholy link between beauty and professional advancement; but as I have mentioned above, ours is a very hypocritical, holier-than-thou view.  Why does Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo get so much attention?  Check out her picture below:

Or why did President Obama say that California had the most beautiful Attorney General in the United States? Check out her picture, below:

Korea-bashing on the subject of female beauty is a little disingenuous to say the least, if not hypocritical.

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