Sunday, February 9, 2014

Small face > big face (in Korea)

I'd like to share a snippet of Korean culture/society, as illustrated during one of my winter camp classes. Some background information is required before I share the story, though.

Appearance is important in Korea. Plastic surgery is common and accepted, since Koreans seem to prefer the western look.  That is, "big eyes" (with lids), "small face" (V-shaped chin/jaw line), a long nose (not flat), and light-colored skin.  In most Koreans' eyes, that's pretty. That's what's attractive.  And if you're not born with it (which you won't be if you're Korean), there's nothing wrong with surgically changing it.

Big face, small face

During my first week in Korea, and various other times (like on picture day), my co-teacher said enviously, "Ohhh, your face is so small!" followed by a hopeless "My face is so big."

I looked at her face.  I think my co-teacher is quite gorgeous.  A big face? What does that mean? And how do I have a small face?  What does that mean?  My face is like yours!

But I guess it's not.

Korean appearance

I see Koreans all day every day, but many readers might not know what Koreans look like. No, I'm not stereotyping here; Koreans are very proud of their race, "one blood" is the phrase they like to use. And the Korean race does have a certain look.  So before I show you some before/after pictures of Korean plastic surgery, I want you to get a little familiar with what Koreans look like. Pay extra attention to the faces:

Source: New York Times

Source: Asia Society

65th Korean Independence Day; Seoul, 2010
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Before/After: Korean plastic surgery

Korean hospitals advertise for plastic surgery all over: on sides of buses, on TV, on billboards, etc. Take a look at some before and afters to see the trend:

Korean plastic surgery before/after
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Korean plastic surgery before/after
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Korean plastic surgery before/after
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Korean plastic surgery before/after

Ladies aren't the only ones who get plastic surgery; men do as well:

Korean plastic surgery before/after
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Kpop celebrities

You can almost bet that all k-pop (Korean pop) stars have had plastic surgery. 

Exo (K-pop group)
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Can you see it? The "small" V-shaped chin/jaw, the big eyes, the nose, the paler face?

Girls Generation (K-pop group)
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One of the many reasons I'm glad to be in an elementary school is that you don't see the importance of appearance very much.  It's not absent, but it's also not like my teacher friends' high school classes where girls constantly have out mirrors and brushes.  Or so I thought.

Small face at winter camp

Now flash back a month to my English winter camp.  I was with my class of third and fourth graders, and it was the day that we traveled to Spain. The students were coloring in their paper bull fighter dolls and I saw this:

Korean child draws small face

Here's a close-up:

Korean child draws small face

She did not color the whole face! She made it "small" and more V-shaped.  When I stopped to look, the student told me "Big face, ugly!"

I looked at another student and she had done the same. 

Korean child draws small face

A few minutes later when I made my way back around to the first student's paper, I saw she had now made his eyes big, too:

Korean child draws small face

Incredible and sad that it's already ingrained into their minds at this young age.

Have you had any similar classroom experiences in Korea?


Psst, if you're going to teach English in Korea, make sure you know how to order delicious food while living there!
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8 comments:

  1. Based on your profile pic, your face looks quite big to me. Not that there's something wrong with it...

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    1. Hah yeah, I never considered myself to have a "small face" before I was told that I did over and over again in Korea. The concept is something that hardly exists in the other cultures/societies in which I've lived.

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  2. omg girl! i live in Vietnam, I am Vietnamese of course, and tons of people keep telling me how big my face is and i should do something to make it smaller (like changing hairstyles or even plastic surgery! crazy, i know). Small face is just not a thing in Korea alone but I guess it's Asian preference, they like girls with V-line jaw and smaller face, big eyes and pale skin. I personally think my big face is pretty enough haha and that I wouldn't change a thing! In my view, I don't want me to look the same as every other girl out there and so i choose to embrace my differences, not follow the so called "beauty trend". I think all girls are beautiful, regardless of their face shape \m/

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this—it's great to get perspectives from people raised in other cultures. I'm also really glad you're happy with your looks; that's so important. I love embracing our differences, too!

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  3. Asians and the beauty standards. As an asian girl who has big square face and big button nose, I always recieve critics "change your hairstyle. You should hide your square jaw!" "your nose is sooo big". Hurts a lot.

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    1. Oh, I'm sorry some people think it's okay to tell you rude comments like that! Keep telling yourself the truth: that you're beautiful! :)

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  4. I work at a korean restaurant and my coworkers who are from korean always compliment me on my small face and say i have nice skin, which made me pretty confused. I never thought my face was small and i have a lot of blemishes, but I am very pale and i guess my face is small in proportion to my coworkers because im so short :/

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    1. It's interesting how beauty standards change from culture to culture, isn't it? My view: We are all beautiful!

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