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 faceDuring 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 appearanceI 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|
Before/After: Korean plastic surgeryKorean 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:
Ladies aren't the only ones who get plastic surgery; men do as well:
You can almost bet that all k-pop (Korean pop) stars have had plastic surgery.
|Exo (K-pop group)|
Can you see it? The "small" V-shaped chin/jaw, the big eyes, the nose, the paler face?
|Girls Generation (K-pop group)|
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:
Here's a close-up:
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!"
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:
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!