WATCH CLIP: Is there pressure in Korea to be pretty? Yes, but it’s not as bad as it seems


In global media, there’s been a lot of talk about the pressure Korean women are under to be pretty. While that is sometimes true, it’s not as bad as it might seem.

Sure, there’s pressure in most societies for women to be pretty, and perhaps more in Korea than average. Korea is also the world’s eighth largest cosmetics market, and many say up to 80 percent of Korean women have had some sort of plastic surgery.

This might give you the idea that Korea is a terrible place where everyone is superficial and cares only about looks. But that is far from the case. Yes, there’s perhaps more pressure than elsewhere to be attractive, and that’s highlighted by the nation’s plastic surgery craze.

But others say it’s not so much pressure as simply one’s own desire to look good. And since plastic surgery is cheap and widely available in Korea, many say, why not do it?

Moreover, while there may be somewhat more pressure to have a certain facial look, the younger generation of Korean women seem somewhat heavier and more curvy than Korean women did even ten or 15 years ago. And many k-pop stars these days don’t exactly look like chopsticks. While in the early 2000s, many female k-pop stars tended to be very thin, these days they look somewhat more filled out, many observers argue. While many women are concious about their weight, a walk around Seoul’s many youth hangout spots reveals many young women who don’t seem to be feeling a lot of social pressure to be ultra-thin.

All this is to say that while, yes, there’s pressure for women to be pretty in Korea, it’s not as bad as perhaps some media make it look. If it were really that bad, then why are young Korean women heavier than a decade ago? And why are more k-pop stars not bone-thin like they were in the early 2000s? Of course some have been shamed online for being too heavy.  But overall, many are still somewhat curvier than a decade ago.

At the same time, Korean and other Asian women tend to focus more on facial beauty, more than their bodies, according to one plastic surgeon that Borderless News interviewed here. But some disagree whether all this plastic surgery is the result of social pressure — or economic pressure, since some women get plastic surgery to get a better job — or whether it’s just a matter of Korean women wanting to look better.

That brings us to our interview with Serin (click video above). She has complained that when she’s not dressed up, she’s been talked down to and treated badly by male taxi drivers. Korea is more male dominant than many other developed nations and certainly Western nations. And many women, like Serin, have complained that they’ve been talked down to when they’ve ventured outdoors without being dressed up.

The situation is complex. Perhaps the only way to know is to form one’s own opinion by spending some time in Korea and talking to real Koreans.

One thing is for sure, the stories put out by global media on the subject are far too simplistic.

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