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TL;DR – Korean vs North American Beauty Standards

August 19, 2011

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This week’s TL;DR is an epic topic: What is the standard for beauty in Korea and how does it differ from North America, and vice versa? Wow, that’s a doosie of a question…it feels like we should submit this blog for grading once we’re finished with it (if we stay up all night and hand it in on time). Well to begin with, we should mention that these beauty points are what we feel the Korean media emphasizes as beauty, and what our Korean friends might mention in passing conversation, but this does not represent every Korean. It feels like we shouldn’t even have to mention that point, but we’re trying to cut off the “I’M KOREAN AND YOU’RE WRONG” comments from happening. ^^ We can’t cover every point here so we’re going to go with our Top 3.

Pale Complexions vs Tanning

Jersey Shore Tanning

Umm, that's just gross.

It seems to us that Korea has finely tuned the idea of beauty into several traits which are currently trendy, but we have no idea if they were always trendy or if this is a recent thing. The most apparent one is lack of tanning. Anywhere you go in Korea you’ll see people walking around with beautiful parasols, ajumma visors or hats, arm covers, and just about every type of cream comes with a 15+ SPF built into it. The heated debate about why Korean men and woman want to have pale skin falls into two categories. Once being the historical idea: in a nutshell, tanned skin means you are a poor peasant working outdoors and pale skin represents luxury, wealth, and lack of wrinkles. The other argument being that Korean people are trying to look more and more Caucasian, which obviously gets a lot of angry comments from Koreans. We don’t know which side is more correct, but Martina is already Caucasian and she has always hidden from the sun under parasols (even when in Canada) to prevent her skin from instantly burning, so I guess that makes her…a vampire. This seems to really differ from other parts of the world, especially where having a golden tan = going on vacation. The idea of going to a tanning bed is just a horrifying idea to all our Korean friends; even on the beach you can rent pre-set up beach umbrellas to avoid the sun at all costs.

Mono eyelids vs Double eyelids

Gain Mono Eyelid

Gain Doesn't have Double Eyelids, and she's freaking beautiful

Ah, the eyelid. Something that we, as North Americans, have never seemed to notice until we came to Korea. Who knew that tiny piece of skin was SO important to looking beautiful? Having “double eyelids”, or a fold/crease above your eye is a concept majority of North Americans have just taken for granted. In fact, we don’t even have a concrete name for it, but in Korea, it’s 쌍꺼풀 (ssanggeopul). If you’re a celebrity, you probably had surgery done to get it, but there are still some people (like Gain and Rain) that haven’t had it done. If you can’t afford surgery, then you might just go for some Double Eyelid Tape instead. Of course, arguments rage about why this surgery is so popular in Korea, and while many people say it’s to achieve a more Western looking eye, others argue that it’s just for the sake of beauty. We think the real question to be asked here is why having big eyes or a double eyelid is considered to be beautiful? It’s not like Rain is suddenly not good looking because of his monolid, he just looks distinctly Asian and we don’t think that there is anything wrong with that.

The V-Line Face

V Line Face Drink

Putting two bottles by your face, or in your stomach, will not change your face.

The concept of the “v-line” jaw being a coveted beauty trait makes us…uncomfortable. From a North American perspective, you’re either born with a certain jaw shape or you’re not. You’re face is round, oval, heart, triangle, square, rectangular and so on. Really good hairdressers can tell what style will suit you based just on your face shape and you can look at many celebrities (who all have different types of face shapes) for inspiration. In Korea, not so much. We have never seen anybody praised for having a cute, round face or a striking heart shaped face. It’s literally the “v-line” jaw bone or it’s not reported. The reason why this makes us so uncomfortable is because there is plastic surgery readily available if you want to shave down your jaw bone. We see ads on the subway as if it’s totally an everyday event to change your entire jaw structure. The other reason reports on the epic v-line makes us uncomfortable is because majority of those photos taken by celebs are angled in a oh-so-clever fashion to create the illusion of a “v-line”, but in this illusion, tons of products are sold to help “trim” your jaw and face fat. Sorry Korea, we just don’t believe that a plastic face roller can change my face size. With that idea, the vast amount of time I spend sleeping on one side of my face should have horribly distorted my face by now.

In conclusion Professor Internet, it seems to us that growing up in a multi-cultural society (anywhere in the world) has a huge effect on what one thinks is beautiful. We feel like this is the most important thing to remember when comparing beautify standards of Korea to North America. As a Canadian from Toronto, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint what an “ideal” Canadian looking woman would look like, since we grew up with so many different face shapes, skin tones, hair types, hair colours, body sizes, and eye colours.

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TL;DR – Korean vs North American Beauty Standards

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  1. I couldn’t think of any female celebrities with wide chins/square jaws so I was looking it up and found this:  “Women with large chins are more likely to cheat” @ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/4421983/Women-with-large-chins-are-more-likely-to-cheat.html
     
    I guess that is a pretty good reason to have a preference for small chins. 

    8 years ago
  2. I couldn’t think of any female celebrities with wide chins/square jaws so I was looking it up and found this:  “Women with large chins are more likely to cheat” @ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/4421983/Women-with-large-chins-are-more-likely-to-cheat.html
     
    I guess that is a pretty good reason to have a preference for small chins. 

    8 years ago
  3. I couldn’t think of any female celebrities with wide chins/square jaws so I was looking it up and found this:  “Women with large chins are more likely to cheat” @ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/4421983/Women-with-large-chins-are-more-likely-to-cheat.html
     
    I guess that is a pretty good reason to have a preference for small chins. 

    8 years ago
  4. I’m Canadian but of Taiwanese-Filipino ancestry. The double eye lid is I think a common thing in Asia. I know a lot of people who undergo surgery to make their eye bigger. As for the pale skin, it’s not only in Korea but I think the rest of Asia. I lived in Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Taiwan and Japan and there is one thing in common. Their supermarkets are full of whitening stuff. Whitening face mask, whitening toner, whitening soap, whitening lotion. And yes, there’s the Gluthatione IV – they inject it and it claims to make you really really pale.  The explanation behind “wanting to be fair” is I guess, more on socio economic status; when you’re fair; this means you don’t do blue collar jobs. Being fair is always associated to being wealthy or belonging to the upper class of society.

    So, in Canada, when it’s summer….we Asians bring out the biggest umbrellas we have (to shade us from the sun) and the strongest whitening products one can afford.

    8 years ago
  5. 8 years ago
  6. I remember one time when my Korean friend told me “oohh! you’re eyelids are so cute, I want mine to look like yours.” At first I was a liiitle creeped, but then I remembered how popular double eyelids are in Asia.

    8 years ago
  7. that was helpful

    8 years ago
  8. Thanks guys! This TLDR was very helpful! I had no idea that “beautiful” was so specific in Korea (not that its a bad thing). I understand the whole double eyelid thing because i have a lot of asian friends but the whole V-line jaw is a bit odd to me. As for pale skin, FINALLY! A culture that i fit into! (I’m a red-haired, blue-eyed ginger girl with crazy pale skin that normally get me made fun of). Also, Simon you crack me up! “Because i naughty naughty!” *random Mr.Simple dance party!*

    8 years ago
  9. I think Koreans have an obsession for pale skin. It just seems they go overboard.

    8 years ago
  10. Yayy ^^ I have big eyes ( my friends make fun of me because of my eyes ¬¬) double eyelids and v-line …My skin is not that pale neither tan skin ( I don’t like the sun ><) anyways… everybody is beautiful in their own way not matter what .  ^0^

    8 years ago
  11. and also, you should also mention that a lot of Asians have natural double eyelids. A lot of people think that Asians just get plastic surgeries to have it done if they have double eyelids but some have it naturally. My mother and my sister have natural double eyelids, my father and I don’t. For asians, they also have hooded/ inner eyelid eyes which is similar to the double eyelids but the fold is underneath your eyes (like an opposite fold from the double eyelids). its called 속쌍꺼풀.

    8 years ago
    • Rai

      Agree~

      In my country, MOST people have double eyelids and i never meet anyone who care about who have DEL or not~

      I myself, never really take my DEL as something as significant as how Koreans thought so~

      Then again, it’s all about cultural difference~ :)

      8 years ago
  12. “we should mention that these beauty points are what we feel the Korean
    media emphasizes as beauty, and what our Korean friends might mention in
    passing conversation, but this does not represent every Korean.”
    I think you should mention that in your video also.. seems like a very important point since a lot of people on the video now are commenting that they wouldn’t look ideal to Koreans

    8 years ago
  13. I think that Ahjumma’s were the visors and coverings so they don’t get wrinkles.

    8 years ago
  14. Do they any products in Korea that can bleach skin since there seems to be heavy emphasis on pale skin? 

    8 years ago
  15. Do they any products in Korea that can bleach skin since there seems to be heavy emphasis on pale skin? 

    8 years ago
  16. My friend told me about you guys only a week ago and already I think I’ve seen all your videos. Keep up the good work. It’s funny and informative. All the best!

    8 years ago
  17. I have a
    friend from Singapore
    – she sends me many Korean cosmetic sometimes (and CD’s too uhuhu :) I’m always
    grateful to her for this, but most of these cosmetics was for facial
    brightening >.< I live in Poland
    (Europe) so I don't care for whitening xD I
    like to be tanned! I had to explain to her that & she was really surprised,
    she admit that she didn't think about this in 'my way' but 'her way' :)

    8 years ago
  18. I’m Cuban/American and i have natural golden tan skin (not every Cuban does, some actually have porcelain white skin) so when i go to the beach, park, or even my backyard for like 5 minutes i get even more tanned, luckily i don’t go out that much so i don’t have that horrible Jersey Shore tan (lol that’s just pushing it, they tan way too often). Anyways, putting on sunblock doesn’t work for my skin it only prevents me from getting burned not tan and i really don’t mind. I love my tanned skin but i think pale skin is also beautiful. I think the real difference is that because North America has a variety of cultures, our standards of what is beautiful is varied as well. What i might find as beautiful some of my friends and/or family might not think the same. Because of the many cultures and what not, we also tend to be a lot more open-minded. We have celebrities of all different types so its hard for us to choose just one ideal among all of them, in fact i have like 9851514 celebrity crushes, including SK Idols. Although Koreans are brilliant they are still culturally ignorant and tend to generalize other cultures, fortunately not all are like that because like you said those are people that are a little bit more understanding of foreign cultures.

    8 years ago
  19. I think that these really common ideals of beauty in Korea exist because it’s a mono-ethnic country. The same rules apply (I think) to most of Asia.
    Generally, traits that are rare among certain people will be considered the most “beautiful.” Since most Koreans tend to be shorter, have bigger heads (which is kind of true, not that it matters), be darker (not even dark, just darker than, say, white people), and have single eyelids, so being pale and tall with single eyelids is more unusual and therefore more “beautiful.” The same applies in North America, on a much smaller scale. People with brown eyes don’t get compliments about them: people with blue eyes do. The difference is that here, it’s more about personal preference rather than having one perfect look for nearly the entire nation, like you guys said.
    I don’t know why Asians seem to make a bigger deal of these preformed ideals than people from other countries usually do, but it might come somewhere from the generalization that “all Asians look alike.” So to look different, they’re changing so that they look alike again? I’m not sure about that one. :P

    Anyway, that’s my two cents! I hope that makes some sense. xD

    8 years ago
    • What especially confuses us is the high heels and platform shoes usage.  We understand that heels make your legs look nicer, but a lot of our Korean friends say that they want to look taller, which is why we’ll see lots of platform shoes, or insoles (like you saw Super Junior wearing in our Bonus Footage).  

      Why is everybody trying to look taller?  If you’re generally the same height, then who are you trying to be as tall as?  That other girl wearing platform shoes?  If both of you don’t wear them, then you’re the same height!

      We don’t get it… :(

      8 years ago
      • Asians are pretty short generally. I guess girls want to be taller cause they see boys drooling over Nicole Kidman (she’s even taller than Tom Cruise :P)

        8 years ago
  20. You guys are hilarious! I was a little afraid of the reactions/looks I would get if I taught overseas because I am like ten shades darker than dark.

    8 years ago
  21. Ah… that must be why Grandma is always bugging me.  She’s a full blooded Korean so I hear many things about how she thinks I should look.  Lovely grandma…  ^__^” I’m “nice girl size” so says my partner.  I definitely don’t fit a very Asian ideal because I have tan skin and get really dark (because my dad married a Samoan) and have very islander curly hair.  Figure…  Hee.  But my Korean family members?  Not what I look like.

    8 years ago
  22. I’m a moderately tan-skinned chinese american and all my Caucasian friends go, “You’re so lucky! You’re tan all year round! We’re so pasty, etc.”

     My relatives/parents always praised my sister’s and brother’s pale skin and pointier chins, and then kinda just went silent when they saw me (i am darker, have a cleft chin and very un-asian curly hair ).

    8 years ago
  23. This idea of paleness being more desirable makes me uncomfortable, regardless of cultural differences. It must be tough dealing with it as a darker-skinned person in S. Korea (or anywhere in Asia, for that matter). The Obama comment was very telling (and depressing). I wonder what kind of effect this avoidance of the sun has on skin cancer and vitamin D deficiency rates though?

    8 years ago
  24. This idea of paleness being more desirable makes me uncomfortable, regardless of cultural differences. It must be tough dealing with it as a darker-skinned person in S. Korea (or anywhere in Asia, for that matter). The Obama comment was very telling (and depressing). I wonder what kind of effect this avoidance of the sun has on skin cancer and vitamin D deficiency rates though?

    8 years ago
  25. This idea of paleness being more desirable makes me uncomfortable, regardless of cultural differences. It must be tough dealing with it as a darker-skinned person in S. Korea (or anywhere in Asia, for that matter). The Obama comment was very telling (and depressing). I wonder what kind of effect this avoidance of the sun has on skin cancer and vitamin D deficiency rates though?

    8 years ago
  26. This idea of paleness being more desirable makes me uncomfortable, regardless of cultural differences. It must be tough dealing with it as a darker-skinned person in S. Korea (or anywhere in Asia, for that matter). The Obama comment was very telling (and depressing). I wonder what kind of effect this avoidance of the sun has on skin cancer and vitamin D deficiency rates though?

    8 years ago

    • You probably need from 5 to 30 minutes of exposure to the skin on your face, arms, back or legs (without sunscreen) twice every week.”- from 
      http://nutrition.about.com/od/askyournutritionist/f/sunlight.htm

      You can also get vitamin D from fish, as well as fortified foods like milk, soy milk, or cereal. Unless you stay inside the whole time I am sure that within two weeks you will probably get enough sunlight to equal 5-30 minutes even if you do have sunscreen, or shade, especially if you eat it in food, or take a vitamin. 

      8 years ago
      • Yeah, I kinda forgot about other sources than sunlight XD Then again, I keep hearing how easily one’s vitamin D levels may be depleted.

        8 years ago
  27. I’m Asian and I have the v-line, double eyelid, just not the pale skin~
    Grr, stupid beach trip xD

    8 years ago
  28. i like this one!!!! also it’s not just a korea thing!! it’s an asian thing!!!!! in china, small face, pale skin, and etc. are considered beautiful!

    8 years ago
  29. I quite understand how Asian culture is like this because I’m Asian too. Unfortunately,I have pretty dark skin comparing to my friends and I got teased a lot because of it when I was a child. Now I’m grown up and I don’t really care about it but it would be better if there are less advertisments that keep telling people to be whiter. It’s like they’re brain-washed!   People should just love what they have and be what they are.

    8 years ago
  30. i think that the stereotype of koreans being superficial comes from their over-attentiveness (from an american perspective) to facial features/design, and their commitment to do whatever it takes (read: plastic surgery) to get the “ideal” look.

    what i like is how simon and martina can analyze it from a somewhat objective point of view and educate. i’ve seen too many videos bashing either europeans or koreans, and this was clear cut and educational.

    SO IN SHORT, ME GUSTA AND I AGREE. :D

    8 years ago
  31. I have a Korean friend who I stayed with, her and her family in Korea. But she told me that they normally don’t have friends sleep over at their home like that. I was wondering why they didn’t have sleep overs with their friends like Americans do. What do really good BFF’s do together in Korea to show how good of friends they are? And such.

    8 years ago
  32. I have a Korean friend who I stayed with, her and her family in Korea. But she told me that they normally don’t have friends sleep over at their home like that. I was wondering why they didn’t have sleep overs with their friends like Americans do. What do really good BFF’s do together in Korea to show how good of friends they are? And such.

    8 years ago
  33. I have a Korean friend who I stayed with, her and her family in Korea. But she told me that they normally don’t have friends sleep over at their home like that. I was wondering why they didn’t have sleep overs with their friends like Americans do. What do really good BFF’s do together in Korea to show how good of friends they are? And such.

    8 years ago
  34. I have a Korean friend who I stayed with, her and her family in Korea. But she told me that they normally don’t have friends sleep over at their home like that. I was wondering why they didn’t have sleep overs with their friends like Americans do. What do really good BFF’s do together in Korea to show how good of friends they are? And such.

    8 years ago
  35. I have a Korean friend who I stayed with, her and her family in Korea. But she told me that they normally don’t have friends sleep over at their home like that. I was wondering why they didn’t have sleep overs with their friends like Americans do. What do really good BFF’s do together in Korea to show how good of friends they are? And such.

    8 years ago
  36. Hello Simon and Martina! If you could please watch and support this video on your site:

    http://koreanhighschool.com/

    It’s a documentary being filmed by a young American girl in South Korea about the pressures on Koreans to be physically perfect. Koreans
    are very hardworking people who strive for excellence but there’s also a
    lot of pressure in their society to look beautiful and to be perfect in
    school. This is why there’s a high rate of suicide among students and a
    high rate of plastic surgeries done even amongst the youth.

    8 years ago
    • Wow this is what I wanted to do before!!!! Congrats to the girl who is creating the doc!!! :) 

      8 years ago
  37. Wow. I think Koreans look awesome the way they look naturally. They don’t have to look like Westerners Or Europeans. I’m Spaniard/ Mexican and I look more European but I don’t think that Europeans have more beauty than Koreans. They are both equally beautiful and I hope Korea stops with this ideal look. ^___^

    8 years ago
  38. I agree, and Gain is frickin gorgeous. I have korean friends with mono lids, and i think mono lids look really elegant and graceful, but they always disagree and say I’m lucky because i have double eye lids and “big eyes” because I’m only half asian. 

    8 years ago
  39. I agree, and Gain is frickin gorgeous. I have korean friends with mono lids, and i think mono lids look really elegant and graceful, but they always disagree and say I’m lucky because i have double eye lids and “big eyes” because I’m only half asian. 

    8 years ago
  40. LOL…..That´s OBAMA.
    WTF? Chin roller? You´re just kidding, right? (it reminds me like Jim Carrey in a movie called
    Me,Myself & Irene wants to have a big chin)

    Really strange, “white” people like tanning and making their skin “brown”, Korean don´t like tanning and would like to make their skin “white”….weird, weird, definitely weird.

    Actually, when I´m watching K-Dramas or K-POP videos I don´t pay attention to the size of faces or double eyelids at all…you just like the person or you don´t.

    8 years ago