Banner design by Helena, portrait by Eva


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Question of Beauty

I have a confession to make.

It isn't only Korea's 4000+ years of culture that I envy, or the traditions passed down through generations.

The Korean face is on the Asian pedestal right now. I told my adult class, "I can't get over how beautiful Koreans are." One woman blamed it on the obsession with fashion and plastic surgery, but I interrupted her. "No, no, no. Strip all of that away and you'd be just as stunning."

I've never seen an ugly Korean. On public transit I catch myself staring at passengers. When sun lights up people on the bus, I'm mesmerized. The skin, eyes and hair are perfection- angelic in a way that I'll never be. Even the men are soft and pretty.

But I never realized how 'constructed' the idea of beauty is until I moved here. Korean women who I find especially gorgeous aren't considered attractive by my male friends. A man in my adult class described Koreans as having 'iron faces.'

I'm often asked if I think the Chinese American actress, Lucy Liu, is beautiful. Of course I do. No, my Korean friends inform me. "She hasn't even had her eyelids done. There are many women who look like her, she is just average."

I guess in a race where people have mono hair/eye color, differences are embraced.


MUD said...

Eva, I'll lie to my friends and you story to yours but don't look me right in the face and blog me a lie. I have seen your pictures and you are stunning in any language/culture. You might be only average in a Scandinavian country but you stand out like a diamond in a pile of coal in Korea.
With that said, I find there is a lot beautiful about most groups of people. I only hope that people find my inner "beauty" now that 60 is approaching and sagging my face/body. MUD

Natasha said...

I'm sure you've heard of Rain (aka Bi, the singer). Apparently guys are getting their eyes done like his (single eyelid flaps) since he's considered sexy 'n famous 'n all. But then I guess that only counts some guys - most guys and girls still want the double eyelid... and yea - it's crazy how they spend so much on plastic surgery! As graduation presents? Come ON! Think of all the clothes you can buy haha
But yes - I do agree that all the Korean girls I've seen always have perfect skin and hair! How do they do it? I wonder if it's their diet.

Kevin said...

I've had this conversation with Korean men a couple times. Women I think are attractive they think are just normal, must be a different standard of beauty.

Eva Karrin McKinnon said...

Mud- Lies, lies, lies.

I liked the 'Three's' list on your blog.I'm sure your inner beauty is worshipped!

Kevin- Totally. 'Small faces' are covoted, and I find it's usually tall Korean men with promenant noses who are called handsome.

Natasha- It isn't the diet. Spicy food is supposed to have an inflammatory effect on the skin.
It's genetics.

By the way, are you living in Korea?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you're talking to me, but no, I don't live in Korea. I live in Vancouver... but like you said before, there are a few Koreans here. I would really like to go to Korea soon sonce I learn some more Korean!

Cakie said...

i think i must agree with the koreans (even though i'm chinese): i think lucy liu is pretty, but nothing above the norm. koreans are crazy with the plastic surgery though! i know if i ever decide to get anything done that's where i'm going :P

CreativeMinority said...

your page is interesting to me as a korean in america who also happens to be a sociologist. i haven't met many canadians (as far as i know), but i find your views very interesting. i think they're very different from those a white american woman might have.

it seems that koreans are indeed obsessed with outward beauty today -- a little too much in my opinion. and you're very right: standards of beauty are very much socially constructed. in the case of koreans, along with most other ethnic groups around the world, the idea of beauty has been very much influenced by eurocentric thought for various historical and political reasons.

in any case, hope you have a pleasant stay.

Anonymous said...

koreans are the most beautiful of asians. i love that a lot of them have sexy big ass lips.

Edward said...

Hey Eva,

I'm a Korean American living in what is probably one of the most diverse places on earth, Los Angeles, California. We have a good population sampling of every major Asian nation so I get to see it all. I have to agree with you that we are a fairly good looking people. Didn't really realize it until my ex gf (who was also Korean American) and I spent time shopping in Monterrey Park, CA, a well known Chinese American enclave. After spending several hours in several shopping centers of the area we both agreed that on average (and I do stress ON AVERAGE as I've met some phenomenally beautiful Chinese women) Korean people are better looking then Chinese people. Now I don't say this to be ethnocentric or a boob, but it's just my personal observation.

Our faces are generally symmetrical and proportional, skin tones are usually fair and clear, etc.

It could be part of the diet as I've noticed that Korean people in Korea have better skin then Koreans in the states. Kimchi is full of antioxidants, the diet is rich in veggies and we boil or broil a lot of our food instead of deep frying.

I think our skins are so good because we are mongolians who evolved in the cold and windy steepes of Siberia. Skin learns how to be resilient in such brutal conditions. Siberians such as Yakuts and Buyants look very similar to Koreans and have similar facial and skin features.

Flavia Watch said...

no you're right, koreans are handsome in their own way. i dislike their "must-have"/"west-is-best" attitudes

i really appreciate your opinion on this & open mindedness - your willingness to cherish & appreciate the things that you find in korea

westerners generally make or believe in ugly stereotypes of asians in general, so posted here ( some pics to counter such negative perception

Anonymous said...

this is just my two cents worth, based on my own observations. of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule. i've been to japan (four times), korea (twice), china (twice), hongkong (twice)and taiwan (once).

japanese people generally tend to be paler and have larger eyes than their korean counterparts but are of shorter stature. in japan itself, there is a geographical divides causes looks to differ as well. for example, people from hokkaido and tokyo look slightly different. perhaps it was the indigenous ainu blood. interestingly, some famous and popular japanese actresses and models such as yui aragaki, yukie nakama and yu yamada posses okinawan Ryukyu ancestry.

koreans (especially the dudes)are generally taller, of fair to medium skin tone and have more prominent cheekbones. i agree that they remind me of mongols somewhat. they have the (enviable) height and facial structure of mongols and other central asians. koreans are less likely to have double eye lids, i find.

china is a melting pot of diverse looks with its 55 ethnic minorities in addition to the han majority. people from different provinces have different features. but generally (this is like a stereotype with some truth in it), people from the north tend to be taller, paler with smaller eyes while people from the south tend to be tanner and more petite with bigger eyes. but i have to stress that china is freaking diverse in a way that japan and korea aren't. just compare chinese celebrities with korean celebrities who are though breathtakingly gorgeous, seem to belong solely to a certain aesthetic which is not representative of how the general Korean population looks. it's the same in Indonesia where fairness is prized. most actors and actresses are extremely fair and have some sort of mixed Caucasian heritage.

people from hongkong and taiwan tend to be descendants of southern chinese people, however, the aboriginal taiwanese people give the taiwanese look additional diversity.

interestingly enough, one of my observations is that people with a more 'western' look, ie. more thicker and prominent eye creases, higher noses, thicker, longer and darker lashes, brown instead of black eyes, tend to be substantially hairier. like my dad, who's very pale with round and large double lidded eyes,thick lashes, western cheekbones and a high nosebridge, is insanely hairy. chest hair, back hair, everything. like Caucasian hairy. in contrast, my mother, who has more traditionally south east asian features; a lovely tan, long single-lidded eyes (that was when she was young, as she got older, the skin around her eyes sagged and she developed double eye lids) and flatter face and nose, is as hairless as a frog. she has like insanely smooth skin. i took after my dad and am embarrassingly hairy while my hairless younger sister, who looks like my mum, never has to wax. ever.

(btw, if anyone is wondering, i'm indonesian chinese with a slight mixed native malay heritage and God knows what else. i am short (1.61m), have pale skin, almond eyes with double eye lids and a large, tall, pokey nose. in japan, i've had japanese people say that i look japanese. my korean neighbours say that i look korean. and i'm chinese and blend in perfectly in china, so go figure.)