Looks are king in Korea
Busan (South Korea), September 9th 2010

Never before, did we visit a country during our journey in where the looks are as important as in Korea; South Korea to be precise. All women, of course with an exception once in a while, are spending a huge part of their day with being and staying as beautiful as possible. All within their own definition of beautiful of course. And all the activities that need to be done to stay beautiful during the day are not something that only happens in the restrooms or in a quiet corner of a shopping mall. No, to the contrary! The appearance is something seriously important, so it happens always and everywhere.

It is still a riddle for us where this enormous pressure of being as beautiful as possible is coming from. One might expect that it has something to do with the idealized beauty image, constantly broadcasted by glossy magazines, video clips on music channels, advertisement campaigns for beauty products or persons in soaps. The latter one can be an important source for all the beauty pressure. Soaps are immense popular in Korea and you will see a lot of people in the streets, the busses and in the metros carrying a handheld TV with huge antennas that make it possible for them to follow their favourite soaps. And indeed, the persons in the soaps have a lot of appearance similarities with the women in the streets.

Funky guys as target group for a South Korean Telecom company

We have the idea that the attention for appearance isn’t something that came over from the western culture. Influences from western cultures are very limited in Korea. The Koreans are in general very nationalistic and see a foreigner more as a necessity from who they can earn money, than somebody they want to be associated with. According to most Koreans, a foreigner can never become a Korean even if he speaks fluently Korean and is born in Korea. Also the government policies are aimed to keep the foreign influence as limited as possible. Investors aren’t welcomed with open arms and it is also very difficult for most foreign manufacturers to get a foot on the ground on the Korean market, due to high trade barriers.

The beauty issue of the Korean women has probably something to do with Confucianism. Confucianism is from origin a Chinese philosophy about the arrangement of society and about the way people should behave within the society that they form. An important aspect of this philosophy is that you should never lose your face. Becoming angry or showing other forms of strong emotions are not done. It is also a faux pas to embarrass other people, especially family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances. That means that it can happen in Korea that you are objectively right in a dispute, but that you will never get it because other people, often higher in the social hierarchy, will be embarrassed. So, maybe the physical appearance that seems to be so important in Korean society has something to do with these complex forms of human interaction, resulting from Confucianism. Whatever the reason is, it is astonishing for us to see how seriously important the looks are for most Korean women.

Pre-formed underpants for men in South Korea

The whole day you see young girls, mothers, middle aged women and even wrinkled old women powdering their faces, putting lipstick on, maintaining their eye shadow and curling their eyelashes with a kind of pliers that look like an instrument of torture. Most of the time, the women use small mirrors, but more and more you also see mobile phones. Most mobile phones also have a camera on the same side as the LCD screen, making it possible to film yourself and see the result immediately on the screen; a ultramodern mirror. Also the hair of the Korean women is something if immense importance. They can’t pass a mirror or a reflecting object without looking in it to see if their coiffure is still acceptable. And most of the time it isn’t, because almost always some restyling needs to be done before they continue their way. But we have the golden beauty advice for the Korean women. And it is even for free. Try to conjure a smile on that often expressionless and peevish face. The beauty of a shining and friendly face can be beaten by any powder or crème is our opinion. And, for the Korean young men the situation isn’t much better. Since we have seen pre-formed underpants in shop windows to improve the form of their butts, we ask ourselves: what will be the future of these Korean teens?

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