Beautiful Idols: Korean Beauty Standards
Like any country, Koreans have a very specific idea of what a person should look like to be considered attractive. While some of these standards are common to the culture in the United States, other things are very different and an average viewer from North America might be shocked.
Like Americans, South Koreans value height in their significant other. Koreans on average are 2 inches shorter than the same sex in America, but you wouldn’t be able to tell because often Kpop videos are filmed at angles other than eye height. A very common angle is from waist height pointed up towards the face. In addition, Koreans are slimmer than the average American, so what may seem to be fat to a Korean just looks like a regular person to an American (although this shouldn’t be confused with tabloid craziness, which will claim that the stars are ballooning up one week then emaciated the next). People will talk about about s-lines and x lines. S lines refer to having an s-shaped silhouette when viewed from the side, and an x-line is when you have long slim legs and arms with a narrow waist.
Eyes, Hair and Skin
One of the major differences between Koreans and Americans is how they view skin. In Korea, they prefer their idols pasty white. The closer to “snowman” color the better. To point out how crazy this can be, the picture to the right shows two girls from Girls Generation. The girl on the left in the picture is Yuri (the one with the aviators); she’s nicknamed the black pearl because her skin tone is dark. As someone who is Italian and gets confused for Latino in the summer, that blew my mind. Skin should also be flawless. Koreans have some of the most advanced foundation and concealer in the whole makeup industry, they had BB cream years ago. It has even become acceptable in Korean society for men to wear skin makeup, since they believe that a person with flawless skin looks more professional.
In terms of hair, Koreans view colored hair as edgy, since many schools have a rule against colored hair in the dress code. My Korean friend got in trouble in first grade because he got some highlights in his hair. He was made an example of in his class and then was immediately forced to dye his hair back to black. While this may be a more extreme case in modern times (he was in first grade 13 years ago), fewer average Korean citizens dye their hair than American citizens. However, after a student graduates from grade school it’s very common for both men and women to style their hair in a semi permanent to permanent manner. They have straightening, as well as many levels of perming (from tight ringlets to curls you could drive a truck through), and treatments to add volume to hair.
Large, cute eyes are favored in Korea and this look is achieved in two ways. First is by the use of circle lenses. These special kind of contact lenses add extra area to the iris of the eye and will change the color of the iris. The other is by the physical shape of the eyelid. Koreans have two eyelid shapes, known as either single or double eyelids. Caucasians have a double eyelid, and this is denoted by a small indentation in the eyelid. A single eyelid will hide the base of eyelashes and therefore looks smaller. Because a double eyelid has a easier shape to hold eyeshadow and makeup, a common plastic surgery in Korea is to get one’s eyelids changed from single eyelids to double eyelids. It seems to be a Korean right of passage in High School and could be compared to a child getting a large Sweet 16 or a Graduation present (think like a car).
One of the other things that is different between American culture and Korean culture is the acceptable clothing styles. The most notable difference about Korean clothing to an American viewer is that long legs are desirable, but not overly sexual, therefore having very VERY short skirts or shorts is common in Kpop videos. For the rest of Kpop, clothing styles are very similar in terms of guys and girls. Showing midriff is ok, but too much and it’s too sexy. Bare shoulders and and a bare back is considered really sexy, and too much isn’t shown in kpop music videos.
In Korean Culture, their society has an ideal look, and while certain people can have good looking features, only one feature type is considered sexy. However, features that are unique are considered cute. For example, my Korean friend has one double eyelid and one single eyelid. He wouldn’t be considered sexy, but the unique feature would be considered cute. When watching music videos where a member of a band isn’t featured as much as another, or if a talk show asks the members to rate themselves in terms of a feature, remember that Koreans see beauty a little more objectively than Americans.