The Ideal Beauty

Catching up on my podcasts, I heard the most disturbing introduction on This American Life. (This post will address the first 8 minutes of the podcast.)

Teaching at a Korean high school for girls, a young American woman expressed her shock at the vagaries of the Korean teenage girl. While teens everywhere are preoccupied with their appearances, these teens were preoccupied with the ideal beauty they saw in the Western woman.

As I have mentioned here, I, too, wanted the large Western eyes.  So much so, I would paint liquid eye-liner on my lids to create a crease … a crease that these young Koreans want so badly that they undergo plastic surgery. My obsession with my eyes was rooted in my desire to blend into my Western society. Or so I thought.

For these girls, they are surrounded by other Koreans, and yet, they believe the thin, pale waif of a girl in all the Western ads is the epitomé of beauty. They believe it, just as their school master does. He believes these girls should stay thin and places scales on every floor of the building. The girls ceremoniously check their weight throughout the day. If they keep their collective weight down, they will earn a cafe!

The more I listened to the Korean girls, the more I wanted to shake them and say, “Cut it out!  You are beautiful!” But the same can be said of our Western teenage girls. Ads they see are the same that the Koreans view.

I see our worlds are not so different after all. I see that I was trying to attain what every other young Tennesseean girl wanted … to look like the models that graced the pages of Teen and Seventeen magazine. There were few Asians in those pages from the early 80s … trust me, I searched. Today, there are more ethnic models, but even they are extremely thin with more Western features.

This recent movie, Miss Representation will give you a brief sense of where women and girls stand today. (I suggest you screen this trailer before showing it to your children.)

The media have portrayed women and girls in a way that is virtually impossible in nature. I have vowed to teach my daughter that her beauty comes from within. Superficial beauty does not make one a better friend or partner.

However, in Korea, your superficial beauty may be the difference between getting into college or not. While in the end, the girls brought the young American teacher to understand their desires, I am still shocked and unconvinced.

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