I grew up in South Korea until I was around 18, then moved to Japan and most recently to the US with my husband. But let's talk about Japan and South Korea for a while. As you might know, both countries have massive problems in dating, marriage and birth rates. If I had to sum up the problem in one sentence I'd say that they're deeply conservative cultures stubborn to change, while the world has changed around them. But it's a complicated issue and I think one aspect of it are beauty ideals.
Both Japan and Korea are notorious for plastic surgery. Double eye lid surgery is often given as a graduation present. Overall if you look at celebrities they look a lot more european than the average Asian person. They have a narrow face, big eyes, double eyelids and light skin. When most people in here look quite the opposite. We have more round faces, smaller eyes and darker skin. In fact I'd say the beauty ideal here is "mixed race" which is amazing for a culture that can be quite xenophobic at times (I married an American and that was a big problem for some people in my family).
In Korea sometimes it's called a "gangnam face" (Gangnam is an affluent district of Seoul). And a lot of people go through plastic surgery to get closer, others settle for make up, but either are excessive in my opinion. And yet people do it because there is intense pressure for both men and women to look a certain way.
If you ever felt that all Asians look the same, you're not racist! It's the media misrepresenting what Asian people ACTUALLY look like. Even for Koreans the girls in the first picture I posted are not easily distinguishable. But if you've never been to an Asian country you might get the false impression that we all look like that. In fact, if you ever come to here, I'm sure you would never say that we all look alike. We DO all look different it's just not what you see on TV or advertisement. And that's a shame I think.
For example, notice how all the before pictures look unique whereas the after pictures are more or less one face? And none of those women were ugly to begin with!
To be clear, surgery as drastic as in the pictures (which in includes shaving off the jaw bone) is not common. But it's not uncommon either and plastic surgery of some sort for sure IS common. I believe the numbers just over 20% for women of all ages. For women under 30 it's estimated to be at 50%. Parents give it as a gift to their children because they think their life will be better if their face looks like this.
And then of course there's weight. I've found that a lot of Americans seem to think that most Asians are "naturally slim" ... well the diet industry is booming in most of asia. Certainly korea and japan. I'm willing to bet the real reason that Asians are slimmer than Americans is because we're constantly told that skinny is beautiful. Not just by the media but by out friends and family. You know, the people whose opinion we value most.
The first year after I moved to the US and went back to visit my family, my waist went from 25 inch to 26 inch (yes I measured and I'm not proud of it) and everyone told me I was fat. That I used to be pretty when I was thin but now I'm not anymore. So as is tradition, I skipped some meals and after some very miserable weeks I got back 25 inch. I have a good friend from China and she basically tells me it's the same when she goes home. Her parents tell her she has "food baby".
If you've ever been on Asian shopping sites you'll often see the "one size" size tag. Well sometimes it makes sense, like when a dress has an elastic waist. However lots of times "one size" means US size Small at best. If you're bigger than that you don't fit in. Not into clothes and not in general. It's a relentless culture to grow up in.
I totally get that women in every culture face pressure to adhere to a certain definition of beauty. But in Korea (and increasingly so Japan), that definition is exceptionally narrow and unattainable (at least without major surgery). A lot of teenagers go through surgery just because it's expected when you turn 18. And that's not a situation that anyone really wants for their children and I don't want it to become the norm in the west as well.
So I'm always a bit surprised that there is so much push back towards different beauty standards in the west. Especially since I don't see what we have to lose by having more variance in beauty? It seems like there's nothing to lose and a lot to gain.
And yet every time a newspaper, blog, tv show or even someone on here suggests that a woman that may not fit the ideal is beautiful, people get upset. Angry even. For example when the Ronda Rousey and Ashley Graham Sports illustrated covers came out, I remember reading at least a dozen of posts and takes on here talking about how they are ugly and have no business being on a magazine cover.
And let's face it, it's mostly men. Women might have an opinion on this, but men get angry and upset when a woman that doesn't fit their preferences is in any way appreciated. And I don't understand why? No one saying that the women you prefer aren't also beautiful. It's just one other definition of beautiful. What are you so angry about? What benefit do you get out of putting someone else down?
In my opinion this beauty craze was a bit better in japan. But the whole concept of being happy the way I look or loving myself even if I'm not perfect was somewhat new to me when I moved to the US. But it's a great feeling and isn't it how it should always be? (as long as you're not putting your health in danger). And I think it'd be shame if the US and Europe lose that cultural value.
By the way the pictures below are from a project called "Atlas of Beauty" by Mihaela Noroc which is meant to capture different kinds of beauty. It's a great watch.