Have you noticed how Kpop stars and Kdrama stars in the past had a particular look? This is because most female/male celebrities in Korea followed unrealistic Korean beauty standards. It is considered one of the most strict beauty standards in the world. To achieve these beauty standards established by mainstream media, many Koreans spend a lot of money on K-Beauty products, dieting, and even plastic surgery to get that ideal look. This is one of the main reasons why K-beauty products have been so successful over the last decade. K-beauty products in the past mainly focused on achieving the strict standards for Korean beauty. However, recently there has been a movement by independent beauty brands in Korea that are embracing the natural look and focusing more on products that benefit the skin than for cosmetic reasons.
The K-Beauty industry is estimated to be worth over $31 billion by 2029. To put that into perspective the Kpop industry currently is estimated to be worth $5 billion. This is because the demand to achieve that “Korean True Beauty” established by mainstream media continues to rise. K-pop Entertainment companies continue to look for talent that meets Korean Beauty Standards and Korean dramas continue to hire actresses that fit this mold. However slowly, things are starting to change in Korea. Celebrities and influencers in Korea are more active than ever showing the importance of being yourself and not relying heavily on unrealistic looks pushed forth by Hally culture.
Korean Beauty Standards Explained
So what exactly are the standards for Korean Beauty? Why is it considered unrealistic and what makes it dangerous for the younger generation in Korea? Well, to start the Korean beauty standard can be broken down into 5 factors.
1. Small Face
Korean beauty standards first start with having a small face. Having a small face in Korea is associated with being pretty. Having a big head is a huge no-no and many Koreans will look towards plastic surgery to make their face smaller. It is believed by many in the Korean entertainment industry that having a small face will make you look skinnier in photos. The most popular surgery to make the face smaller is jaw/cheek reduction surgery. The aim is to create that V-line jaw shape that creates a pointed chin and almost no jawline. However, the surgery is not a simple procedure and the recovery time is generally 1-2 months. However, sadly more and more students in Korea are getting this dramatic surgery earlier than ever before.
2. Pale White Skin
There is a huge obsession with white skin not just in Korea but all across Asia. There is a pervasive idea that lighter skin is more attractive and you will notice that most Korean celebrities have very light skin. Granted there are tanned-skin Korean celebrities but that is not considered the Korean beauty standard. Why is this? In Korea, having dark skin has long been associated with working on the farm which means working outside in rural poor areas. However, pale skin is associated with living comfortably indoors and out of the sun. Therefore, sadly, skin color is seen as a sign of social class in South Korea. This is why Koreans go to great lengths in order to stay pale. Many K-beauty products focus on giving you that porcelain-looking skin. This preference for white skin is reinforced via Korean dramas, Kpop Idols, and social media.
3. Small Nose
Getting a nose job is on the rise in Korea and is one of the most common cosmetic procedures. Most Korean noses appear flatter than other races which in turn makes them look wider. However to meet Korean beauty standards the nose should be slim and pointed. Therefore, a nose bridge lift surgery is performed to increase the height of the bridge of the nose to make it more pointed. A silicone implant is usually used to fill the nose to its perfect size. It is highly recommended by plastic surgeons to get a nose job after the patient is 18 years old because at that age the nose has stopped growing. However, in order to meet Korean beauty standards, Koreans are getting this procedure done at a much younger age.
4. Big Eyes
Your eyes are probably one of the most impactful features on your face. However, many Koreans are born with small eyes. This is because they have drooping eyelids without a crease. Korean beauty standards say that bigger/western-looking eyes increase your attractiveness. This is why double eyelid surgery in Korea is one of the most popular surgeries for women and men. It is so common that it has become a kind of right of passage for many young girls in Korea. Many are gifted with the surgery for their high school graduation. The simple surgery basically makes your eyes look bigger. A vast majority of Kpop Idols and Korean actresses have had double eyelid surgery.
5. Slim Figure
Being slim has always been a trend in Korea. There have been rumors that female Kpop Idols could not be over 50kgs. Many trainees are put on strict diets in order to keep their weight in check. However, many of these diets go to the extreme with some passing out both on and off stage. Kpop Idol UEE spoke about having to eat just one meal a day for 8 years after trolls made fun of her belly fat. These unrealistic weights are seen by young girls all around the world, especially in Korea. They start to quickly think at a young age that they need to lose weight to become more attractive. These weight standards can be applied to men but it is nowhere nearly as prevalent for them.
Korean Beauty Standards Reinforced by Mainstream Media in Korea
There are thousands of channels on YouTube focused on Korean beauty products/fashion. All this leads to the idea that there is just one type of Korean beauty and in order to be beautiful in Korea, you have to follow these standards. It is hard to escape these videos, advertisements, movies, dramas, and Kpop idols which is why it is not a surprise that the young generation in Korea looks to these celebrities as the standards for beauty. In order to achieve Korean beauty standards, more and more women in Korea are looking towards plastic surgery than ever before. Per capita, South Korea has the most plastic surgery procedures in the world.
It is estimated that 1 out of every 3 Korean women between the age of 20-30 have had some kind of beauty procedure done. Therefore compared to other countries, having plastic surgery done is very common. As long as you have the money, you can get the ideal Korean look.
Breaking the Mold
There is very little inclusion of different sizes and different skin tones in Korean dramas and especially in the Kpop industry. One of the few Kpop groups to break the mold was 2NE1. From the start, the successful Kpop girl group wanted to break the typical Korean female stereotype. They were able to bring a more fierce, colorful, unabashed, and just plain badass style that was a refreshing welcome to the typical Korean beauty standard groups popping up everywhere.
“They laugh at us because we look different. We laugh at them because they all look the same,” CL of 2NE1.
However groups like 2NE1 are a minority and most Kpop groups both male and female, follow the Korean beauty standards. Therefore, Korean beauty standards are mainly reinforced by both the Korean drama industry and the Kpop Industry. For example, for Kpop Entertainment companies, it is not uncommon to scout for talent strictly based on their look. Jin from BTS was scouted by Bit Hit off the street based solely on his looks. Most Kpop Entertainment companies will never admit it but as long as the trainee has the “visuals” he or she can be trained in dancing and singing. As long as these “visuals” don’t change, don’t expect Korean beauty standards to change anytime soon.
When looking at the latest Kpop music video or Korean drama you will start to notice the talent on the screen all tend to look the same. Much has been made over the years about how mainstream media presents unrealistic Korean beauty standards in the form of perfectly made-up Kpop idols and Kdrama actors, photoshopped celebrities for advertisements, or ultra-slim fashion models. However, there are signs that the Korean beauty standard is slowly changing, there are some idols today that look to break the standards such as TWICE’s Jihyo with her tanned skin, BTS’s Jimin with his small eyes, and MAMAMOO’s Hwasa with her curves. With more Korean celebrities showcasing their unique sides, it will show that being different should be celebrated.
The Risks in Pursuing Korean Beauty Standards
Koreans are more than ever comparing themselves to what they see on TV, YouTube, streaming platforms, and social media platforms like Instagram. A recent survey of Korean college students showed that they tended to compare their own appearance negatively with their peer group and with Korean celebrities. When asked to give describe themselves, most wrote about their appearance rather than their skills or personality. Young Korean women have been the most affected by body image concerns. However, Korean men are not immune. More and more Korean men are looking towards plastic surgery to get the Korean beauty standard look for Korean men.
The pressure to meet these unrealistic Korean beauty standards can have serious consequences. Unhealthy eating habits, unnecessary plastic surgery procedures, a decrease in self-esteem, depression, and even suicide are some of the possible risks that the youth in Korea could face. It is impossible to prevent Korean youth from looking up their favorite Korean drama stars and Kpop Idols. Therefore, there needs to be SOME responsibility from these agencies to move away from these unrealistic Korean beauty standards. Or at least have Korean celebrities talk about the drastic and unhealthy measures many celebrities in Korea take to obtain these body types, despite the toll it takes on their overall health.