What is More than Meeting the Eye
A recent reflection on Korean lookism
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Lookism is defined as a “discriminatory treatment toward physically unattractive people.” This stereotype is spread throughout all sorts of social settings, and affects an individual in the important parts of their lives as in employment, romantic relationships, and so on. The term “lookism” was coined in the 1970s, and despite that, the word came into being quite recently, the phenomenon had been existent since human interaction. Criticism concerning appearance-oriented preference dates back to ancient and medieval records, from a wide array of scholars and religious figures. However, a new word having been coined to dedicate itself to this issue well describes how much the society has grown to become aware of it in recent times. Korea is a country that has not escaped this phenomenon. In fact, it is one of the most deeply influenced countries with lookism, being a mecca of plastic surgery and a massive consumer of cosmetic goods.
As a fair indicator of lookism, sales of beauty products for teenagers have grown substantially in recent years. According to data provided by SK Planet, which operates a major platform for online commerce, the overall sale of beauty products increased by 29 percent in 2017. The growth percentage had recorded 251 percent rise in the previous year. One of the most dramatic rises in sales was in lip products such as lipsticks or liptints targeted towards teenagers, which rose by 549 percent. Cosmetics, as a long held subject of consumption for women, has transcended to men, and now even to young children. A result of a survey conducted by the Korea Citation Index reported that 42.4 percent of elementary school students wear makeup, and 43.4 percent of them began applying makeup in the fifth grade. Children's cosmetic usage has become so prevalent that the South Korean government is under discussion to create a new cosmetic's category to monitor and mandate children's products under stricter standards for their safety.
An array of self teaching contents can be accessed on the internet
This increased focus on beauty products and appearance has diverse contributing factors. For one, the advanced telecommunication technology provides a means of advertisement more pervasive and aggressive than ever, and the increased number of media outlets sheds light on a plethora of celebrities or Youtube stars that teenagers look up to and mimic. Furthermore, e-commerce platforms and numerous blogs and videos regarding makeup tips and recommendations lowers the entry barrier of purchasing and learning to apply makeup. This and the perennial desire of teenagers to appear as adults provides the driving force for the surge in cosmetic sales.
Lookism for the 20s
According to a market report done by a professional market research firm, Trendmonitor, among Korea, China, and Taiwan, Koreans in their 20s to 30s have expressed the lowest satisfaction towards their appearance. This may suggest that Koreans have a higher standard of beauty, or a somewhat higher level of inferiority. Whatever the reason may be, Korean youth spend countless hours and money on their appearance. Aside from cosmetics, plastic surgery is definitely one of the most common means that Koreans turn to for aesthetic improvement. According to the Economist, although Korea came in 7th place when it comes to the absolute number of plastic surgery done, the number of plastic surgeries in ratio to the population was by far the highest.
An iconic image that illustrates the prevalence of plastic surgery in Korea (Photo courtesy of Allkpop)
Young forty is a term coined and popularized here in Korea. (Photo courtesy of Mediask)
One of the things that make lookism so hard to criticize and contain is that it is deeply inherent for us to be drawn to people who possess physically desirable traits. However, in the social realm, this instinctive preference that once may have been related to survival has now become harder to defend. With increased awareness of equality and materialism, there is now a definitive breach of morals when lookism prevails in a certain social interaction. Although romantic relationships are still a large part of personal preference, opportunities of employment and education should never be hindered by lookism. The mandate of “blind recruitment,” the receiving of resumes that do not contain photos, is a recent and a rather very late change that Korea has taken to address this issue.
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