I’ve now been in Korea for 10 days and even the smallest thing like taking the subway can be a cultural experience. While I usually consider myself to be on the prettier side of the average (not counting waking up with panda eyes and witch hair) I can be sure to second-guess myself and my appearance as soon as I enter the subway in Seoul. Not only do I see pretty women and men everywhere; the subway ads in the windows of the train cars are definitely not promoting the highest self-esteem among people including myself. Today I saw an ad for a 피부과 (a Korean type of skin clinic) which read “피부도 취업 스펙이다” – “your skin is part of your credentials” while showing an acne covered face. (Note the use of the colloquial Korean word 스펙 which is Konglish for specification or special skills.)

There is no doubt that Korea is a country with a strong focus on appearance! In Korean this is called 외모 지상주의. And is doesn’t stop at acne treatments. The next ad on the train showed a text reading something like “Mom, why is it only the other girls who are getting prettier and not me?” Followed by the subtitle “Suggest plastic surgery!”. Since I’m staying in Cheongdam, I see quite a few of these ads, and while I’m in no way opposed to plastic surgery if it makes people feel better about their appearance, there may be a problem if these ads can cause someone to sit on the subway and suddenly feel bad about themselves.

One of the most common (and thus heavily advertised) procedures in Korea is the creation of socalled “double eyelids” adding an extra crease to the classic Asian monolid. Double eyelids are considered a beauty ideal (미의 기준) by some Koreans although many claim to prefer monolids. I personally think that people can be pretty in many ways without conforming to one specific ideal.

double
A before and after picture of double eyelid surgery. I saw a few young girls wearing sunglasses on the subway and wondered why since it was raining that day. At one point one of them took off her sunglasses and visible incision lines were showing on her eyelids.

In addition to suggestions for improving your physical appearance, there are many ads for how to improve your life. Several ads promote English classes for succeeding in the corporate world, but my favorite ads are for matchmaking agencys 결혼정보회사. And there are more of these ads than of any other kind. I’ve seen this one a lot:

wed
“When it comes to meeting someone, there is no such thing as a coincidence” Another one from the same agency reads “바른 만남, 바로 결혼” – “Fast meeting, immediate marriage”

The best one was one using the New Year as a reference:

wed3
Scientific fortune telling! Luck in love and marriage in the new year!

 

3 Comments »

  1. This is a super interesting topic. I wholeheartedly agree with the quote that Jennifer pointed out, but I think this one is also worth noting: “while I’m in no way opposed to plastic surgery if it makes people feel better about their appearance, there may be a problem if these ads can cause someone to sit on the subway and suddenly feel bad about themselves”

    This advertisement in particular: “Mom, why is it only the other girls who are getting prettier and not me?” Followed by the subtitle “Suggest plastic surgery!”.
    That would be like saying “there’s definitely room for improvement darling, but don’t worry too much about it; when you’re a bit older we’ll have you ‘fixed'”.

    I’m not sure about your city, but in Copenhagen they have also started advertising for some cosmetic surgery procedures/clinics. That specific poster text reminds me of a professor who taught marketing law. In one lecture we talked about the scope of the law vs. what people consider “tasteful” marketing and he used as an example that he had had a really hard time when his young daughter (I cannot remember her exact age, but she was 8-10 at the time) suddenly started asking questions about breast augmentations because of some banners on the Copenhagen buses…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On improving your life: “바른 만남, 바로 결혼” – “Fast meeting, immediate marriage” 😀 I couldn’t throw caution to the wind like that, but I love it. Nice bit of levity in a serious topic!

    Liked by 1 person

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