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