Last week, photos of South Korean beauty pageant contestants who look eerily similar to one another went viral. Many people assumed that plastic surgery was to blame for these ‘clone’ contestants. And it seemed reasonable to make that assumption because the Reddit user who first posted the photos said that he lives in South Korea, a country with quite a reputation for plastic surgery. However, more research and some newly surfaced photos and videos of the contestants before they were heavily made up and retouched tell us a different story.
2. Here are the photos of the contestants that went viral
The contestants were mocked for their uncanny resemblance on various online communities.
According to Kotaku, this is what happened. A Japanese blog called kaikaihanno, which specializes in translating Korean news, was the first to upload the images above. By the time those images made their way to Reddit and went viral, they were called “Miss Korea 2013 contestants”.
That wasn’t entirely accurate. Those women are Miss Daegu 2013 contestants, not Miss Korea 2013. Daegu is a city in South Korea, and the winner of the Miss Daegu 2013 pageant gets to compete in the Miss Korea 2013 pageant.
Furthermore, the photos of the contestants before makeup and Photoshop show women with different facial features.
4. This is what Miss Daegu 2013 contestants actually look like
They don’t look eerily similar. They all look like distinct human beings.
6. Side by side comparison of before (right) and after (left) makeup and Photoshop
Both sets of photos were taken on the day of the pageant. Watch the videos below and you can see that the photos on the left were heavily Photoshopped.
7. Here are videos of Miss Daegu 2013
Even though they are all in dresses and wearing makeup, they look different. It’s likely that one person Photoshopped all the contestants…and didn’t do it well.
9. Why were they Photoshopped to look similar in the first place?
South Korea, like many other countries with ethnically homogenous populations, has a very narrow standard of beauty. The person who Photoshopped the pictures wanted all the contestants to fit that standard (light skin, sharp nose, big eyes, and pointy chin).
It’s possible that some of the contestants already had plastic surgery prior to the pageant….because stories of beauty queens going under the knife to look better aren’t unheard of. In Venezuela, a country which has won 17 beauty queen titles in the past 30 years, some people go into debt to fund plastic surgery (The Guardian).
While many people criticize South Korea and other Asian countries for adopting a more Western ideal of beauty, others argue that these beauty standards existed even before they had any significant contact with the Western culture.
Morever, it’s important to note that the problem of trying to fit women into a narrow ideal of beauty isn’t exclusive to countries like South Korea. As writers at Kotaku, Gawker, and Jezebel all point out, sometimes our beauty queens here in the U.S. look eerily similar as well.
12. South Korean reactions to the photos of Miss Daegu 2013 contestants?
My friends who live in South Korea told me that as soon as those photos began making waves in the English cyberspace, they went viral in the Korean cyberspace as well. A lot of Koreans agreed that the contestants, after they’ve been mercilessly Photoshopped, look very similar to one another.
They told me that most Korean internet users expressed dismay at the pageant officials for using Photoshop and criticized Korean society for its strict and narrow definition of beauty. They also said they felt bad for the contestants because when the retouched photos first came out, they were mocked for looking like clones. But when the unaltered photos surfaced and showed that they weren’t clones after all, some people called them ugly.
14. Everyone is quick to blame plastic surgery
Some Korean internet users also thought that everyone blamed plastic surgery for the viral photos because the media, both Korean and foreign, like to sensationalize the prevalence of plastic surgery in South Korea.
ISAPS ranked South Korea 8th in terms of total number of cosmetic procedures performed in 2010. The Economist reported that South Korea, followed by Greece, Italy, and Brazil, had the most procedures performed per 1,000 population in 2010.
Many argue that the statistics are misleading because the number of procedures done on hundreds of thousands of foreigners who came to South Korea for plastic surgery were also included.
According to a report done by MBC (South Korean public broadcasting company), about 200,000 foreigners traveled to South Korea for plastic surgery in 2010 (video below). And in 2011, the New York Times estimated that “…Chinese make up 30 percent of cosmetic surgery patients in Seoul”.
Plastic surgery craze is global.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think that Miss Daegu 2013 contestants look better in the photos before makeup and Photoshop.
I also think that Chinese, Russian, and American women in the above video don’t need to get those cosmetic procedures to be beautiful. However, it’s their personal decisions to go under the knife.
All those women, whether with makeup and Photoshop or plastic surgery, are trying to fit the standards of beauty that the society has imposed on them. It seems that while there are cultural differences in ideals of beauty, the pressure on women to conform to those ideals is universal.