There’s a kind of cultural superiority that Americans in the happy-liberal world share with Americans from the not-so-happy-liberal world. I wonder if it’s just because it’s so hard to see outside of your own cultural assumptions.
Other people are not obliged to find you attractive. That’s a wholly recent and very culturally chic conceit of a certain demographic in the West. It’s true that Korea has a brutal culture of competition. But I’d like to point out that the problem in Korea isn’t necessarily the beauty standards. The problem is the intense, overriding competition in every possible field of activity, in every way. You’re in a life-and-death judgment struggle with every other person all the time. Social status means everything. Rank is the only quality many people value. This is a crushingly conformist, deeply hierarchical society dragged willy-nilly into the modern world. When you add in modern industry and consumerism, this is what you get. When you add in a solid dose of collectivism, unsurprisingly, the same rigidly hierarchical, conformist cultural roots produced North Korea. Ironically, the very freedom women have now compared to previous periods in Korea adds to the beauty problem. Women now have to compete for the attention of men and in the workplace and among their peers. They have to be smarter, taller, more beautiful, sexier, more refined, have smarter and more accomplished children, have husbands with great jobs. Because Korean society is so savagely competitive, it means that beauty becomes more than the usual intra-female competition. Makeup here is about showing off largely to other women, not men. Most men, as in the West, vastly prefer women not to wear makeup. Women wear it the same way men show off among themselves. It’s not necessarily men that women are trying to impress. Women are in a vicious competition with all other women for social status and rank, and beauty is a major factor in this for women, just as wealth and social rank is the key factor among men. For men, the competition is no less fierce or crushing, but it’s not usually in the beauty realm - but it definitely also affects their self-image, too. See how many ads exist for men’s clothing, how much pressure there is to dress to insanely high demands, how much fashion plays a role in everyday life for men here. See how brutal this society is to men who are considered unattractive. Ponder the brutal fate of the man who’s too short: He may never have a girlfriend for his entire life, let alone a wife and family. As far as women are concerned, a Korean guy who’s too short is a losing proposition, something to have contempt and pity for. Take a look at the heart-attack inducing pressures men are under to earn money and rank and gain social status. For Korean men, if you don’t have a good social rank, you’re worse than garbage. You might as well just kill yourself and ease the burden of society, so people don’t have to interact with you. It’s one of the reasons there are tons of pretty girls with no boyfriends or husbands: almost every man is beneath them. It’s why the male suicide rate is among the highest on Earth. This society punishes both men and women who fail to conform and to compete, and that punishment is merciless. So this is not the result of beauty standards, per se. It’s the result of the ceaseless pursuit of social status and rank in a society that values social status above all other measures in life. Nothing else matters. You can opt out of this - I know lots of Koreans who do - but I also personally know a ton of Koreans who would leave Korea in a heartbeat if they had the chance, to be free. Not because they live in an unfree country, but because socially Korea is, for many Koreans, something very much like a prison, an endless hamster wheel that you can only escape from by leaving, or opting out internally and accepting the internal exile this results in. You need serious emotional strength as a Korean to opt out of the “community standards” enforced here. Anyone in the West who thinks that having a stronger collective spirit needs to take a good, long, hard look at Korea. I’ve had many people say that my own country, Canada, is like a beacon for many people here: A place where, relatively, nobody judges you, nobody cares what you wear, nobody cares where you work or what you do, and where you can live your life and not be judged for it. At the same time, other Koreans have told me how distasteful they find such an indifferent society. My own society has its drawbacks, too, so as usual it’s six of one, a half-dozen of the other. You take the poison you dislike least. It’s one thing to make honest criticisms, but the author of this article seems unable to reach beyond her own cultural assumptions to try to understand and accept the practices of another culture. Despite being mixed, she’s extremely American circa 2014, and she can’t seem to escape from that.