In South Korea, ‘Lookism’ Is ‘Enforced With Open Discrimination’

In South Korea, 'Lookism' Is 'Enforced With Open Discrimination'

The next is an excerpt from Flawless: Lessons in Looks and Culture from the K-Beauty Capital by Elise Hu, which got here out on Tuesday.  

Looking back, I started to know the monumental labor of look work whereas I used to be in labor. Absolutely, there was air-conditioning in that birthing suite, however I couldn’t really feel it anymore on the pushing stage. The solar had come down, sending lengthy shadows into the room. My hair dripped with sweat. I needed all my garments off and stripped all the way down to solely my bra, out of a primal intuition to be bare. However the midwife saved overlaying me up with a blanket. Modesty within the supply room?! Nobody was there apart from the midwife, my husband, and finally my ob-gyn, who had seen about 80,000 vaginas by then, given his line of labor. I’d toss off the blanket the midwife draped over my decrease half; she’d cowl me again up. This back-and-forth continued a number of instances, at the same time as I may really feel the excruciating stress of a small human rising from between my legs. Lastly in desperation I shouted, “Cease overlaying me up!” And he or she relented.

Later, I might come to see that disagreeable standoff as emblematic of a prevailing perspective about ladies’s our bodies: that of their most “pure” state, when our bodies are bare and never prettified, they need to be hidden. The concept femininity ought to be cultivated and our our bodies in some way cleaned up for presentation is one thing I’d already been selecting up from Korean magnificence tradition. However our our bodies at their most bare can already include confusion or disgrace. Having to wage a battle to be bare throughout an expertise shared by ladies throughout time and house? It registered as unsuitable, at the same time as I winced and wailed by means of the previous few moments of labor.

Within the weeks and months after we introduced Isa house, I realized to censor my postpartum physique. Isa’s early summer time delivery meant that throughout the first few months of her life, my pores and skin beaded with sweat each time I stepped from the steaminess exterior onto the air-conditioned subway. The additional warmth that comes with nonstop lactation didn’t assist. One September morning I let myself don a sleeveless V-neck gown as I took Eva to highschool through subway. It proved to be a fast and demeaning lesson on how to not seem in public. My nursing breasts meant I used to be naturally bustier, and the gown revealed a touch of cleavage. (Although not a lot—even my nursing breasts don’t fill greater than a B cup.) I bear in mind stepping onto a subway automotive and discovering a spot standing subsequent to the steel pole close to the doorways. However between that cease and the subsequent one, the subway automotive’s whole center space had cleared away from me. These within the seats alongside the edges shot me appears of disapproval and puzzled disdain. Individuals had moved so far-off from my modest cleavage that I’d as nicely have been loudly farting on the subway. Or bare.

Naked arms have been a no-no—you’ll discover that Korean ladies put on cardigans over their camisoles or tank tops even within the top of summer time—and cleavage appeared to scare folks off. These norms have been among the many numerous invisible look guidelines I didn’t find out about till I broke them. My Korean girlfriends later instructed me that it’s frowned upon to a lot as duck downstairs to the comfort retailer with out make-up on. For many, it’s not price flouting such guidelines as a result of they’re enforced with open discrimination. There’s even a reputation for it: lookism.

In Korean, the time period is oemo jisang juui, which interprets to “appears are supreme.” Lookism describes the cussed social prejudice in opposition to those that fail to fulfill sure look requirements.

Regardless of lookism being forbidden in Korea by a 1995 regulation, appearance-based discrimination is a cultural norm. “If you meet somebody, the very first thing you say is about their appears,” says Hellen Choo, a Seoul-based Korean magnificence entrepreneur. “Like, ‘Oh my god, take a look at your eyes.’ Or, ‘You’ve good eyebrows.’ ‘Have a look at your pores and skin.’ ‘Wow, you’re so skinny.’ It’s one thing that individuals can’t actually perceive once you’re from abroad and also you get offended. Nevertheless it’s very, quite common right here.”

Lookism is prevalent within the skilled sphere. A 2017 South Korean ballot discovered that just about 40 % of respondents skilled discrimination based mostly on their look when making use of for jobs. South Korea’s job boards have been full of listings that instructed candidates to connect pictures till a 2019 regulation forbid it. Nonetheless, listings will use phrases like neat and stunning to explain perfect candidates, and mustaches and tattoos are explicitly prohibited. In the meantime, a publish on a jobs weblog mentioned that massive corporations desire “fairly eyes” and that authorities bosses like “excessive noses.” Even the Ministry of Employment and Labor as soon as shared a hyperlink on Twitter, encouraging job seekers to thoughts their appears, suggesting “beauty surgical procedure has develop into one of many seven credentials wanted for employment,” and asking what sort of face corporations most popular for its candidates. (It’s since been eliminated.) That head pictures and sometimes top and weight are required for employment that doesn’t contain appearing or modeling is a follow unthinkable in america except you’re daring folks to sue you.

In my interviews, ladies who have been simply getting into the job market or within the early phases of their profession instructed me repeatedly that they merely can’t afford not to enhance their appears, for monetary and social causes. Their households insist on it. Their potential employers count on it. At highschool commencement time, simply after the nationwide faculty entrance examination, college students are generally given beauty surgical procedure reward certificates by their mother and father and grandparents. Hair and make-up salons supply faculty commencement packages for younger folks getting into the job market. Dermatology and cosmetic surgery apps supply reductions to latest highschool grads of fifty to 70 % in a “three-pack” of the most well-liked procedures for younger Koreans—eyelid surgical procedure, nostril jobs, and Botox for facial contouring of the jawline. Korean ladies get Botox by their early 20s, as a result of wanting “fairly” (as outlined by that youthful glow) isn’t simply vital, it’s the value of entry within the labor market.

It’s not onerous to attract a line from unchecked lookism to the speedy ascent of essentially the most excessive magnificence tradition on the planet. For a cocktail of causes, many Koreans right now consider magnificence work—the work you do in your outer shell—is identical as self-improvement. Consuming make-up and skin- care, in addition to availing your self of beauty providers and procedures, is known as a matter of self-respect, per- sonal administration, and respect for the neighborhood. The floor of the physique, writes College of Hawaii professor Sharon Heijin Lee, is “an area of modernizing labor in and of itself, a web site the place shopping for and promoting, loving and coercing, freedom and energy all coalesce.”15 The physique is an instru- ment you’re taking to work so as to earn a paycheck. Additionally it is a worksite of its personal, open 24/7. Whether or not it’s work we do to our our bodies or the work carried out by our our bodies, it’s an entire lotta labor.

From Flawless by Elise Hu with permission from Dutton, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random Home, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Elise Hu.