A friend shared this Jezebel article with me. It shares Jezebel’s Dodai’s perspective on a white English teacher’s perspective teaching in South Korea and observing her Korean charges get plastic surgery.
As one of those ~white feminists~ myself who spent two years in South Korea - admittedly a small portion of time, and from a similarly outsider lens - I understand the impulse to find the South Korean plastic surgery obsession problematic and impose a Western lens on its intensity. But I think Dodai’s secondhand interpretation, a telephone of sorts, and the OP’s interpretation is kind of fucked up.
(1) South Korean women themselves were not invited to speak about the topic, to offer their perspective and place this within a context of what a ‘beauty ideal’ means in Korea. There are plenty of South Korean women I know who are available, organized, feminist, would probably be interested in speaking to an outlet with Jezebel’s range, and often speak excellent English (or are native-born English speakers) who could have easily cleared up or at least clarified Dodai’s misconceptions. Many are even on Tumblr and Facebook.
But instead of actually talking to these women, Dodai perpetuates a fucked up Othering by deciding to take the white English teacher’s word for it, and then putting her own spin on it. When this is the Internet, and they are available, and even if their analysis would not be in Western feminist terms, it would certainly be a counterpoint to Dodai’s projection.
Which leads me to my next point.
(2) Dodai, who has never visited South Korea, and has appeared to only consult some before/after pictures on Tumblr blogs with no context whatsoever, is making a huge Western feminist hullabaloo about a phenomenon she is interpreting through a Western lens. One of the biggest mistakes is assuming that the eyelid surgery is to look “more Western”. OH MY GOD THIS BOTHERS ME SO MUCH while of course we cannot discount the role that white discourse has played in the entire world and the hegemony of racialized white privilege, I guarantee you this is NOT the rationale of South Korean women: “Oh I’m doing this to look more white”. South Korean beauty standards may be fucked up and patriarchal and limiting women and all of that sexist jazz, but ASSUMING THAT IT IS BASED ON A WESTERN IDEAL IS ITSELF A CHAUVINIST ASSUMPTION. If anything, from what I have observed, and is open to debate, there is more an idea of what it means to be the most “Korean” - and that involves very light skin. This is obviously a form of racialization based on skin tone but it is not the same thing as what we mean when we talk about “whiteness” in the US.
(3) On the whole, in my honky opinion, I would agree that there is very much just ONE beauty standard in Korea - rather than a multitude - but perhaps that should be taken into consideration with the fact that Korea has a long history of ethnic homogeneity to this day, so comparing a Korean peer with an American peer may not be a contextually great comparison or even fair. It also ignores the role that nationalism plays in things as complex and simultaneously subtle and UNsubtle as the beauty ideal - and Korea is a very nationalistic country.
TL;DR Jezebel fails again.
I would also like to add a few points from a Korean perspective.
1. I’d be the first to admit that our beauty standards are pretty much fucked up and that it harms us. However, treating it as a “oh these south Koreans hah weird” and using words like “cultish” while describing it doesn’t help us at all. It portrays us as a hive mind, a backward orientalist view that has been lodged against us for a very long time. It reeks of racism.
2. I dunno how many times I have to say this but we don’t get plastic surgery to be white. If anything there are legitimate conversations out there that talk about why white standards of beauty are there and that we recognize that we will never look the same as white people. Although it is true that we prefer certain features that may be more commonly associated with white people it does not necessarily mean we want to be white. If anything there are certain features, such as freckles, that white people prefer that we do not. Saying that we want to look white erases these very relevant debates and enforce white beauty hierarchy.
3. It also erases the amount that white beauty hierarchy was forced on us. It erases the fact that most American media portrays white people as this epitome of all things beautiful and that it is because of these imports from the American media that white people are seen as beautiful. It erases the role of American surgeons who gave us double eyelid surgery because they thought it was better for us. It erases all of that past and puts the blame on us.