Beauty in Korea {and our renewal interviews for year 2}


For those of you who are new here to my blog, my husband (Farmboy) and I have been teaching English in a small town in the South West corner of South Korea since June last year. We packed up our first little home after getting married in 2012 and decided to head out here to build a nest egg and do what we love doing most, traveling and adventuring together. We were here in Korea back in 2010, as a dating couple in the bustling metropolis of Daejeon. After finishing up one year we headed back home to South Africa to get married and get a feel for the job market (which obviously wasn't very exciting as here we are again!). This time around we are able to put a lot more money away as we now live together and share expenses (we chose not to live together before we were married) and because we are in a very small town out in the country. South Korea offers many benefits to their English Teachers (free housing, return flights, renewal bonuses, extra pay for being out in rural areas and for being at multiple schools and relatively inexpensive living costs).  Farmboy teaches at 4 schools, whereas I am lucky enough to be at just one, an all girls middle school. It has been an amazing experience so far, and we have, as planned, decided to stay in our same town and at our same schools for at least another year. 

Since June last year we have been to Malaysia, Vietnam, had to cancel a trip to Mongolia  and traveled extensively around Korea. There have been highs, and a lot of lows (being in a country where EVERYTHING is done so differently from your home country is difficult. The food is strange, the people can be strange, the way that a school is run is strange, the kids can be terrors and you will miss your family and friends more than you can ever prepare yourself for. But, at the same time, if you don't throw yourself head first into situations like these you will never find out how strong you are as a person and how much you are really able to handle. And then there are the positives too (our jobs aren't exactly rocket science and in most cases we are treated really well by our schools). There are days when all I want to do is go home, have babies and spend all day photographing them while baking up delicious chocolate treats. But then I am reminded that this opportunity here in Korea allows us to save for a house back home, meet interesting new people and travel the world. 

BUT the title of this post is about beauty and Korea ( and our interviews), and I seem to have gotten side tracked...I had planned to do an outfit post here, hence the pictures below, but it has turned into more of a reflective post on our time here. This often happens when I blog...and to be honest happens all day in my classroom (my kids love this as it inevitable means less learning and teaching and more stories about South Africa).

Where am I going with this...oh yes...Image and looks are extremely important here in Korea. That sounds awfully shallow but when you live here long enough you being to understand the reasons why. I do not agree with the Korean mentality that beauty is everything, but when someone spends time on their appearance and care has been taken to look neat and tidy this translates to an overall better image of that person than someone who looks sloppy and smells funny. Koreans always look amazing, their makeup and hair is always immaculate and they always look incredibly smart. It gives off a sense of pride, pride in their appearance and pride in who they are. On the other end of the scale, this obsession with outward beauty has led to a unbelievable amount of money being spent plastic surgery, makeup products and diet pills. I understand that for Koreans appearance is everything, this is ingrained into them from birth, and culturally this something us Westerners will never really be able to fully understand. For us, beauty is linked to vanity and is seen as something more on the negative side of things than what it is for the people here. 'Beautiful' people get boyfriends, get married and have a family. If this doesn't happen, the older generation will have no one too look after them when they get to old to work. That is pretty much how it works here. The older generations worked incredibly hard to put their kids through school and university so they can get good jobs. It is then expected that they will provide and care for their elders. It seems a bit odd considering our Western mindsets, but here in Korea there are very few old age homes. Family members are cared for until death, living with their children and their families. Hence why there is such a strong emphasis placed on family.

So it seems that beauty leads to a family which leads to safety and security for the old. Beauty is that important to Koreans. Having said that, I think that one should always try to look neat and tidy, and have a certain level of pride in our appearance. But as the younger generation starts to blend into the same person (having had the same procedures to achieve the perfect lips/chin/cheeks/eyes/mouth) as shown by the latest K-pop (Korean Pop) singer, it starts to be ridiculous. The young women in this society seem ashamed of their Korean looks and heritage , opting for eye lid surgery, cheek implants, lip injections, eye brow lifts and contacts to achieve an impossible level of beauty that borders on lunacy. Here is an article and the picture that went with it which circulated a few years ago about the Miss Korea pageant, I'll leave it up to you to decide for yourself whether or not the contestants all look the same (they are beautiful, for sure, but they look eerily similar, wouldn't you agree?) 


I have nothing against plastic surgery, I know lots of people who have had some form of surgery or another, and it's a very personal decision. What I don't like is that it's being done to such a point that people are barely recognizable as their 'pre-surgery' selves. I must still say that I do have Korean girl friends who don't agree with the plastic surgery craze, so it's important for me to note that not every Korean woman has undergone surgery. But, it is alarming when I ask my middle school girls (13 - 15 year olds) whether they think plastic surgery is a good thing and 65% of them put up their hands and tell me what they are going to have done when they are old enough. It's as common as makeup shopping, and apparently Korea is the cheapest place in the world to go under the knife. You can get your eye lids done during your lunch break and be back at work the next day with little to no recovery time needed.

It's rather strange that the first thing a Korean person will say when they meet you will have something to do with your looks "Oh...beautiful", "Pretty", "Handsome", "Small face", "Big eyes". It's all very flattering at first, but, when you actually think about it, it's really strange. Would the first thing you tell someone when meeting them for the first time be "Oh, you have such a small face. And really big eyes. And you're so pretty"? For Koreans, a small face is seen as 'cute' and whereas a big face is seen as masculine (my students have told me that this is why they make the 'peace' signs with their hands and fingers in pictures, to make their faces appear smaller and therefore more cute and feminine...bizarre).  

And now after all of the above, it seems rather conceited to be posting pictures of myself all dressed up. But I wanted this post to be an outfit one, and then I got a little carried away with the topic of beauty and anyway, here we are now.

This is what I wore to our renewal interview last week. We were meeting with the VIP's in the Education Office and had been advised by friends to go all out to really make a good impression. There have also been lots of rumors of budget cuts and a number of our friends have been been moved/lost their jobs due to these cuts. So we really did want to make a good impression, and were rather nervous throughout the entire interview. But, after lots of smiling and bowing we were done in a very short amount of time and have just been told that we have been accepted to renew. Phew! Then those heels (as little as they are were killing me!) and thin stockings in the middle of winter were worth it!


What do you think about plastic surgery? How do you feel about the fixation with beauty that seems to permeate not just Korea, but the entire world? Are we all just shallow beings, or are we trying to hide what we think is ugly, in the hopes that people will love us for who we really are? I've spent a lot of time thinking about these things since being in Korea, i hope this post today has given you something to think about.