Korean Beauty Standards, Now and In the Future

13 September 2021 by Jenna

Many of us stumble upon Korean makeup and beauty through our love of K-pop idols and K-drama stars. Their allure is undeniable and refreshing for those of us used to only seeing Western beauty in our everyday lives. However, there are very high and strict Korean beauty standards for Korean stars that have a large effect on Korean society as well. 

But what are those beauty standards? How does it affect Korean culture? Is it changing at all? Here’s your guide on Korean beauty standards and the exciting things happening to it.

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What Are the Korean Beauty Standards?

Korean beauty standards are often summed up in a handful of features. Although some of these characteristics have changed over time, they are still mostly based on historical beauty standards.

A beautiful woman stands in front of a white background with her hand touching her shoulder

Image via Shutterstock

In Korea, pale skin is an attractive feature for both men and women. Historically, as it is in many other countries, white skin was tied to wealth and nobility. In an agricultural society, those without money work outside in the sun and get darker skin, but if you have money, you can relax indoors and maintain a pale complexion. Nowadays, that idea has carried over, and many Korean women use Korean sunscreens with UV protection, skin whitening products, and generally cover their skin to prevent tanning.

Thinking about facial features, a small, V-shaped face is valued higher than a large one, but it doesn’t stop there. For many South Korean women and men, a v-shaped jaw and big eyes with double eyelids are a vital part of being beautiful. 

Other important features include having a small mouth with plump lips and a small, pointy nose. This idea of a small face and features is said to be based on the fact that small eyes make the face look bigger, so smaller facial features help to make the face look not as big. 

Finally, the ideal body type in Korea is a slim figure. Korean women don’t really like being curvy like some popular celebrities in the United States, but they also don’t want to be too thin as this is seen as unattractive.

These standards are quite high, and if you feel you don’t fit this standard, don’t worry. Most Korean people, even Korean pop stars, don’t naturally meet these high ideals.

How Do They Affect Korean Society?

Just like in many other countries, Korean girls and boys look up to their favorite pop idols and TV or film stars and often try to imitate their look with more than just K-pop makeup

In order to do so, many people in South Korea use a vast amount of K-beauty products, both for makeup and skincare. K-beauty is a huge market worldwide due to its innovation, and a large part of that market comes from the massive amount of products Korean citizens use. Even the currently trending puppy eye makeup look is based around making the eyes look larger. 

Image via Shutterstock

For those with money to spare, plastic surgery is also an option. Cosmetic surgery in South Korea is not as stigmatized as it is in other countries, and about 20 percent of young Korean women have had one. The most popular surgeries include double eyelid surgery for getting rid of monolid and opening the eyes, aegyo-sal (fat injections around the eye) to create a youthful look, and V-line surgery to create a more attractive jawline. 

It’s not uncommon for women to receive surgeries as graduation gifts. It’s even more common for idols to get these surgeries before starting their careers in order to conform. Some people even opt for surgeries just to give themselves the best chances in the Korean job market, where applications or resumes usually require photos and height or weight information.

This culture has also created large societal pressure where many people report feeling insecure, having a bad body image, or having low self-esteem, more than in any other country. People, men included, feel pressured to wear makeup, to have long Korean beauty routines, and to always look put-together. There is also a seemingly constant focus on weight.

However, there has been a shift in this culture that will hopefully lead to less pressure in Korean society and more enjoyment of makeup as something people like.

Free the Corset

After the widely successful #metoo movement, another really cool movement began on social media. A number of Korean women looked at these high ideals of beauty and thought, “Why are we doing this?” They started to compare the societal pressure to be beautiful to being bound in a corset. 

They took to social media to denounce their ten or more-step Korean skincare routines. Some posted photos with no makeup while others just destroyed their makeup altogether on camera. Some women even completely cut their hair to send the message that they are done with the pressure. 

The message, to be clear, wasn’t that makeup or beauty is bad. Instead, they want women to live free of the ‘corset’ and live as they please. 

A woman stands in front of a gray background with no makeup on

Image via Shutterstock

K-pop Idols Defying the Standards

Another cool thing that has happened recently is that some K-pop idols, male and female, are refusing to get cosmetic procedures and embracing their uniqueness. Blackpink’s Jennie Kim, WJMK’s Kim Do-yeon, Mamamoo’s Hwasa, and Twice’s Tzuyu and Nayeon are just a few. Even RM from BTS has spoken about his experience of low self-esteem from having (only slightly) more tan skin than the industry standard.

It’s good to know that K-pop stars are embracing their beauty and encouraging others to as well. The important thing is that we all feel beautiful for our own happiness and not to meet a crazy high standard someone else has for us. The great thing about beauty products, even K-beauty, is that it can make any of us feel happy and beautiful for ourselves. 

Did you learn anything new? What do you think about Korean beauty standards? Let us know in the comments!


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