Korean VS. Western beauty ideals

For my major project, my area of interest is in comparing Korean beauty ideals and Western beauty standards and exploring how cultures impact an individual’s perceptions of beauty. As a beauty and cosmetics fanatic, I can be found in my room religiously watching YouTube beauty tutorials, reading articles about the latest looks and items which are trending, laughing at the memes circulating social media or in store at Mecca Cosmetica with my hand covered in lipstick swatches. Make-up has become such a priority for me that I even want to dedicate my life to working in the head office of a global cosmetics house.

Due to this constant immersion into the beauty realm, I was particularly drawn to one social trend which blew up online and that was the rise of Korean beauty ideals. These ideals were gaining attention and giving rise to ‘Korean Inspired’ beauty tutorials online, more articles outlining how to achieve such a look and also the increase of cosmetic surgeries in Eastern countries, especially regarding the double eyelid procedure.

My blood is 100% Korean but I was born and raised in Australia so my identity is heavily influenced by both Eastern traditions and methods as well as Western ways of thought. Being raised in the Australian lifestyle, having gone through the schooling system from the age of 4 until this day and my friends all being brought up in the Western culture (although they too might have a different cultural background), it is only natural that I too adopt predominantly Westernised values, including beauty ideals. When Korean beauty ideals started trending, it made me realise how separate and ignorant I really was from my background.

The rise of Korean beauty as a trend in the Western world can definitely be attributed to the popularisation of the music genre, K-Pop. The K-Pop phenomenon put the Korean music scene on the global map, made Korean stars international stars and lead to international tours and fans. Like any celebrity, fans and the public look up to them as figures, for inspiration, for fashion ideas and beauty trends. Because the Korean look can be categorised so easily due to the uniform look, Western audiences soon too noticed the simplicity in the same beauty look every star – even the males – were wearing (although the process to achieve this is far less simple). YouTube tutorials started appearing with titles such as “How to Look Like a K-Pop Star” and “Kpop Star Makeup Tutorial” and even to this day beauty bloggers like Shaaanxo (from New Zealand) who just last month, uploaded a Korean beauty haul video.

      My sister-in-law was born in South Korea and then moved to New Zealand when she was 12. Despite going through adolescence to adulthood in a Westernised society, she still maintains many Korean beauty standards because they are engrained in her from a young age and also due to the influence of her mum and older sister who hold the same view. She values having pale skin and consciously does not go out in to the sun for prolonged periods of time and she uses make up to enhance the size of her eyes. She has even gone to the extent of having laser surgery to remove her facial freckles and has an intense everyday skincare routine. She made me realise that we were so different, I like having a slight tan so I don’t look transparent and I enjoy going outdoors in the sun, I don’t consider my freckles an imperfection and I like to play around with my make-up looks.

Interactions with her also made me think about how growing up in a certain environment can seriously shape one’s perception. The more I thought about it the more I realised that Korean beauty standards seemingly idealises Western qualities such as big eyes and white skin but also retains its own cultural individuality such as looking younger rather than older, using less makeup to achieve a more natural look, and trying to look cute rather than sexy.

     To complete this investigation into differing beauty standards based on cultural values I will utilise different research methods including:

  • My own observations and interpretation of the differences and similarities between cultures
  • Interviewing and gathering the opinions of people from various other cultural backgrounds
  • Analysing academic sources to help back my own opinion as well as provide facts

This work will be what Ellis (2011) calls a Narrative Ethnography whereby it will incorporate my own experiences in the analysis of others. There will be encounters and interactions with members of the groups being studied such as those who adhere to either beauty ideal and this will shape my own observations of those involved.


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