“Society hasn’t pressured or encouraged me…”

As my topic is an exploration of not so much facts and statistics, but rather of shared opinions which dictate social norms and the mainstream, a platform which really offers a greater insight into the opinions of the general public is video content on YouTube. YouTube is literally a hub where anyone, anywhere can upload a video which contains any form of content such as comedy skits, cooking tutorials and real life news content completely at their own discretion (although with some regulations regarding copyright and sensitive topics). This therefore allows for greater citizen journalism on every topic imaginable and with this comes more opinion and more instances of autoethnography to be evident.

In my trawling through the endless videos available on YouTube, I came across this highly fascinating video called “Grace Neutral Explores Korea’s Illegal Beauty Scene” which is a half-hour documentary produced with i-D – a sub-channel of VICE. It was uploaded in May this year and the entire documentary is Grace Neutral’s autoethnography of Korea and its beauty industry. She explores how younger generations are challenging traditional views around body image in South Korea via the country’s underground tattoo scene, gang culture, the mainstream influences of K-Pop and plastic surgery.

I found to be a really enthralling video because the interviewer, Grace Neutral is herself an interesting character. Having both face and eye modifications which make her highly recognisable, her whole body is also tattooed which even further adds to her uniqueness. She is a tattoo artist from London who is open minded and willing to learn about the Korea culture but still deep down retains her Western standards and views.

She explains how

  • South Korea has a 6 million dollar beauty industry
  • Has the world’s fastest growing and technically advanced beauty industry
  • Korean women spend twice as much as American women on beauty products
  • 60% of women’s in their 20’s have had plastic surgery

She spends a day with a young Korean woman who said something that really struck me –

“Society hasn’t pressured or encouraged me. It’s done because we feel like we can improve our looks with surgery.”

With an Australian understanding of beauty and surgery, I feel like because surgery is so common, surgery isn’t considered abnormal so that why she views that society hasn’t pressured her and it’s ingrained into her that surgery isn’t “different” to the norm. In Australia, whilst surgery is common, many young women undergo less dramatic surgeries and often opt for procedures which enhance their existing features such as lip injections and breast enlargements. I find this differs to Korean surgeries as many are done to literally change the face so it looks different rather than enhanced.

Grace herself even shares my opinion and has the stance that girls are conforming to the societal pressure to look a certain way and follow the aesthetics of K-Pop stars. We both share this opinion due to our similar Western cultures, values and standards. This contrasts with the Korean girl who genuinely believes that women do not bow down to societal pressures but rather all happen to get surgery because they want to make themselves look better. She thinks that in Korea mainstream culture makes people feel uncomfortable if their beauty ideals expressed don’t fit in with the traditional standards or beauty.


As my research is progressing, I’m finding it increasingly hard to categorise Korean beauty standards by make-up trends alone and have found that it encompasses much more. I want to step away from purely comparing and contrasting Eastern vs. Western beauty trends and go deeper into South Korean beauty ideals, the influences and movements shaping the current standards, its reception by different audiences and in what ways this differs from the West.

The main areas which I will be exploring are:

Body Image – body shape and skin tone

Surgery – Celebrity culture influence and the normalisation of surgery

Make-up – Cute vs. Sexy/ East vs. West

Due to my research and cultural awareness, in my understanding the ideal Korean woman is:

  • Tall and slim body
  • Pale skin tone
  • Double eyelids for the effect of larger eyes (often achieved through surgery)
  • Slim chin (also often achieved through surgery)
  • Cute and youthful looking – more commonly seen in make-up

This contrasts with the ideal Western woman who is:

  • Strong, toned and fit body
  • Tan and ‘sunkissed’
  • Greater emphasis on having a larger bum and lips (evident through celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and KylieJenner)
  • Greater focus on fitness and health (seen in the latest social media boom of the fitness industry)

To gather my research I will be looking to YouTube as mentioned before but I will also be looking at social media and analysing where audience, reach and interaction is coming from for certain content e.g. popular influencers and brands as this is honest and current trends and opinions.


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