Grace Kelly. Miranda Kerr. Halle Berry. What do these three have in common? They are all famously beautiful women, celebrated for their incredible good looks, idolised by millions.
Beauty is everywhere, and it is something which plagues everyone in one way or another. It is an ever-present issue in society, even more so now due to social media: filtered images on Instagram, the rise of the selfie (or belfie if you’d prefer), Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter the list goes on. Millions of people trying to put their beauty out there for the world to see by posting flattering, posed photos. Social media also means that there are more images than ever of beautiful celebrities out there on display, serving only to make people feel inadequate about themselves.
The real question which bothers me is ‘what is beauty’. It is something which has such a presence in our lives, yet what actually is it? It is ever changing, that’s for sure: take weight, for example- hundreds of years ago, oversize women were considered beautiful, but fast-forward to the noughties and the image of beauty has completely changed into being an emaciated size-zero.
Everybody has different ideas of beauty: which do you think more attractive, curvaceous blonde bombshell Marilyn or skinny elegant Audrey?
So if beauty is a subjective thing, then why are we always trying to better ourselves? Why do people continually strive towards something which is so artificial and unreliable: for what could one moment be considered beautiful could change instantly.
What made me start thinking about this was moving to Korea. The reason? I have been called beautiful more times during the past 18 months than the past 24 years in England. And before you think this is a completely arrogant statement I want to say that it is not by any means just me- every Western girlfriend of mine has received the same treatment. It is an almost daily compliment from students, and not only from people we know but from random people you meet in the street or in shops. In England, this would only happen if you were a supermodel, or perhaps a Mila Kunis lookalike. In Korea, it’s simply because you’re Western.
I’m under no illusion that my looks are in any way special, it just happens to be that some of my features are those wich Korean people desire, and so their automatic reaction is to think you’re good looking. The same thing happens with my boyfriend; he is over six foot, and as this is something which the Koreans greatly admire, he is continually noticed and called handsome.
It is exactly this treatment which has made me realise what a strange and pointless thing beauty is. In many ways it’s just a projection of our own insecurities, where we are conditioned to find features which we don’t have as beautiful.
It’s no secret that plastic surgery levels are sky high in Korea. It has been stated that one in five Korean women get surgery, and it is apparent that many more want to have it. My students who are only 12 years old openly discuss their desire to get double-eyelid surgery when they’re older. With double eyelid glue and tape being sold, not only in cosmetic stores but convenience stores such as CU, it’s no surprise that girls feel the pressure to change their looks.
I also find it shocking and disturbing how quickly my teenage students call themselves, and their friends for that matter, ‘ugly’. It is clear that self esteem among girls is at an all time low, and why? Because their idea of beauty goes against the inherent image of their race. Many of the K Pop singers and celebrities look almost Western because they have had so much surgery, and this is the image which younger girls strive towards.
From a Westerners point of view? I see so many things which are enviable about Korean girls: perfect, even skin tone, thick glossy hair, their naturally slim figures and incredibly fast metabolisms (which I am so jealous of by the way). So this just proves my point; we quite often just seem to want what we don’t have.
So, what’s my point to all this? I guess being here has just made me realise just how subjective beauty is. It is always changing, over time and between different cultures. Skinny, curvy, blonde, brunette, pale, tanned, tall, short, made-up, natural. Beauty is little more than just another trend which people follow. And what one person finds beautiful, another will find ugly.
So when I see people here, almost brainwashed into thinking one thing is beautiful, it just seem absolutely ridiculous. There isn’t only one type of beauty, so stop trying to conform, to follow the crowd, to change yourself into something that you’re not. Instead, it’s time to ignore the pressures of society and to appreciate your own looks, to feel comfortable in your own skin.
Most importantly, remember that there are far more important things in life which are lasting and real. Beauty is just an illusion, and what is thought to be beautiful one moment could change the next.
“A woman is beautiful when she’s loved, and only then”.