One For The Girls- The Miracle ‘Magic Straight’ Hair Treatment

I have always loved hairdressers in Korea- I can get a cut and style for about 15,000 won (approximately £8) which is just amazing, and about a quarter of the price I’d pay back in England. What’s even better is that the hairdresser always does a good job, even when I can only mime what I want done- a massive relief, especially the first time I went, having no idea what to expect and scared that miss-communication would lead to an awful cut.

Then I discovered ‘Magic Straight’, which brought my love of Korean hairdressing to new heights. I’ve always suffered from unruly curly hair which is prone to frizzing. So during our first humid Korean summer, I had a permanently electrocuted look about me, static frizz which I just couldn’t tame. Needless to say I hated it.

I’ve always been pretty wary about getting ‘extreme’ hair treatments, in case they forever ruin my hair. But when I heard about Magic Straight, I was immediately tempted- a way to permanently calm my hair, I could forget about the annoyance of humidity and I wouldn’t have to bother with the hair straighteners every day. And so this April, in preparation for the upcoming summer months, I booked an appointment to get Magic Straight.

Here are some thing you should know about the treatment:

  • It takes a good 3/4 hours to complete. It’s a long process which includes the hairdresser having to painstakingly straighten every single section of your hair. Plus, I had to have a ‘tester’ before I started, to make sure it would work, having much finer hair than many Koreans.
  • It can lighten your hair colour slightly. I dye my hair quite frequently, and the shade was noticeable lighter when I had finished. But, within a few weeks you can dye your hair again.
  • You cannot wash your hair for a specific period of time- this is usually between 24 hours and 3 days, depending on where you go and what advice you are given.
  • You have to wear your hair loose for the next week. This can be quite annoying- you even have to be careful about putting your hair behind your ears in case of creating kinks. A little inconvenient, but not the end of the world.
  • At the start, your hair is very straight. If you have thin hair like me, it can feel a little bit too flat. But this gets better after a couple of weeks- the straightness stays, but the volume comes back.
  • It lasts longer than 3 months- my hair will still blow-dry straight after 9 months, and if I leave it to dry naturally, will only have a slight kink.
  • You can still curl your hair if you want- I wanted Magic Straight more for convenience than for dead-straight hair. I wanted to be able to leave my hair to dry naturally without turning into a frizzy mess or to be able to dry it quickly, but nicely. If you’re like me and still want to curl a little volume into your hair, you still can.
  • It’s a good price! My treatment cost about 110,000 won (about £65), which considering the length of treatment and long-lasting results, I think is pretty amazing.
  • It doesn’t ruin your hair. I was slightly worried I’d come out with frazzled ends or worse, but there were no negative effects of the treatment.

I’d recommend Magic Straight simply for the fact it makes managing your hair so much easier. My hair is actually in better condition now because I don’t straighten it or blow-dry it nearly as much. And the best part? I don’t have to waste time in the morning with the straighteners. Best treatment ever.

Korean Beauty Standards: Another Pressure Point

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Working in a middle school full of adolescent girls is like being transported back in time to a teenage world of worries, insecurities, and an ever-present wish to change pretty much everything about yourself- hair, skin, body- in fact, if you look for it, you can pretty much find fault with anything, and that’s exactly what teenagers do.

It’s true that on the surface, Korean girls don’t appear as obsessed by their looks as Western girls; they don’t wear any make-up until high school (and even then wear a minimal amount), they don’t wear a lot of jewellery, no hitched-up skirts or high heels, and the ponytail is the only hairstyle I see. However, underneath the surface, these girls have far more disdain for their appearance, and it’s only when talking to them that you realise how incredibly low their self-esteem actually is.

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brandon Myrick, via Wikimedia Commons

The way the word ‘ugly’ is thrown around is shocking; it’s a word only really used in England as an insult or as an extreme, and definitely not a word used normally to describe people. In  my opinion, it’s a word which shouldn’t be used at all due to its overwhelmingly negative connotations.

What’s even stranger is the girls’ treatment of other people, especially that of their friends. Here are just a few of the things my students have said about their friends. Oh, and not in a bitchy, behind-their-back way: this is said to their friend’s face:

“Her cheeks are like an apple, they’re so red from pimples.”

“She is quite ugly. She has a square face.”

“She is not pretty and has thick legs.”

It’s so weird to see friends talking about one another in this way, when for me, it’s always been girl code to automatically support your friends when they’re feeling down about themselves: “You’re not ugly”, “No-one can notice the spot on your chin”, “Of course you haven’t put on weight”.

The fact that friends are so quick and happy to insult, and to receive insults from each other without any offence just demonstrates how low their self-esteem actually is; it’s normal for them to be called ‘ugly’ and to accept this as fact, because they believe it.

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With such bad views of themselves and how openly they discuss their ‘bad’ looks, it’s no surprise that plastic surgery levels are sky high. According to reports, ‘1 in 77 people’ now have surgery to change their appearance, and ‘20% of women aged 19 to 49 in Seoul admit to going under the knife’. Double eyelid surgery is increasingly popular and is something many of my students have expressed their desire to get done when they’re older. when I see double-eyelid tape and glue in CU convenience stores, it reminds me how the pressure for girls to change their looks is everywhere. 

Of course, the K Pop girls don’t do anything to boost confidence among teenagers- they actually have the opposite effect, and make the girls feel even more inadequate. One K Pop star admitted that she had so much plastic surgery, people no longer recognised her. Pop Dust website also describes how the stars no longer care about keeping their surgery a secret; one girl group, Brown Eyed Girls sang a parody of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’, called ‘Plastic Face’. Is this a good message to send to impressionable young girls? I think not.

www.georgianewsday.com/news/world/156466-has-plastic-surgery-made-these-korean-beauty-queens-all-look-the-same.html
http://www.georgianewsday.com/news/world

When photos of the 2013 Miss Korea Beauty Pageant finalists were made public, they were criticised by many people who thought the girls had undergone so much surgery that they all looked the same. The desire for surgery was blamed on the desire to look more Western.

Even without resorting to surgery, I’ve witnessed many older girls wearing a lot of make-up, especially eye make-up, to try and look more like the ‘pretty’ girls on TV. Of course, it isn’t just in Korea that celebrities and the media have a damaging effect, it happens everywhere: extreme diets, changing of hair colour, make-up experimentation, fake tans… people trying to transform into someone else. But in Korea, it seems more extreme, perhaps because everyone wants to look the same. This results, as was made clear with the 2013 beauty pageant, in a group of beautiful clones with minimal individuality.

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thefw.com

I know that for teenage years, and for many years after, women all over the world use make-up, endless hair and beauty products, and go on fad diets to achieve some sort of ideal. But I feel like pressure on Korea girls is so much worse, and it’s worrying. It seems like all societal expectations of the Western World are magnified in Korea; school pressure is ten-times worse, the pressure on women to find and marry a ‘suitable’ man, and in the same way, the pressure to look good seems so much more extreme than in other countries.

My question (and worry) is ‘when will it stop?’ A lot of Koreans face too much stress in their lives as it is, and beauty is one pressure point too much. Instead of trying to alter their looks, girls should accept who they are and not view themselves with such harsh negativity. I want to shake sense into my students sometimes, to stop them being so down on themselves and make them believe that they are in no way ugly. Teenage years are for having fun, for being with friends and family- not for worrying that you don’t look the same as the celebrities. In fact, I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenage self the same thing… well, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Why South Korean High Schoolers Want Plastic Surgery? Check out their answers here.

Beauty: The Eternal Question

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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?

GPI KathyChat Audrey Hepburn
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Picture: en.wikipedia

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.

Picture: en.wikipedia
Picture: en.wikipedia

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.

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Picture: en.wikipedia

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.

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“A woman is beautiful when she’s loved, and only then”.

Mr Skeffington.