24
Sep
13

Asian American Beauty Standards Don’t Apply in Asia

I remember reading some blog awhile back about a Cuban/Filipino/Korean/American that wrote about her experiences teaching English in Korea and that she wasn’t considered beautiful enough in South Korea.  The internet was full of outrage and disbelief.  I’m sure those commenters weren’t Asian from Asia and NOT Korean.  Without even looking at her photo, my reaction was “DUH!”.  After seeing her picture, my thoughts were confirmed.  All that article told me is she was incredibly uninformed about a country that she went to live and work in and knew nothing about the culture at all.  She was shocked and disappointed that being a quarter Korean descent she wasn’t accepted by her people.  That tells me she’s an American through and through and either unbelievably naive, or looking for publicity.

I’m a generation 1.5 immigrant-I came here about age 4, and grew up here with my immigrant parents.  I’m straddling that line between the Old World and the New.  Both Koreans and Americans see me as “other”.  I have never been to Korea since we left.  My American friends can’t understand why I wouldn’t want to see my native land.  They don’t get it.  I’m a full-blooded Korean with very Korean features, but I would not be accepted in Korea.  For one, I’m not fluent in the language. Even if I were, I would still be looked at as American, but not quite.  My white friends would have a very different time there than I.  They wouldn’t be treated with the kind of suspicion, prejudice, and contempt that I would.  They would think Koreans were very nice and tolerant.  What they don’t understand is that their behavior would be overlooked because they are white.  The attitude is that Westerners are barbarians and don’t know any better and it’s useless to teach them as they are beyond hope.  It’s like indulging a misbehaving retarded child.

As for me, I would be judged as a traitor of sorts.  Although I am from the same stock, the fact that I grew up in America means that I’m tainted and corrupted.  I’m not really Korean because I don’t conform to every aspect of their culture.  Not speaking the language and fully adhering to the customs disqualifies me from being Korean to the natives.  As a woman, I am also expected to conform to sexist behavioral norms.  I’’m far too outspoken, aggressive, and loud.  I am not demure and submissive and as a feminist, would be an outcast and extremely threatening.  Again, this is to be expected in Westerners, but on this, I would be judged as a bad Korean.

Being female also subjects me to more intense scrutiny and a set of criterion in terms of appearance.  I’m way too big.  When my mother visited Korea, she never brought any clothes or shoes back as early as 7th grade, as my broad shoulders and size 9 feet wouldn’t fit into the standard sizes sold there.  Good God, every Korean girl grows up being told she’s clumsy like a bear, has tree trunk or daikon radish legs, and constantly criticized about being fat by everyone in the community unless she fits the 98lb mold.  So if that’s normal in the Korean community in America, what do you expect it’s going to be like in an entire nation with this mentality?.  I scoff at her emotional distress after a few months-try living with that your whole life!

She should have known she would have been rejected from the outset because she is not full Korean.  Asians in general don’t celebrate diversity and being mixed race is not accepted, especially in Korea.  For her to be ignorant and surprised about this seems disingenuous.  Whether this attitude is right or wrong is a topic for another column on another day, and I’ll get to it.  What I’m talking about is walking into the lion’s den and being surprised that the lion would bite.  And then playing victim and looking for sympathy.  “Woe is me, I walked blindly into the lion’s den and I was mauled, traumatized, and scarred for life.”  I’m just incredulous at her stupidity.

When I looked at her picture and saw her skin tone, that would be the first indicator that she would be unattractive to Koreans, and frankly to the vast majority of Asians, even Asians whose natives are mostly of a darker skin tone.  Of course, Americans are already clambering onto their soapboxes with megaphones at the ready to shout “Racism!”.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s Western projections of their own racist attitudes onto other cultures.  If anything, it’s classist and elitist.  Think about it, Koreans have a long history and culture, and Westerners only appeared recently in the whole context of things.  Long before ever seeing people of any other race, the Korean beauty ideal was a pale complexion.  This was representative of being rich and privileged enough to live a life of leisure and not become tan from toiling in the fields like a peasant.  After Westerners came to Korea, they brought their racist attitudes with them and influenced this already exclusionary mindset.

It’s stories like hers that make me realize that our media and society really represents a limited and one-sided perspective on things.  Everything is framed through one lens and we seem to operate in total ignorance, or arrogance of other viewpoints.  Maybe we just ignore the attitudes of other countries that we don’t like or aren’t in accordance with our values. The message I take away from this is that while America is celebrating diversity, it’s just lip service since they don’t  know jack shit about the cultures they are supposedly embracing.  I also believe that free speech as well as discussion about unpleasant realities and viewpoints are choked off by the strangle hold of political correctness.  Only those viewpoints that have been sanitized are the ones that are heard in our mainstream media and as such constitute propaganda.

It’s ironic to me that this woman who went to teach in a foreign country clearly didn’t do her homework before deciding to go there.  Graded on lack of preparation, poor research,  and unfamiliarity with subject material, I give her an “F”.  I suspect part of the problem is she grew up in an era in America  of fake self-esteem where “everyone is beautiful in their own way” and everyone gets a trophy for showing up and everyone can be special.  I come from the Old World way which is second place means you lost, not everyone can be special, it’s a dog eat dog competitive world, and you should always strive for betterment, not acceptance of your flaws.  In America, if you aren’t really beautiful but tell others you are, people would give you some fake encouragement or keep quiet.  In Korea, if you were delusional and immodest enough to proclaim yourself beautiful when you’re not, the community at large would shout you down in no uncertain terms to your face.  Don’t get all offended.  I didn’t say the Korean view is totally right, just stating that’s the reality of the way they would see it.

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6 Responses to “Asian American Beauty Standards Don’t Apply in Asia”


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