In Korea great importance is placed on being beautiful.  This is a global inclination but I think that  beauty, or ‘prettiness’, is talked about often and more openly here than in western countries. 

So what is the Korean interpretation of beauty? Well, slim figures are big, as are high noses, small, white faces and eyelid folds.   The latter is one of the most common surgical procedures in this country – and cosmetic surgery is pretty common.  In fact, in ratio to population and on an international scale, South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery.

It is interesting to be told that my nose, which I spent significant teenage years trying to squash down with gaffer tape, is ‘good’.  One student even asked to touch it.  It stuck me, mid nose prod, how conditioned and subjective our concepts of attractiveness are.

And on the subject of conditioning, it bothers me that so many western models are used in advertisements, and that western physicality seems to play such a pivotal role in people’s perception of beauty. 

Like other Asian countries I’ve visited, white skin is coveted.  There are moisturisers with skin whitening properties and in summer the beach is an ocean of stripy umbrellas. I remember my initial reaction to this was ‘how strange’ and ‘why?!’ but it is perhaps just as strange as white skinned folk buying tanning oil and using sunbeds. 

Humans, it appears, spend a lot of time and energy aspiring to look like a different kind of human. What strange creatures.

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