Tolerance and inclusivity – the attributes of the mainstream Western narrative – cannot be reached by ignorance. Thus, understanding another party is crucial for the ones seeking acceptance of different traditions. This essay compares and contrasts the beauty standards in South Korean and French societies. The choice of these two cases can be easily justified. On the one hand, Korea is one of the most influential cultures of the eastern world, for example, due to the K-wave of recent years. On the other hand, France has historically been the heart of European culture and art that, in many ways, influenced modern beauty standards.
To begin with, there is a number of general similarities that both Koreans and French stick to when following beauty standards. On the one hand, these cultures value skin quality: both in France and South Korea, skincare procedures are incredibly widespread, especially among women. Moreover, in the previous ages, French society considered pale skin a sign of aristocracy, while it is still a significant trend in modern South Korea. Height is another criterium appreciated in both cultures: for example, a study conducted by Kim and Han proves that even children in South Korea are aware of the tallness standard (2020). In other words, there are some similarities in the beauty standards of these two cultures.
Nevertheless, it should not come as a surprise that these cultures’ beauty standards differ from each other in various aspects. Probably, the most critical aspect is that French standards as a part of Western culture tend to become more inclusive due to the influence of body positive movement (Pounders, 2018). In September 2020, Parisians held a body-positive fashion show at the Eiffel Tower (Euronews, 2020). Meanwhile, South Korea is globally known for the spread of plastic surgery among its population. Twenty percent of Korean girls are claimed to undergo cosmetic surgeries (Statista, 2020). The social conventions openly emphasize that having an attractive face is a must for a successful career and personal life (Leem, 2016). Moreover, beauty standards for men also vary in these two cultures. While in France, as in Europe, there are a few criteria of male appearance, and they mostly have to do with fitness. On the contrary, in South Korea, men frequently undergo plastic surgeries, too, as well as skin lightening treatments and hair coloring (Sharma, 2018). Thus, there are significant differences between French and South Korean cultures and beauty standards.
Finally, it is vital to analyze why these cultures are alike and, at the same time, different. On the one hand, South Korean society has borrowed a lot from Western and specifically American culture. Thus, for instance, a white skin cult is still present (Holliday et al., 2017). On the other hand, the differences – the body-positive movement in France and the strong beauty standards in South Korea – have their historical background. The spread of progressive feminist ideas can explain the former. Meanwhile, the latter conserves the traditionalist approach to the social hierarchy, an attribute of which is the strict criteria. Thus, the beauty standards’ similarities can be explained by the historical, cultural exchange. The differences are the continuation of the historical heritage of liberalism and traditionalism.
To conclude, even though France and South Korea have very different historical and cultural backgrounds, there are some common beauty standards, such as tallness for both genders or skincare. However, the whole approach to these standards varies in these countries: French society accepts the idea of body positivity, while Seoul stays the capital of plastic surgery. Moreover, the criteria of male beauty also vary in these cases.
Euronews. (2020). Paris holds body-positive fashion show by the Eiffel Tower. Web.
Han, T., & Kim, H. (2020). The ideal man and woman: South Korean children’s body image perceptions. Family and Consumer Sciences, 49(1), 24 – 36.
Holliday, R., Cheung, O., Cho, J., & Bell, D. (2017). Trading faces: The ‘Korean Look’ and medical nationalism in South Korean cosmetic surgery tourism. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 58(2), 190 – 202.
Leem, S. The dubious enhancement: Making South Korea a plastic surgery nation. East Asian Science, Technology and Society, 10(1), 51 – 71.
Pounders, K. (2018). Are portrayals of female beauty in advertising finally changing? Journal of Advertising Research, 58(2).
Sharma, S. (2018). An in-depth analysis of why the South Korean market targets their men for the cosmetic industry more than their women. International Journal of Advance Research and Development, 3(1).
Statista. (2020). Share of respondents who have had plastic surgery in South Korea in 2020, by age and gender. Web.