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  • Articles

    The Impossibility of South Korea’s Beauty Standards

    Korean Beauty Standards

    The Impossibility of South Korea’s Beauty Standards

    South Korea is notorious for its impossibly high beauty standards.

    Take a look anywhere in Seoul, and you’ll see makeup shops proliferating the streets. There are advertisements for everything from advanced moisturizers to long-lasting lipsticks. Above all, western features are highly desired. For instance, double eyelid tape is commonly used for achieving enlarged eyes. Tinted lenses transform brown irises to bright blue. Skin-lightening products are everywhere. In a society as fast-paced and conformist as South Korea’s, companies and consumers thrive on adopting the latest makeup trends.

    Ironically, South Korea’s competitive drive is both a blessing and a curse.

    Because of this drive, Korea gave birth to technological powerhouses such as Samsung and LG. Likewise, this constant push to be good, better, best, permeates throughout Korean beauty standards. Korean society expects women to look their best to keep up. Everything from shedding glasses in favor of contacts or having surgery. Often, this helps to better employment prospects. A tapered jaw suggests femininity and a high nose bridge implies elegance. These societal standards encourage women to strive towards the same aesthetic ideals.

    In response to unrealistic beauty standards and broader cries for women’s rights, South Korea is currently undergoing a feminist awakening.

    Sparked partly in the wake of the #metoo movement, South Korean women have been taking to protests and the Internet to voice their cries. The initial backlash against feminism was unusually vitriolic, steeped with anger. Economic discontent compounded this backlash. However, to many people, the response was expected. South Korea has a tradition of being culturally conservative, and its Confucian society is, subsequently, deeply patriarchal. The Korean hoju system was a family register system making men the legal the head of the household. In 2008, the Korean government abolished this law.

    In the face of opposition from both men and women, Korean feminists remain undaunted.

    One new movement, called “Escape The Corset,” calls for Korean women to fight unrealistic beauty standards, some of which require 10-step skincare regimes and hours applying makeup. Women in this movement often adopt short hairstyles, comfortable garments, and, above all, no cosmetics. Apart from being a time and money-saver, Escape The Corset is a broader challenge to Korean patriarchal views that women. These views, are that women subordinate to men and thereby must expend more effort to be acceptable. To many supporters of Escape The Corset, freeing themselves from their cosmetic “corsets” is a form of liberation — a step towards greater freedom in all aspects of Korean society, from employment to appearances.

    Like any other deep-set ideology, progress takes time.

    In conclusion, it will take time for Korean beauty standards to change: to embrace monolids, to stop idolizing Western features, and to accept people as they are. However, I have faith in South Korea. As a country, they believe in strength and harmony. Korea unites in times of need, and values progress above all else. I believe that change will come — one corset at a time.

  • Articles

    What The Kavanaugh Confirmation Means

    On October 6th, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a judge on the Supreme Court.

    Controversy swirled around every step of his nomination: sexual assault allegations, messy Senate hearings, and anti-Kavanaugh protests. For several weeks, both Republicans and Democrats fought fiercely in the Senate to gain the upper hand in the Supreme Court. However, what is crucial to this issue is not political parties or federal power — it’s the scenario itself.

    Democrat or Republican, male or female: everyone universally agrees that sexual assault is never acceptable. True, not all sexual assault allegations are 100% true, and not all that are committed are reported. But what we know with absolute certainty is that each report deserves a chance to be heard, which is why Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony holds so much weight both legally and symbolically.

    A sexual assault allegation is not something to be taken lightly, and our justice system reflects that belief accordingly. Criminal repercussions, lengthy trial processes, resurfaced traumas — the legal circumstances of sexual assault are convoluted and harsh, and they often punish both the accused and the accuser. However, Kavanaugh’s case holds another layer of meaning. When Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault, not only did his legal proceedings go under international scrutiny; they also raised a thought-provoking question for every American: what does it mean for American values when a Supreme Court nominee — a candidate for the highest court in the land — is accused of such a heinous crime?

    The answer to that question varies from person to person. However, I believe it means two things. 

    First, the allegation itself is a harsh reminder of our need to better address sexual assault. A social media hashtag — though it may raise awareness — is not enough. We need to take concrete steps to prevent future assaults, whether that means combatting rape culture or better educating future generations.

    Second, regardless of whether or not he was innocent, Kavanaugh’s reputation has undeniably been marred by Dr. Ford’s allegations. Nobody can discern the future of his professional career. He may be a stellar Supreme Court justice; he may be an awful one. But whatever the years hold in store, Kavanaugh’s tarnished legacy only threatens to undermine American faith in the government’s integrity further.

    The hard truth about America is that people do not have the same power as government officials. We cannot vote on the Senate floor. We cannot plead with the President to change his nomination. However, we can unite, and there is strength in numbers. And ultimately, to prevent further Kavanaugh repeats, we need to make our voice heard, and we need to make it loud and clear: Americans — especially women — will never stand for sexual assault.

  • Articles

    Dear American South

    Dear American South,

    Let’s address the obvious: you are absolutely beautiful. With elegant green forests, dazzling blue skies, and white-sand beaches, it would be a lie to say otherwise.
    And not just that – your cuisine is exquisite. Creamy, buttery grits. Baby back ribs slathered in tangy barbecue sauce. Soft biscuits soaked in gravy. Deliciously sweet pecan pie and juicy peach cobbler. Your food gives comfort that can’t be found anywhere else; I mean, “comfort food” is practically your middle name.
    It’s strange to imagine what life would be like without you. In a year, I’ll head off to college who-knows-where studying who-knows-what. Maybe I’ll spend another four glorious years with you, or maybe I’ll fly to the other side of the world like Phileas Fogg. But the important thing is this: I will always be so, so grateful for you.
    At first, our relationship was complicated. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it when I was younger, but I knew something was off. Then, in 4th grade, I realized that it wasn’t you, it was me – specifically, me being Asian.
    I tried to change myself. To make you like me. Ridiculous as this sounds now, I even told my mom that I preferred cafeteria food (which was a complete and utter lie) so that kids wouldn’t stare at my lunch. I pretended I liked watching popular American shows (but never understood the hype behind Hannah Montana). I wished I had big, blue eyes and blonde waves like my classmates so we could have matching hairstyles.
    For the longest time, I was unsure if I could really call you home when I clearly didn’t belong. But, like all couples, we took a break. I met new people: people who genuinely appreciated Korean food, forgave me for not keeping up with pop culture, and thought monolids were beautiful.
    From our time apart, I realized the value of acceptance, of approaching everything with an open mind. This came in handy as my awareness of politics grew; in case you haven’t noticed, my liberal ideals are a little dissimilar from some of your conservative ones. Not going to lie: when I realized this, my first instinct was to dismiss your opinion completely and seek out people with similar perspectives. But then, I remembered how it feels to be ostracized for being different. So I paused and listened. And that was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.
    By listening to what you had to say, I learned so much more than I would have by talking with like-minded people. In fact, the older I get, the more I realize the value of our contrasting personas. You love sultry summer afternoons, while I gravitate towards brisk winter mornings. You like your fish fried, while I prefer fresh sashimi. In autumn, you go temporarily insane for college football, while I stick to watching Sherlock and Stranger Things. And as strange as this sounds, these small differences are what I appreciate most about you.
    If I’d grown up around people like me, I wouldn’t have learned how to survive 100-degree humidity, or peel steaming hot crawfish, or host a football tailgate. I wouldn’t have learned that humans are not defined by their political views, and that even in today’s polarized society, it is possible for diametric opposites to strike up an invaluable friendship. I wouldn’t have developed the same sense of cultural pride that can only come from being one of five Koreans at a 1,600-strong school.
    I feel like I haven’t said this enough, so I’ll say it now: thank you for being you. You encourage me to be a better person every day, and you embrace everyone with Southern hospitality when the world seems a little down. We still have points of disagreement (Are “sir” and “ma’am” really necessary? Why are people so obsessed with church?), but we resolve them in a way that makes us stronger, more mature, and more understanding than before.
    From you, I’ve learned that home doesn’t have to mean someplace where you’re in the majority. You don’t have to look like a part of the crowd. Home can be wherever you want it to be.
    And for me, home means you.

    With Love,

  • Portfolio

    Being Korean During the Rise of Kpop

    Being the minority is never easy. Examples include being the only one to raise your hand during a classroom poll, or feeling one way about an issue when others feel another way. In my case, it’s being Asian in a predominantly white school.

    You can probably imagine what my educational experience was like. I’ve been the only Asian in the room. I’ve heard insults about my lunch “smelling weird,” and I’ve heard just about every variant of “do you really eat dogs?” Needless to say, I was desperate to fit in, to throw away my Asianness and become a perfectly generic student.

    That’s why I was so surprised when Kpop first became a sensation in the United States. Suddenly, to my classmates, South Korea was no longer an obscure country in distant Asia; suddenly, it was very real, and more importantly, it was home to a singer named Psy and his massive global hit, “Gangnam Style.”

    People, who previously had no idea where Korea was, began coming up to me. “Is there really a place named Gangnam?” they’d ask in amazement. “What does this line mean?” “Can you understand the lyrics?” “Say my name in Korean!”

    I was thrilled, to say the least. I no longer had to feel ashamed of my culture, because now my culture was everywhere. I heard Korean flowing from the shopping mall speakers. I watched Psy break YouTube records. I danced to “Gangnam Style” at holiday parties. But there was a tiny part of me that felt something was wrong. Something wasn’t right, but I brushed it off.

    Fast forward to high school, where Bangtan Boys (aka BTS) enjoyed a meteoric rise to global fame. They performed at the American Music Awards, featured on Ellen, and paved a pioneering path for Asian artists. Classmates once again began asking me about Kpop, only this time, something was different.

    Questions were less about BTS’s songs and more about Korea and its language. “Translate this line” became “I want to learn Korean,” and “What even is this song about?” became “I’m interested in Korean culture.” Sometimes, I would struggle to answer a question, prompting me to research more about Korea so I could answer them properly the next day.

    And I realized that was what had been wrong the first time; a few years ago, people were more interested in the song than the language, the singer more than his country. And I’d gone along with it simply because I hadn’t known any better–because I had wanted to fit in.

    Now, I know better. People still ask me about Korea, about Korean beauty products, Korean food, and, of course, Kpop. But the tone of the conversation has changed. The questions are more open, and my answers are less guarded.

    Being Korean during the rise of Kpop taught me that fitting in is not everything. Now, I embrace being unique. Now, I’m not afraid to be in the minority.

  • Portfolio

    Thoughts on Campus Rape: The Hunting Ground

    Before watching The Hunting Ground, I’d never really thought about campus rape. Or rape in general, really; when you’re a teenage student living comfortably in the suburbs, there’s an unfortunate side effect of becoming isolated from the rest of the world. Like the words “worst shooting in history” and “temperatures at record high,” I’d heard the phrase “sexual assault on campus” on the news so often that the words started to lose meaning for me.
    The Hunting Ground changed that. When the first victim came on screen to be interviewed, when I could finally put a face to a story, I realized how personal sexual assault is. Sure, anyone can say “X was raped at Y University”; but as is with many other stories, the media sometimes overblows certain aspects of an issue while glossing over others, which unfortunately reduces personal accounts into a neatly packaged, easily digestible news segment.
    The Hunting Ground was different. The Hunting Ground was real. It was emotional. It had actual people telling their side of the story, not one that college campuses or the media told for them. And that realness, that humanness, is what led me to reevaluate what the phrase “sexual assault” actually means.
    After seeing the impact that sexual assault had on those young women, I came to several realizations: A) that sexual assault is indiscriminate, B) that sexual assault occurs on a far larger scale than most people think, and C) that in one year, I too may become a victim of campus rape. But more than anything, more than even sexual assault, what scared me was not the possibility of sexual assault itself – it was the aftermath. On the screen, as I watched clips flash by of university deans adamantly asserting that there was “no issue” and that victims were “liars,” I was at a loss for words. Weren’t people in power supposed to defend the weak?
    Sadly, this was just the tip of the iceberg. Sexual assault, at its core, is about inequality: inequality of respect for other humans, inequality of responsibility, and inequality of power. And sadly, the inequality in sexual assault is just one slice of inequality across the globe, from unequal minority representation in the media to gender imbalances in politics.
    Experts in The Hunting Ground stated that sexual assault is an epidemic, and to a certain degree, they are correct. But I believe that unlike bacterial epidemics, sexual assault does not have a single cure. It cannot be solved through a simple vaccine or by quarantining possible victims; it requires understanding and cooperation from the thing causing harm, something that becomes infinitely harder when you realize that the harmful entity is a centuries-old institution willing to spend anything to preserve its reputation.
    I started searching for colleges in late October. Like many students, my first instinct was to go after “prestigious” universities purely because they were famous, and fame somehow equates to repute. However, I realize that I’d only ever heard of them in a positive light. Always something about research opportunities, but never about campus rape. Always something about alumni networking, but never about sexual assault. My criteria for searches didn’t include campus safety because I’d never thought it would be an issue.
    But now, after witnessing the lies and exploitation that goes into preserving a brand name, prestige is no longer at the top of my list; instead, it’s campus safety.