Colourism, plastic surgery, and trying to look Caucasian

by Tommy Pass

In class we talked about the ongoing trend of lightening ones skin to appear more attractive as well as where this trend in doing so may have come from. Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses the origins of what seems to be global obsession with having whiter skin. Glenn argues that the obsession, especially from women’s point of view, stems from the fact that women are judged very strongly based upon their appearance while men are judged on other capital, such as education, income, etc.

Let’s just say hypothetically that these cultures are right and that whiteness equals beauty and that we accept this as fact, when can we see a limit to this obsession where it is taken to the extreme and skin whitening products are not the only thing women are after to look more beautiful. What about the plastic surgery trend going on in countries such as South Korea, should there be a limit to the extent that this beauty trend is taken?

A libertarian may argue that people should do as they want. Let’s assume this is correct, when does this also go too far? What about when this is forced onto children who don’t have a say in the matter at all, and who are just being told by their parents what to do. Should this be allowed? The argument to this being that this will benefit them for the future in terms of job opportunities, etc. Does this not take the obsession with looking more beautiful to the extreme when children are forced against their will by their parents to have their face permanently altered to look more “beautiful”?

To me personally it seems very much as if people are not trying to just make their skin whiter, but trying to become more Caucasian looking. I believe that historically, people saw it as a more attractive feature to be pale as this meant that you were wealthy enough to stay inside and now work in the fields, though in more recent years I believe that wanting to look Caucasian is very much a goal which women are trying to achieve.

Glenn gives the example of how the African American community had the paper bag test in social events to see who was acceptable or not, the reason for this being that those slaves who were mixed race were given the higher status jobs amongst the slaves, such as staying indoors as opposed to picking cotton and other field work. This created the illusion of prestige to those who had Caucasian ancestry and hence the mentality stayed within the community long after slavery was abolished.

African Americans getting their hair straightened, skin bleached and other alterations are in a sense aiming towards Caucasian features. This same phenomenon can be seen in East Asia. People of mixed Caucasian ancestry, in other words those with one Asian parent and one white parent, have a much easier time becoming models and are often made into TV personalities solely due to their looks. One could ask the question, why does the media use mixed-race people and not people who are 100% Caucasian if that’s what they consider beautiful? The answer could be that having a white person modelling can feel too farfetched for an Asian audience and potential customers.

Someone of pure Asian origin knows that they cannot look exactly like a white person, and will thus not put much effort into trying. Not trying means that they do not buy skin whitening creams and other cosmetics, thus cosmetic companies are unable to make a profit.  If people of mixed race who possess both Asian and Caucasian features are used within the modelling industry, then this creates something potential customers can relate to and will thus make them try—trying meaning spending money.

Hence it is obvious that the cosmetics industry wants this kind of obsessive mentality to circulate within society, doing so keeps this issue in continuation and thus giving their business profit, even while the result of all this leads to some parents wanting plastic surgery for their children. Without this kind of pressure from cosmetic companies and the media, I doubt that plastic surgery and skin whitening would be as prevalent as it is today.

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Reforming surgery and the self: Plastic surgery, historical traumas, and beauty in Korea

Girl’s Generation, a very popular K-pop group consisting of nine women who are considered ideal in South Korea

by Lisbeth Lyngs

Plastic surgery and skin whitening have in recent years become a hot and very normalized topic in Asia. Especially in South Korea, where one in five women has undergone some sort of cosmetic surgery, compared to around one in 20 in the U.S., according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. Their desired look is the same: Big eyes with double eyelids, white skin, a nose that sticks out and a slimmer jawline. A high Korean consumer culture has made women equate this beauty standard with a higher life quality, better jobs and more luck in marriage. Feminist cries of objectification are overheard, and as I see it, the racial argument that it is “to look white” has faded – as Asia’s own mainstream culture, especially K-pop culture, has grown.

K-pop is pop music from South Korea, and it has spread rapidly through East Asia in the last couple of decades (to some extent it has also hit the Western world with “Gangnam Style”). The industry’s popularity, and the value placed on the plastic surgeries behind the stars, has meant that many Asian women flock to Seoul, the now self-established epicenter of plastic surgery. Not to fix a crooked nose or uneven eyes, but to change their faces to look like the same ideal, the same type.

What I find interesting about plastic surgery in Korea is that it is called ‘reforming surgery’ (성형수술), not translating to ‘plastic’, which in English carries negative connotations of ‘fake’ or ‘cheap’. The Korean phrase carries more positive connotations, like the patient is just waiting to be ‘reformed’ and reveal their ‘true beauty’ from within. Interestingly from language alone, cosmetic surgery in Korea does not have the same stigma to it, that it has in English speaking countries and a majority of the western world.

In fact it is so normalized that Korean women will ask each other “where did you get your eyes and nose done?”, instead of “where did you get your handbag?”, and girls will get plastic surgery as a graduation ‘present’ from their parents. Many Korean kids, especially the girls, thus grow up with the understanding that they are going to have plastic surgery one day.

In the short documentary Korean High School, we get a glimpse of this mentality among high school students.

“[after graduation] I’ll have plastic surgery.”

“But you don’t need plastic surgery.”

“.. I have to do it. Beauty is important in Korea.”

But then what is this beauty, and where does it come from? To say it is because of a Korean beauty standard, or that they “want to look white” is too easy. In this article on The Grand Narrative, a reader suggests to look deeper into Korean history for answers. In this interesting read, she argues that the shift in Korean beauty standards is a response to the country’s historical trauma. She admits it might be a long stretch, but oppression during the Japanese colonization taught the Korean people to think lowly of themselves, before the American occupation pushed the envelope and taught them that there was something wrong with their psychical features.

The first double-eyelid surgery on an Asian face was performed by American plastic surgeon Dr. Ralph Millard. His reasoning was that creating a more Western look would help Asians assimilate better into an emerging international world. The Asian eyelid simply made their expression look passive an unemotional, as opposed to a double eyelid which would produce a more open and approachable face. The surgery quickly caught on, and this procedure of beautification worked its way into mainstream culture which today, I would argue, has been modified into a more “beautiful Asian look” than a “beautiful because it looks Caucasian look”.

To return to the notion of K-pop and the plastic surgeries performed to achieve their looks, I would like point out their ideal small and V-shaped faces. This jaw surgery cuts off a piece of the patients jawbone to make the face slimmer. And even though many Caucasians have small and slim faces, I do not believe this is a response to wanting to look Caucasian – If you inspect some Caucasian celebrities, you find many examples of prominent jaws and high cheekbones. But if you inspect Asian celebrities, they all have small jaws and cheekbones.

What I am getting at is that the reason why skin whitening and plastic surgery have become such common means to obtain this non-traditional Asian beauty-look is not as easy answered as “because the Caucasian look is ideal”.

In a highly globalized world like ours today, where I can eat McDonalds and watch The Hobbit no matter the city, it is easy to assume the Western influence is the sole reason for Asia’s desire to look “not Asian”. What might have started like that, has today evolved into some unique beauty standard required in a lot of Asian cultures to get a better social position.

While part of the answer as to why another girl in the short documentary answers “big eyes with a double eyelid, a white body, a nose that sticks out and a small face.” When asked about beauty, the Western world’s influence on Asia is not the entire story.

References:

http://www.isaps.org/

http://koreanhighschool.com/index.html

The Grand Narrative

Consent To Plastic Surgery?

by Lin, Tzu-Chun

The demand for plastic surgery is growing. The number of clients in the US experienced a three percent growth from 2012 to 2013, and 15.1 million people in America received plastic surgery in 2013 (ASPS, 2014). The growing number of people getting plastic surgery in a way represents a public approval of plastic surgery, however that is not necessarily the truth.

In “Saving Face: More Asian American opting for plastic surgery,” Jennifer Bagalawis-Simes  connects plastic surgery and looking natural (Simes 2010). Bagalawis-Simes states that plastic surgery has been seen as mimicry of being more “white”, and thus she wrote that “Many have procedures that enhance natural look instead of altering their ethnic appearance”.

This is similar to people using skin-lightening products to “naturally” obtain the skin they had when they were babies. How could it be “natural” for an adult to have baby skin?

On the topic of plastic surgery, how could people look more “natural” after having artificial surgery, compared to how they looked before the surgery? However, there is another link, that people seem to be consenting to having these baby skin cosmetics appear in the Japanese marketplace, and it may be a similar mental activity as they may give plastic surgery the consent to appear.

Certainly, the influences from aesthetics and other factors should not be ignored. In “The poor have the right to be beautiful,” Alexander Edmonds notices that plastic surgery has been a tool to obtain body capital, where the representation of good looks or aesthetics is influenced by national cultures (Edmonds 2007). Edmonds helped develop the thinking of the possibility that one region’s aesthetics may have its own roots beside the western-dominant “white is right” ideology. The sense that plastic surgery may turn a person more like its own belonging instead of white or Caucasian may also be a reason for the suggested consent from receiver and public to plastic surgery.

However, the consent to baby skin cosmetic and plastic surgery may also be just the illusion as the result of ignorance. In the arguments regarding race and ethnicity, the term “dominant group” refers to the people who are the majority of their society, the advantage of dominant leads to a less concerning to the racial and ethnic issues, which create an ignorance to the issues.

Suppose that men do not use baby skin cosmetics (where some may), and not all women use it, and in addition these baby skin cosmetics are mainly spread in Japan. These facts lead to the suggestion that it is the people who do not use baby skin cosmetics being the dominant group, thus they may had never give consent to it but did not notice it.

This suggestion is valid for me personally, that months before I had never thought about the paradox between natural looking and baby skin cosmetics. Applying this suggestion to plastic surgery, it makes sense that the majority of people are those who do not receive plastic surgery, thus it become possible that they did not give consent to its existing but due to unnoticed on the issue.

References

ASPS. (2014, Feburary 26). Plastic Surgery Procedures Continue Steady Growth in U.S. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from American Society of Plastic Surgeons: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/past-press-releases/2014-archives/plastic-surgery-procedures-continue-steady-growth-in-us.html

Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthroplogical Institute , 363-381.

Simes, J. B. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from hyphen: http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-more-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

The Privilege of Beauty

by Ellen Brookes

“Because society is stratified along lines of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, disability status, citizenship, geography, and other cleavages, some bodies are publicly and visually dissected while others are vulnerable to erasure and marginalization” (Casper & Moore, 2007)

This quote is genuinely puzzling as it does not disclose who is being spoken about in which area. Is it all about white people? Or is it whites versus those of ethnic minorities? Or is it even just all about ethnic minorities? And are these bodies that are being dissected being dissected in a positive or a negative way? Are the bodies prone to erasure just fading into the background or are they fading due to “fitting in”?

It is really difficult to figure out exactly who is being talked about in which way.

One thing is for certain, looks are not mentioned here. The aesthetic appeal of one human being is not referred to in this quotation. Yet people seem to believe that beauty is also a level of stratification within societies. The Alexander Edmonds’ article “The poor have the right to be beautiful” (2007) looks at a similar argument, saying that people want to be beautiful because with their status in life, it may be all they have to use in order to move up. This would imply that outward appearance is a form of cultural capital that can be utilized in order to climb the social hierarchy ladder.

It must be noted that this article did only provide a view of one community within Brazil. At first “low self-esteem” is blamed as a major reason to undergo cosmetic plastic surgery, or plástica, in Brazil, but the issue has more to do with class privilege than it does to any one human being. This reasoning, however, goes against the reasoning that would be used in another society.

Trends in the U.S point to the fact that about 4.8% of people will have plastic surgery in a year). Given that the current population of the U.S. is over 317 million people, and plastic surgery in the last year was 15,116,353 surgeries, that number seems rather high (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2013; Schlesinger, 2013).

To put this into further perspective, this is only cosmetic surgeries, not reconstructive for those who were in accidents or had birth deformities.

A person would not say that this number occurred because of economic problems, or need for social mobility. In fact, people would imply that these people were middle-to-upper-class people who either felt the need to look “prettier” within their social circles, or that these people may have had mental issues that were directly linked to their appearance. Admittedly, health care does cost more in the U.S., and cosmetic surgery is not cheap, which would imply that these people were most definitely within a higher class than those in Brazil. Yet, if Brazil and American’s populations were equal, there is only about a ten percent difference in relative poverty levels, so why is the argument for plastic surgery and its implications so different between these two countries? (Hunkar, 2011).

The answer comes down to race and racial preference. Brazil is eroticized in the way it is portrayed globally. It is sold as being a country full of brown-skinned, “sun-kissed” girls in bikinis with almost unrealistic body proportions (Beauty Check, 2007). This is the ideal held within Brazil and most women in Edmonds’ article are shown to aspire to it in order to achieve social mobility; their own personal Cinderella story.

America is stereotyped as being a land of white privilege, and one where being white automatically affords a person a “free pass” to beauty (Luckey, 2013; Jackson, & Greene, 2000). However, via influence of the media, the attitudes are slightly different. Plastic surgery is not noted in a positive light and the media will constantly tear down women who have gone under the knife (Northrop, 2012). White women who undergo cosmetic procedures are shamed, and this could be directly linked to the fact that they could be seen to be abusing the privilege already afforded to them.

It all comes down to racial privilege. For Brazil, fitting the ethnic stereotype is considered the ideal; specifically conforming to the exported idealistic looks is considered paramount. With looks, a majority of Brazilian society believes they would have a higher chance of social mobility. Edmonds’ Brazil is portrayed as a culture that would seem to promote “faking it to make it”.

White people have privilege, so they do not need this plastic surgery for the same reasons, as they can use their “whiteness” to afford them the same treatment the Brazilians are looking for. White people do not have these “ethnic traits” that make them “not beautiful”, meaning they have no dire need to change. Those who do change are considered to be abusing the system, and have a social stigma that follows them. It sticks even if the person tried to use the argument of “low self-esteem” that is shown in the article. Yes, white privilege does offer a person more cultural capital, but it does not protect them from any or all stigmas.

For Brazil, investment in aesthetics is seem as profitable; while in America, it may be profitable for a time, but the social stigma may counteract that profit. It is this that brings us back to the comment on the starting quote – who is really “fitting in” and who is having their bodies “dissected”? In this age of “white is right”, does it really imply that only positive consequences occur to white people?

References

American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2013). 2013 Plastic Surgery Statistics. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/plastic-surgery-statistics/2013.html

Beauty Check. (2007). Beautiful Figure. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.uni-regensburg.de/Fakultaeten/phil_Fak_II/Psychologie/Psy_II/beautycheck/english/figur/figur.htm

Casper, M.J., & Moore, L.J. (2007). Missing bodies: The Politics of Visibility. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 13(2), 363-381.

Hunkar, D. (2011). A Shocking Comparison of Poverty Levels Between The U.S. And Brazil. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://seekingalpha.com/article/306094-a-shocking-comparison-of-poverty-levels-between-the-u-s-and-brazil

Jackson, L. M., & Greene, B. (2000). Psychotherapy with African American women: Innovations in psychodynamic perspectives and practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Luckey, S. (2013). Why Reverse Racism Isn’t Real. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://feminspire.com/why-reverse-racism-isnt-real/

Northrop, J. M. (2012). Reflecting on Cosmetic Surgery: Body image, Shame and Narcissism. London, UK: Routledge

Schlesinger, R. (2013). The 2014 U.S. and World Populations. U.S. News. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2013/12/31/us-population-2014-317-million-and-71-billion-in-the-world

The Era of Plastic Surgery Culture

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate p...

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate photograph; otopexy correction; Woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hanna Byun

This is a very interesting and educative topic entailing the cultural dynamics of different communities regarding beauty and appearance. Plastic surgery has become so standardized that everyone talks about it. Instead of “where did you get your designer handbag?” people might ask you where you got your chin, eyes or nose done. To understand these insights, two sources of information will serve as the basis for ideas of the authors about plastic cosmetic surgery.

The article by Alexander Edmonds titled, “‘The Poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil” discuss the dynamics of the cosmetics industry in Brazil over the last two decades. He focuses on the poor population of Brazil that has recorded a high rate of plastic surgeries, and that has been influenced by the diverse social origins of the general population. According to Edmond, poor people in Brazil have judged their appearance from different social origins as an “aesthetic defect”. The beauty industry, therefore, became a solution to the problem by diagnosing and treating it through plastic surgery. He cites a racialized “beauty myth” in clinical practice and marketing as one of the main motivators for the pursuit of plastic surgery. Outward appearance affects social mobility, glamour, and an individual’s association with modernity. By having plastic surgery, poor people believe that it gives them the means to compete in the Brazilian neoliberal economy. In Edmonds’ perspective, the capital flows of the modern capitalist economy are to blame for the commercialization of beauty and the absence of regulations in the cosmetic industry. The poor are simply doing so to achieve a class body that society has unknowingly decreed as the quintessential appearance of a person who fits in a higher social stratum.

The blog post by Jennifer Bagalawis-Simes discusses about the increasing number of plastic surgery penchants among Asian Americans. She observes that more Asian Americans are going for plastic surgery to improve their appearance without necessarily changing their ethnic appearance. The blog identifies different reasons that prompt Asian Americans to go for plastic surgery. Her reasons are:

  1. Some Asian plastic surgery seekers want to boost the confidence while attending job interviews;
  2. They want to achieve romantic success by looking younger;
  3. It is a way of trying to assimilate into mainstream Americans.

For instance, many want to brighten their eyes a little a bit without altering their ethnic appearance. Others want their nose reshaped just to look better than they think. All they want is to retain their natural looks, but bridge them with the mainstream American appearance. I personally agree with her on the fact that more and more young Asians are getting their faces done. People in younger generations, who are in middle school or high school, and also their parents, accept and believe that earlier they get ‘work done’, the more natural look they look they will have as they grow. And it is very common nowadays get plastic (cosmetic) surgery as a graduation or birthday gift from adults.

Both insights from Edmonds and Bagala, have one thing in common: the tendency of plastic surgery seekers to conform with ‘appearance myths’ in their respective societies. Appearing in a way that conforms to the ‘myth’ improves the seekers’ self-esteem as they move up the social ladder or attempt to fit into contemporary culture. As long as plastic surgery continues to be a psychological issue largely influenced by the ethnographic differences of the society, it is likely to may not end soon.  Furthermore, it is also bolstered by the market economy with massive influential marketing techniques. It is quite difficult to regulate the cosmetics industry without infringing on people’s rights on their bodies.

References

Bagalawis-Simes, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-more-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Expansion of plastic surgery, a new era of beauty culture

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surge...

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surgery Procedure being Performed by Facial Plastic Surgeon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kiho Kozaki

Plastic surgery is a widespread phenomenon today, and is more popular and accepted than ever. Aman Garg once said that plastic surgery is a medical specialty concerned with the correction or restoration of form and function. Now some studies and surgeons insist that plastic surgery is the “correction” of facial features. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) conducted a survey which is the 17-year national data for procedures performed from 1997-2013, and during that period, there was a 279% increase in total number of plastic surgery both surgical and nonsurgical procedures. Though the statistic covers only procedures done in the United States, I assume that same result would be seen in elsewhere in the world.

The survey also shows that the plastic surgery’s popularity among racial and ethnic minorities, who had approximately 22% of all cosmetic procedures: African-Americans 7%, Asians 5%, Hispanics 8%, and other non-Caucasians 1%. The percentages vary depending on the studies, however, as a common observation, racial and ethnic minorities seem to seek out plastic surgery more than Caucasians.

Nadra Kareem Nittle, a race relations expert, said that is because minority groups still feel pressure to live up to Eurocentric beauty norms. They alter traits such as prominent noses or hooded eyelids. Moreover, weaves, wigs and skin whitening creams continue to enjoy mass appeal in communities of color. Then, this phenomenon of plastic procedures raises a question: do they undergo these procedures in order to look like Caucasians? Or just to gain self-esteem and to look good?

Since the standard of beauty seem to be a Westernized ideal, some people are dissatisfied with their ethnic features and believe they are ugly. Angie Rankman wrote that the appearance of mostly unattainable model normalizes certain body images, and then people perceived problems with their own features. The result is that many people are left with deep seated psychological insecurities about themselves and their body image, often resulting in unreasonable expectations in regard to cosmetic surgery.

As Alexander Edmonds, a lecturer of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, notes, mass media uses this ‘market value of appearance’. I argue that is not necessary to conclude that they want to look like Caucasians. Of course there is a big influence by mass media remaining people dissatisfied with their features and the desire for Caucasians may exist but that does always not mean they want to cross racial and ethnic lines. Some people may wish to, but I assume that majority of people still want to remain as who they are.

Dr. Samuel Lam, a plastic surgeon cited in Bagala’s article, called it ‘ethnic softening’. It means the softening of facial features that patients deemed overly ethnic but still preserving their ethnicities. Most of the patients are becoming more willing to work with their ethnic features rather than work against them.

Edmonds says there is a slippage between the national cultural notion of a ‘preference’ and a racial-biological notion of a ‘type.’ So, according to Edmonds, operations like breast surgeries can be linked to national but not racial identities.

Plastic procedures are much complicated that we cannot simply conclude why it gets more popular than ever among racial/ethnic minorities. Now, we are in the era of expansion of beauty culture. Though patients who underwent plastic procedures may insist that was their personal choice, and that they wanted to look better to boost their self-esteem, it is not simple as they insist. We should note that their assumptions and beliefs may be constructed from deep-rooted national cultural norms, racial-biological norms and certain expectations of appearance. Right now we are in the middle of seeking a new way of accepting and dealing with the widespread beauty norms.

References

American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. (2013). 2013 ASAPS Statistics: Complete charts [Including National Totals, Percent of Change, Gender Distribution, Age Distribution, National Average Fees, Economic, Regional and Ethnic Information] http://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/Stats2013_4.pdf

Bagala, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-m ore-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Garg, A. (n. d.). Plastic Surgery. Cite lighter. http://www.citelighter.com/science/medicine/knowledgecards/plastic-surgery.

Nittle, K, N. (n. d.). Race, Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Procedures. About News.  http://racerelations.about.com/od/diversitymatters/tp/Race-Plastic-Surgery-An d-Cosmetic-Procedures.htm

Rankman, A. (2005). Obsessed With Beauty: The Rush To Cosmetic Surgery. Aphrodite Women’s health. http://www.aphroditewomenshealth.com/news/cosmetic_surgery.shtml

Thinking About Getting Cosmetic Surgery in Korea? Make Sure You Read This First

My class ‘Race and Ethnicity in the Modern World’ focuses on the relationship between race, notions of beauty, the global trade in skin lighteners, and the growing use of plastic surgery. Along those lines, this post gives a helpful overview of debates over plastic surgery in Korea. Enjoy!

The Grand Narrative

Korea Cosmetic Surgery(Sources: left, dongA; right, The Kyunghyang Shinmun)

The more operations, the more possibilities for complications, mistakes, and patient deaths. So, with the highest per capita number of cosmetic surgery operations in the world, you’re always going to hear a lot of harrowing, even terrifying experiences of going under the knife in Korea. Korean cosmetic surgeons, who are no more unethical or incompetent than those from any other country, shouldn’t be singled out for horror stories that can and do happen everywhere.

But it’s more than just numbers. With so many clinics lacking even basic first-aid equipment; doctors clamoring to break into the lucrative cosmetic surgery market whatever their training and specialty; patients receiving little to no warnings of side-effects; little regulation by the Ministry of Health and Welfare; insufficient support staff because they’re too expensive; and patients doped-up to disguise the fact that the hot-shot surgeons they’ve hired have been replaced with…

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Race, Color, and Beauty in Brazil

by Deanne Walters

First Flag of the United States of Brazil (Nov...

First Flag of the United States of Brazil (November 19, 1889 – April 14, 1960). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brazil is a country with a long history of racial mixing, so the common system of classification for people is not one by race, but one by color. The three main categories that are used in the census are white, brown, and black. Even with the long history of mixing there are still benefits given to people with lighter skin and beauty is racialized.

To start off by looking at economic disparity can show how race and color play out in a society. When looking at economic benefits, in 1980 people who were black in Brazil made only 40 percent of what someone who was white made, and someone who was brown made only 44 percent. Looking at the data from the 2010 census there is a similar divide. Someone who was black earned 48 percent of someone who was white and someone who was brown earned 49 percent.* People in economic power often reinforce that privilege in other ways, such as with beauty.

So there are clearly economic benefits for being white, but are there also benefits in terms of beauty? This is where race still plays a part; facial features and hair are racialized often with white features and hair being seen as more beautiful than black features and hair.  Brazil does promote the ideas of a mixed race person being seen as beautiful in Brazil, but it only goes so far. While people with darker skin tones are seen as beautiful they are still held to the western standards in other regards such as with hair and facial features.

An example of how this manifests is with plastic surgery. When looking at why people get plastic surgery they are trying to make themselves more beautiful, but the kind of features they are going for is more similar to someone who is white; the features that they are getting surgery on are often the one they think they get from their nonwhite parents or grandparents. So while Brazil promotes this myth of mixed race beauty. The reality is that this myth just reinforces very similar beauty standards with a slightly different skin tone.

*Disclaimer I analyzed this data myself and did not control the data for other factors, so it can give  a rough idea of the situation, but the actuality may be slightly different.

References

Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful’: Cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13(2):363-381.

Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística [The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics] (2010). Tabela 1.3.5 – Pessoas de 10 anos ou mais de idade, por cor ou raça, segundo o sexo e as classes de rendimento nominal mensal – Brasil – 2010. Retrieved from http://ftp://ftp.ibge.gov.br/Censos/Censo_Demografico_2010/Resultados_do_Universo/Resultados_preliminares_sobre_Rendimentos/tabelas_pdf/tab1_3_5.pdf

Telles, Edward. 2009. The social consequences of skin color in Brazil. In Shades of difference: Why skin color matters (pp. 9-24). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Flower Men of Korea

by Lilia Yamakawa

“Beauty” and what one considers beautiful depend a lot on a person’s own culture and ethnicity. On the streets of Korea, it is not unusual to find Flower Men (FMs), called “kkotminam” (“flower handsome men”). You will know them by their pretty and “soft masculinity” and by their attention to the way they look. They are willing to spend a lot of time and money on their appearance and lifestyle. They may use make-up and other beauty products, pluck their eyebrows, manicure their nails, gel and style their hair, get facials, get massages, and even have cosmetic surgery. They are also associated with soft speech and traits such as gently caring for their families. They are seen as being pure and innocent, and they are very polite. In this report, I will examine some of the reasons to explain the Flower Man boom.

First, the boom is part of the larger global phenomenon of the “metrosexual” male, which has spread throughout both the East and the West. The metrosexual man is one who takes care of his physical appearance through means that were once considered feminine. The FM is just one example of this wide global trend. The East Asian metrosexual trend is so prominent that Time magazine did a cover story on it in 2005. Ling Liu wrote in this article:

A few years ago it may have been considered sissy for a guy to be fussy about his clothing and appearance. Real men demanded the world accept them on their own uncouth, unkempt terms. But in Asia nowadays, the definition of masculinity is undergoing a makeover – and narcissism is in, thanks to economic growth, higher disposable incomes, shifting gender roles, and fashion and cosmetics industries eager to expand their customer bases. No longer content to be the drabber sex, Asian males are preening like peacocks, perming, plucking and powering themselves to perfection in an effort to make themselves more attractive to their bosses, their peers and, of course, to women.

Although the boom is worldwide, it seems that Korean Flower Men have taken it to a further extreme than men of any other ethnic group and nationality. In 2013, South Korean men spent roughly $900 million on skincare. This was almost one-fourth of sales worldwide for men’s skin care. There are many salons and spas just for men that offer hair, facials, massages, and other procedures. Plastic surgery is also common, and there are also a number of clinics that cater solely to men. In 2013, Korean Air began training male staff to use beauty products (Fujita 2005).

The FM phenomenon itself began in the 1990s, around the time the Korean government began to allow more pop culture from Japan to come into the country (in 1998). Many manga and anime, which were previously hard to find, could now be bought and read in public. Young male actors and singers, especially in the boy bands, began to look like Japanese and Korean manga and anime characters, especially those in “girls’ comics” or “shojo manga” where the ideal image of a male is “bishonen” or “beautiful boy.” The flow of media between Korea and Japan also included tv dramas, cinema, and advertising (Sun 2010). The “yaoi” type of manga, which became very popular in Korea, is also said to be a big influence on the FM trend. The men in these manga often look like elves or fairies, and they are soft, sweet, and sensitive.

Up to the 1990’s the popular image of male beauty in Korea was a rather macho-type man. Since then, the soft male type has become much more popular. Two groups of FBs best exemplify the phenomenon today. One is the Korean boy band DBSK of idols. The other is the Korean tv drama called “Boys Over Flowers.” It was based on the Japanese manga and anime called “Hana yori dango” and was broadcast in Korea in 2009. It is a typical shojo Cinderella story of a poor high school girl who is befriended by the four richest, most handsome boys in the school, the F4. It became super popular in Korea, and later, in many other Asian countries including Japan. With “Boys Over Flowers”, the male image of the “kkotminam” became even more popular in Korea. More and more males aspired to look soft and gentle and pretty. Men’s fashion came to include pinks and floral prints, and cute “boyish” hairstyles with long bangs became the rage (Lee 2010).

Advertising has played an important role in spreading the FM image. Cosmetics companies have been very eager to sell cosmetics to this whole new group of buyers. Large areas of department stores are now devoted to men’s beauty care. Famous idols and actors, including members of both the DBSK and the F4, are used to advertise men’s beauty products. More and more men in Korea aspire to look like these idols.

The Korean economy is very strong now. This makes it possible for many Korean men to spend their money on personal beauty. With the economic power they become more confident, and more men want to look good even if it costs them.

A major reason for the “kkonminam” craze is that men want to look good to be competitive in the job market. They want to have “the right face”, which looks youthful, lively, friendly, and upper-class. Job applicants must send in photographs with their applications. Many Koreans believe that a person’s character can be read in the face, and even that their looks are more important than their skills (Jeffreys 2007).

Historically, Korean is a country ruled by strong Confucian ideals, which emphasize taking care of and making both the mind and the body strong. It is said that one reason for the “hallyu” (“hanryu” or “Korean Wave”) throughout East Asia is that the men are good-looking but show “a lack of profanity and sex, as befitting Confucian morals” (Maliangkay 2010).

David Coad believes that sports figures, such as David Beckham have been important in popularizing the metrosexual and the FB trend. They stand for traditional masculinity in their sports skills, but they also take care of their personal appearance in ways that were once thought feminine. The long-haired Korean soccer player, Ahn Jung-Hwan became very popular at the 2002 World Cup. He is known not only for his soccer skills, but also for his looks and his actions that show a softer side of men. He kissed his wedding ring after winning a major game. Then, he went on to advertise men’s liquid foundation. Coad writes:

The immediately obvious hyper-masculine and generally assumed heterosexual status of most sportsmen has been vital in changing attitudes about exposing, eroticizing, and taking care of the male body. Without some of the most celebrated heterosexual athletes in the world endorsing and embodying different facets of metrosexuality it is uncertain if masculinity norms would have changed so rapidly in so many different cultures. Metrosexuality, in a way, is indebted to sportsmen for its very existence. (Coad 2008)

Some people believe the most important reason the FM phenomenon is spreading throughout Korea, but especially in urban areas, is that women like it.  Bae Yong-joon, who was so popular in the tv drama “Autumn Sonata”, is also well liked among somewhat older Korean women. His popularity is based on his character in the drama which was soft looking, passionate, sincere, and polite. James Turnbull, who writes for The Korea Times, has an interesting theory about the origins of the FM.

When focusing on men, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that it is actually women’s changing tastes in them that drive changes in their fashions and grooming jabits, and accordingly it ultimately proves to be married Korean women in the late-1990s that are responsible for flower men’s origins. (Turnbull 2009)

Turnbull goes on to explain that during the “IMF Crisis” of 1997, many more women were laid off from their companies than men were because it was assumed that their husbands could support them. They had only recently gotten the legal right to not be fired upon marriage. Then they were encouraged by society to support “Korean’s hardworking men” to help get through the crisis. He says that many women, at this time, started to reject “the ideals of men as strong, provider types, and it is no coincidence that a sudden glut of movies appeared featuring romances between older women and younger men, and that this was when the first, identifiable, flower men began appearing in advertising too.” Korean women wanted men who were more interested in satisfying them than their companies (Turnbull 2009).

It is obvious that many females from mid-teens to their 30s also like the FM. They fill social media sites with comments about popular singers and actors. They use various interesting words to describe the men: pretty, sweet looking, a hootie, cute, looks like a pretty girl, etc. One blogger on Korean pop culture expresses what seem to be the views of many young women:

So why do flower boys act like women? There is only one answer to this. Because their fans love it. I guess there is something about a handsome man trying to act like a woman which makes them even more endearing. Somehow, there is an inexplicable and irresistible urge that makes women want to pinch flower boys’ cheeks every time they do their “cute acts”…flower boys are pretty to look at and they are cute and entertaining. But, why are they so popular? The ultimate reason, I believe, is that flower boys represent certain qualities of a man women look for – a man unafraid to explore his soft side…his emotional side and admit that he is vain after all. (Deen 2011)

About those pretty cheeks the women want to pinch, many times they might be pretty as a result of plastic surgery. The Korean Association for Plastic Surgeons estimated that in 2010 approximately 15% of Korean men had plastic surgery. The Korean Herald reported that 44% of male college students were considering plastic surgery (“Think plastic surgery” 2013).

In an excellent article on cosmetic surgery in Korea, Ruth Holliday and Jo Hwang point out that plastic surgery is popular and accepted in Korean society. The former president of Korea, among many other famous people have had work done on their faces. They write that “the body emerges as a site for negotiating and reinforcing national identity.” After1945, Koreans wanted to look more western in order to look very different from the Japanese colonizers. Later, they wanted to embrace their Koreanness by consulting with fortune tellers of physiognomy to find out what is their particular auspicious face. Surgeons and physiognomists often work together in the clinics. A survey found that 7 of 10 Koreans approve of plastic surgery, and even more say they would do it if they had the money. The government supports plastic surgery tourism, does not control the industry strictly, and even approves of it through the insurance program in many cases. With plastic surgery accepted so widely in Korea, it is not surprising that men are commonly having surgery on their eyelids to make them look bigger, on their noses to make them more pointed, and on their jaws to make them look less angular. Liposuction to suck out fat is also popular among men. (Holliday & Hwang n.d.)

The Flower Man as a positive male image partly has its origins in the worldwide metrosexual trend and in Japanese manga and anime. It is, however, uniquely Korean. It was made popular by the “soft masculinity” of pop idols and actors in dramas. It has been promoted by advertising of cosmetic firms who want to open up and make money in the new market of male beauty aids. This happened just at a time when the Korean economy was relatively strong. The Korean job market is very competitive, and appearance is important. Nonsexual boys fit in with traditional Confucian ideals. Sportsmen have shown that a man can be traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine at the same time. Some women want men to be a mixture of male and female, more androgynous, and not masculine Rambo types. Finally, striving for ideal beauty (and the range of what is considered “beauty” seems to be quite narrow in Korea) and using means such as plastic surgery to get it has been a part of the Korean culture for a long time. Procedures such as cosmetic surgery are readily accepted by the general public.

South Korea is a country with a military draft. All men must serve in the military for at least one year. Some men said they started using face creams as soldiers because they wanted protection in the sunshine. It is even possible to buy a set of camouflage face paint, healthier for the skin than the usual, to wear during military service. (Ling 2012) This shows that the traditionally male identity and the newer Flower Man identity are blending well in Korean society.

References

  1. Coad, David. (2008). The metrosexual: Gender, sexuality and sport . (p. 196). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  2. Deen, Catherine. (2011, November 30). Understanding the lure of ‘flower boys’. Retrieved from https://ph.omg.yahoo.com/blogs/okpop/understanding-lure-flower-boys-050944369.html
  3. Fujita, Akiko. (2005, October 28). South Korean men cosmetics-crazed. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2013/05/south-korean-men-cosmetics-crazed/
  4. Holiday, Ruth, & Jo Hwang. (n.d.). Gender, globalization and aesthetic surgery in south korea. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/726850/Gender_Globalization_and_Cosmetic_Surgey_in_South_Korea 
  5. Jeffreys, Daniel. (2007, April 28). Koreans go under the knife in a cut-throat race for jobs. Retrieved from https://www.google.co.jp/webhp?hl=en&tab ww&gws_rd=cr&ei
  6. Lee, H. (2010). Men, be beautiful for spring, summer. Retrieved from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/…/199_39427.html
  7. Liu, Ling. (2005, October 28). Asia’s metrosexuals: Mirror, mirror…. Retrieved from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-10/28/content_488529.html
  8. Maliangkay, Roald. (2010). The effeminacy of male beauty in korea. Retrieved from http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL55_0607.pdf
  9. Sun, J. (2010). Pan-east asian soft masculinitity: Reading boys over flowers, coffee prince and shinhwa fan fiction. Retrieved from http://books.publishing.monash.edu/aps/bookworm/view/Complicated Currents/122/xhtml/frontmatter1.html
  10. Think plastic surgery is only popular with girls in Korea? Take a look at the guys – See more at: http://yourhealth.asiaone.com/content/think-plastic-surgery-only-popular-girls-korea-take-look-guys/page/0/1#sthash.FsaKcvCZ.dpuf
  11. Turnbull, James. (2009). Flower men: the hot topic of 2009. Retrieved from http://thegrandnarrative.com/2009.04/03/flower-men-the-hot-topic-of-2009/
  12. Williamson, Lucy. (2012, December 3). South korean men get the make-up habit. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20522028

Mimicking the non-existent

Anonymous student post

Body alterations are a strange thing. Just the words themselves—“body alterations”—make them seem so foreign to our lives, like they’re not something natural. Yet looking at people throughout my life has made me realize that body alteration has become the norm for many people, and desired by, perhaps, many more. If we were to look at how many people use make-up, have surgery, aim for a different body weight/composition, or even just get a piercing, we would see just how widespread this notion of changing our bodies is.

Yet, after reading Terry Kawashima’s (2002) article on racial indicators, I find body alterations strange in another sense. Kawashima discusses this idea of mimicry, in particular the mimicry of “white” traits by Japanese people, arguing throughout her paper that this is not the case for most of Japanese society. But it raised an interesting question about mimicry in relation to body alterations for me: When someone aims to alter their body, is it because they are trying to mimic something or someone else?

This can be a tricky question to navigate, as some will find it too broad a question while others will point out that there are as many reasons for changing one’s body as there are people. Despite this, I can’t help but feel that, at least from what I’ve seen and read, the answer just might be yes, but not in the way that the question is worded. The cautious reader will be skeptical, and thus, I suppose, explanations are in order.

Part of my answer is reinforced by some particular experiences of mine. Growing up with sisters can be difficult, especially when they are constantly attempting to put make-up on and dress fashionably, even when it makes you late for school. Anxiety, I learned, fueled my sister’s actions; she wanted to look “normal”, and thus she would groom herself constantly. For her, body modification was a way of becoming invisible. This resonates with my own experience growing up with raised bumps on my back. My mother, in all honesty, was more worried about them than I; she blamed them for the way I dressed and the activities I gave up when I was older, as well as for my shy and withdrawn personality. She went so far as to offer me a chance to have plastic surgery. Unable to explain to her (or myself) why my scars were not a problem to me, I consented.

After having plastic surgery on only two bumps, and after having grown up with more time to mull over that experience, I’ve realized that my mother believed I couldn’t think of myself as “normal” while I had something “subnormal”, especially when she saw the anxieties my sister held. Body modification, in this context, meant to her an attempt to elevate myself back to “the standard”.

Broadened to a larger scope, we can see in other’s experiences through things like blogs and academic literature that body modification extends across the board. It affects how people relate their body to race, gender, age, culture, health, and all these other touchy subjects that people seem afraid to address sometimes. And—again, from what I’ve seen and read—I think that all these changes that we make to our bodies has something to do with trying to obtain an ideal. In the end, it’s difficult to say that there’s some definitive “real” thing that people try to mimic, because most of the things I’ve listed are just social constructs. Race doesn’t biologically exist, health is relative, and age is reliant on different perceptions of time. In the end, perhaps all people are really trying to do is aim for something that’s not really obtainable because it does not exist in any measurable way. So in a way, we are trying to mimic something; it’s just not something that we can point to and say “there it is”.