Thursday, October 16, 2008

You're so vain!


Koreans seem to think most foreigners are either very handsome or beautiful. I don't know why- I think we remind them of some celebrities, or it's just a thing to say to be polite or engage conversation. At first it was very flattering, being told you're so gorgeous ten times per day. But after a while, it's like "yea yea, I know". Haha.

A few months ago I was at a dinner party with a mix of Koreans and foreigners. A Korean girl I had just met started gushing about how pretty she thought I was, and that I reminded her of some actress. I laughed a bit, and simply said, "thanks!". She looked a bit uncomfortable, and after a few minutes I found out why: I was told that my "thank you" was a big no-no in Korean culture. The correct answer to her compliment would have been to brush it off and insist on the opposite, such as: "oh no, not at all, i'm not pretty, please stop!".

However, growing up, I was educated to accept compliments by simply saying thank you, and perhaps returning the favor. I don't think that highly of myself, but I can accept a compliment. I don't think it's conceited.

It mostly has to do with self-esteem, I think. For instance, my Grade 6 girls were complimenting me on my size: "oh, teacher so thin! teacher good weight!" (since when Grade 6 girls should be worried about their weight??!! Isn't it too young?) They also asked me: "teacher, do you think you're pretty?" to which I replied: "well, some days not so much, but other days I feel good about myself, so sometimes yes". Once again they told me I was being too vain, that in Korean culture it was wrong. So I asked them: "do you think you're pretty?" and they all answered: "no, we are so ugly, not beautiful at all, not thin at all!!" (when in fact they're the most beautiful little Korean girls you could imagine).

It makes me sad, I don't know if it's a lack of self-esteem or just an automatic answer. I also happen to know that the rate of plastic surgery is verrrry high in Korea, as opposed to Canada or the US. Apparently most girls my age have had at least one thing done, either on their eyelids, nose, or something to make their face appear smaller (which seems to be a huge complex for girls here). Honestly I think Korean girls are probably one of the most beautiful girls in the world, I don't understand why they'd want to change anything. I'd kill to have their amazing almond-shaped eyes and perfect skintone.

I guess we're all the same about our looks, wherever you go, chances are girls feel the same insecurities about body image.


Emily said...

i think that's so sad that these little girls are trained to put themselves down and make as little of an impact as possible. i love that you accept compliments, so many people lack that ability!

seasonal lust said...

i used to never be able to accept compliments!! somehow I thought it was vain to actually accept them. it was hard but eventually i trained myself to learn to say thank you, even if I didn't really believe it.

but now that I think about it, what's wrong with believing in someone when they say something nice about you?

on another note, I'm glad you brought up the plastic surgery rate in Korea. there seems to be a clinic on every corner! its astonishing to me how a girl's birthday present would be an eyelid job or a nose job, and how its so common. the celebrities/singers that they idolize (worship even) are near perfect that the pressure to emulate them is almost overwhelming. the obsession to conform and be perfect within the culture, in my opinion, is detrimental to one's self esteem.

vivian said...

emily- yes i agree, and i'm trying to teach them that it's okay to accept compliments and that they should think they look pretty, there is nothing wrong with that!

seasonal lust- it's crazy how much plastic surgery is "normal" here, and yes, i heard that about birthday presents. the culture here puts a lot of pressure on women to always look perfect it seems. girls are so afraid to stand out in a bad way.

seasonal lust said...

im afraid that intrinsically within most asian cultures is the constant pressure to *appear* as perfect and put together as possible because image is everything in our society. beauty, i guess, is the east's version of competing with the jones.

btw, i love commenting on your blogs because you write about things other than just fashion or post up pictures. =) so i enjoy your blog a lot.

oh and if you want to know an extreme of plastic surgery and how society rewards the beautiful, even if fake, go here:

seasonal lust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A said...

I came across your blog when I was searching from some info on Seoul. I'm travelling to Seoul in a few weeks (for a week) to attend a conference and was hoping you might give me some tips on where to go, what to do, what places are full of American military and stay away from, etc.

I'm looking to explore and try to see the culture as much as possible, but also find a party at night.

I'm Canadian, live in Toronto...would appreciate any insights.

Merci beaucoup...

♥ fashion chalet said...

Those boots are amazing. I really crave some just like those! You look great, dear. :)

xo/ fashion chalet

Nicole Marie said...

super cute boots!

vivian said...

oh thanks, it's kind of an old picture from last year, we had a Halloween theme at work.

they're Steve Madden riding boots, I'm so glad I brought them to Korea!!

漂流者 said...

I've been looking at your seoul related posts because I plan to go to Seoul in August.

I don't know if you realized this already, but this aspect is mostly cultural rather than something they're "taught" I guess. (i guess culture can be taught?) I'm not sure if I can explain it well, but it is a part of being in a collectivist culture and a Confucian one at that. It's not good to be conceited, and so that is why they say negative things about themselves. I think this situation happens a lot in other Confucian influenced societies, such as China or perhaps even Japan. At the same time, a lot of what you say is true. Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide and plastic surgery is a problem (in my opinion unless it's used for things such as scars, etc).