Culture Clash

10:37 PM Jmo 0 Comments

Living abroad is amazing. Living in Korea is amazing. But, looking past the green tinted world of a soju bottle, it 'aint all apple pie and fruitcakes.
Lately I've encountered my fair share of culture clashes. This past week has definitely tried my patience. And honestly, if I were caught on a bad day and asked the "big question", I may of had to turn them down and not re-sign.

People who know me know that I try to be as culturally sensitive as possible. But there's been some moments lately that reflexs this statement into my head: "That's just wrong."

Item number one on Jessica's Annoyed List:
"Beauty Standards":
Korea is obsessed with "beauty". They have a code of "beauty standards" that they judge everyone by. Not just women, men too. The basic formula is: tall, slim, "s-line" (small waist/curve), "small face" (more on that later), a round forehead (wtf does that even mean?!), and of course big eyes. I say formula because really that's what it is. It's a concoction. It's an unnatural and unattainable standard. But! South Korea has the highest plastic surgery rate in the world and it's because of this God-awful pressure to look like a doll. At times, it seems like this is the end-all, be-all of any one's existence. If you look like this, you will be successful. Your life is set.
So much pressure is put on young people to fit into this form it's enough to make you insane. And sometimes, I feel like this is the case. I've seen middle school aged girls sitting on the subway swiping a tooth-pick over their eyelids to get them to crease. (Eyelid creases are also considered to be "beautiful". Whoever came up with that...)
Why am I all of a sudden talking about this? Well, I got into a "beauty debate" with my coteachers the other day. They were talking amongst themselves in Korean when they suddenly stopped and I heard that familiar "Uhh...Jessica?". I knew they were going to ask me a question. Their question: "What is the beauty standard in USA?" This question stumped me. I wasn't aware that we had one. The first thought that came to my mind was the typical skinny blonde with big boobs. But I assured them that this was no longer the case and that many types of women are considered to be beautiful. All shapes and sizes. I gave them examples such as Beyonce. What they said next...drove me crazy. They said that they were surprised Beyonce was popular because, wait for it, wait for it...her thighs are too big. Exqueeze me? Baking powder? Forget the fact that she's incredibly talented. No. She shouldn't be popular because she has big thighs. Well, I'm screwed. My brain lit up. I can only imagine what they think of me...
They, then asked me what plastic surgery I wanted. I told them I didn't want any. This shocked them. They actually couldn't understand my answer. I told them that sure, I'm not perfect, but I would never want to change my face to look like someone else. But they do. They want to look "Western". They want a "small face". Having a "small face" is exactly what it sounds like. One of the most popular procedures, right behind eye-cutting, is...jaw shaving. I asked them "Don't you think it's sad that a little girl would be so unhappy with the way she looked that she would be willing to cut herself open to change her face?" (Some middle school girls have their eyes done at an early age.) They said no. They said no, because she wants to be more beautiful. I tried to rebuttal by saying "But WHO is telling you this? Who made you believe that an eyelid makes you beautiful?" They said I didn't understand because I had a "Western face." I tried to make them see that yes, I did in fact understand what they were trying to say by trying to flip the situation. I told them that I find Asian women incredibly beautiful. But, I would never have plastic surgery to look different. I tried to express that I think everyone should be happy with themselves. They ignored this and proceeded to tell me all of the procedures they wanted to get done. They brought up photos of K-Pop stars as examples. It's almost as if the entire country is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder. I don't understand where this uniform obsession comes from.

Sorry. Day after day of this is a little trying...
It also doesn't help that they talk about how big I am, how much I eat, make fun of how much I sweat at badminton practice, and the fact that I have moles on my back. -A vocabulary word that they had to look up to use by the way. After which, they all had a good laugh. Great. Good work. I prefer the term "beauty mark" anyway thank you very much...

2) Racism:
Oh yess, the big "R". I've had rather good luck in this department. Being stared at on the subway doesn't bother me. It's innocent enough and I just shoot them a nervous smile to divert their eyes. Out and about, my respect is usually returned with respect, or at least a sense of novelty. But the other night I encountered the other side to being a waygook. Fresh off the tails of my gym teacher saying someone about me while hiking, I was biking home from dance class minding my own business. Literally. I stopped at a 7-11 to buy a water and after saying goodbye to the clerk (Who was super cute and excited that I used Korean -See, respect=respect.) I was greeted by a group of drunk business men outside. One of them pointed at me, much like an animal in a zoo, and said "Ugghh! Waygook-saram!" (Foreigner!) and started laughing at me. Right. It's true that I am not from this country. But, would you ever in a million years think to do that to someone in The States? No. So, naturally I was a bit annoyed. It was also clear that they assumed I had no idea what he said. So I said "Ahhh, nay, waygook-saram." smiled and rolled my eyes. I couldn't help it. I was annoyed. Then the other business man stepped forward and said in the most condescending way "Nice to meet you." in English. I hopped on my bike and said it back to him in Korean. 'Cause I'm sassy like that. Well, the first business man didn't like that very much and... tried to spit on me. Good thing he was drunk because his aim was off and he missed me. Yep. That was all the motivation I needed to turn a 20 minute bike ride into 10. I was pissed.

I could go on. There are a couple other things tugging away at me, but I'll save them for another post. I'm just getting myself worked up again. I'm not going to be able to change everyone's mind. I can just be myself, carry my own self-esteem, and try and set an example for Americans.

Being that it's 4th of July and all, it would be nice to be wrapped up in a swell of red, white, and blue. I need some apple pie and beer on the back deck, dammit! I need some non-conformist spirit. I need a USA state of mind. Home does sound good right about now... siiiiiigh


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