Asian Beauty Standards: The Real Ideals

Mar 11, 2019 | 360, Asia, BEAUTY, BIZ, CULTURE, Korea, STYLE

Qu Jingjing 2 屈菁菁 ©Jonathan Kos-Read

Why is radiance more than ‘skin-deep’, what Does it Mean to be Beautiful in Asia?

A quick look at image editing apps like Pitu, Meitu, and Snow from China and South Korea will reveal that not much has changed in terms of beauty standards in this region. East Asians, Southeast Asians, and much of the region still equate beauty with “softness,” “cuteness,” and “femininity.”

Virtual Plastic Surgery

South Korea’s Snow app, particularly allows users to edit their faces right down to the ‘molecular level:’ you can change the shape and color of your eyes, the thickness of your lashes and brows, and even perform virtual plastic surgery to change the contour of your cheeks, jaws, and size of your forehead. Ultimately, the contouring process produces softer, feminized features, bordering on the fantastic and doll-like.

Actress China ©Jonathan Kos-Read

K-Beauty Standards

South Korean standards of beauty contrast heavily with what is considered beautiful and sexually appealing to the West. A peep at Instagram beauties would attest to this: Western beauty now means bronzed, athletic bodies, with the proper proportions from head to foot.

There is an emphasis on the “whole body package” rather than just the face. The face can be less than perfect, but the body has to ‘bring it’ before people can say that an individual is close to perfection.

K-Beauty places the skin as the number one source of beauty. This would explain why the appearance of putting on heavy makeup is as pervasive in Asia but a more natural look is preferred. While South Koreans women do use makeup, they do so to emphasize their natural radiance.

It is common for women in this region to use seven to eight different skincare products in the evening just to maintain their smooth and radiant complexion. With great skin comes the expression of health, which is integral to the idea of achieving life balance. The concept of beauty, while indeed superficial, is still integrally tied to traditional beliefs.

The Real Deal, But Can Be Deadly

At the beginning of the month, Asia One reported the death of a 35-year-old Hong Kong resident after she underwent plastic surgery in South Korea. The patient had wanted to undergo liposuction in Seoul, South Korea, but fell into a coma soon after the procedure began. The plastic surgery clinic immediately transported the unfortunate patient to a hospital but was pronounced dead soon after.

This is just one of a string of plastic surgery “tragedies” that largely fall outside the radar of social networks because they contradict the ideal image of plastic surgery being largely safe and “run the mill.” Unfortunately, even the most seasoned clinics can commit errors that can lead to the death of patients.

These largely unreported instances of fatalities while undergoing the knife should make people more cautious as they search for beauty in countries that are popular with plastic surgery, like South Korea and Thailand. The risks are real, and while beauty is the end goal, people may be putting themselves in harm’s way just to change how they look.

Eurocentric Beauty and “Mixed Race” Standards

What a lot of people don’t realize, most especially in the regions affected by periodic skin whitening crazes, is that much of what is being promoted as “beautiful skin” are actually pegged on European or Western ideas of what beautiful skin should look like. But then again, the skin care industry doesn’t really mind these standards, as long as the market is picking up. 

Of course, variations in the trend appear all the time. Pop culture plays a crucial role in propagating old ideas with new images. A case in point would be the “mixed-race” standard of beauty. Take any Western lineage and combine with it Asian, and poof – you have a vague idea of beautiful based on the appearance of actors and actresses who are biracial. 

Double-lidded eyes, narrow faces, white skin – “angelic” Western skin and beauty has been repackaged so it would appear that Asian are becoming more enamored with local beauty standards, but in reality, it’s just Western beauty externalized so well that people no longer see the absurdity because of the biracial element.

Bazaar China - Angelababy

Bazaar China – Angelababy

Whiting the Brown

An alarming poll by the World Health Organization revealed that as much as 40% of women from countries like Thailand and Cambodia regularly used whitening products, including bleaches, which are not always safe to use. Poor regulation of skincare products, especially in the Third World, allows unscrupulous manufacturers to sneak in products with unsafe ingredients. The global analysis shows that multinational manufacturers will earn more than $8 billion annually by 2027. 

While it’s true that people are allowed to sculpt and change their skin as they please, the underlying danger of overuse and subsequent abuse of oneself are huge issues that must be addressed at the grassroots level. But who will make the final call? It’s still the consumers. And consumer behavior will continue to be influenced largely by popular culture, TV, social media, and the movies. The fight is no longer for healthier skin, but for ‘beauty’ dictated by what’s popular. 

Cultural notions in Asia that tie dark or brown skin with poverty will only serve to distort further how people should be taking care of their skin. It doesn’t matter if Asians are supposed to have darker skin because we have more melanin – current aspirations ignore even basic biology.

Updated Feb 19, 2020