Don't force us to have facelifts, say South Korean women in backlash over beauty ideals

Nicola Smith
A South Korean woman walking past a street billboard advertising double-jaw surgery at a subway station in Seoul - AFP

In a country known as the plastic surgery capital of the world, South Korea’s women are now starting to rebel against impossible standards of beauty by publicly destroying make-up and defiantly cutting their hair. 

In posts across social media, women who call themselves “beauty resisters” have been denouncing the pressure imposed on them by South Korea’s patriarchal society, which emphasises flawless feminine beauty as the key to career and marital success. 

The trend, which has been dubbed the “remove corset” movement, is the latest in a series of high-profile feminist initiatives in the East Asian nation since the #MeToo campaign began to pick up speed at the start of the year. 

Beauty YouTuber Lina Bae racked up five million views and more than 340,000 likes for her video ‘I am not pretty’, where she first shows herself applying false eyelashes and heavy make-up alongside comments she has received about her appearance. 

“Your bare face is a terror to my eyes, lol,” or “your skin isn’t good for women” are among the comments that flash up on the screen before she scrubs the foundation and eye shadow from her face and concludes that “I am not pretty, but it is fine. You’re special the way you are.”

Other women have made their own statements by showing smashed cosmetics on their Instagram feed and explaining why they have decided to go bare-faced.

“Why did I smear these chemicals on my face?” asks one Instagram user, sticking her middle finger up at her discarded lipsticks and eyeliners. 

For years, young South Korean women have faced huge societal pressures to look perfect, driving an estimated one in three to seek plastic surgery and many others to go to skin clinics. 

The so-called “K-beauty” industry, which promotes pale, soft skin and delicate pink lips, is one of the largest in the world, believed to be worth some $18-24 billion.

In an indication of the unrealistic demands made over a woman’s appearance, a female newsreader made headlines earlier this year for taking the perceived radical decision to wear round-rimmed spectacles on air instead of contact lenses. 

The “remove corset” movement has built up steam on the back of an explosion of feminist anger about the lack of women’s rights in South Korean society. 

In recent months tens of thousands have also taken to the streets to demand action over a spate of “spycam” incidents where women have been filmed without their knowledge in public places or intimate situations. 

“There is a lot of pressure young and middle-aged women to go to skin clinics to have wrinkle-free faces,” Lee Mi-jeong from the Korean Women’s Development Institute told The Telegraph. 

“But now nowadays young people are starting to question why they have to care about what others think and they are starting to reject all of these pressures about appearance,” she said. 

“This kind of new movement has been initiated by the younger generation. This is just the beginning and it will have an impact in the long run.”