© Copyright 2017 Isabelle Docto, Ryerson University.
In a video posted by Buzzfeed Video on October 17, 2016 on YouTube, three, second generation Asian Americans (two females and one male) with Korean backgrounds get themselves Photoshopped with plastic surgery ideals. Titled “Koreans Get Photoshopped With Plastic Surgery Ideals,” the video begins with the three subjects talking about Korea’s incredibly specific standards of beauty. The video includes statistics about plastic surgery in South Korea such as how the country has the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world per capita and how it is sometimes offered as a high school graduation gift.
The subjects then move on to discuss how these beauty standards have affected their lives. One of the subjects, Ashly Perez, talks about a year she spent in South Korea where she saw how her physical appearance was underrepresented and unappreciated. Having a mixture of Korean, Filipino, and Cuban decent, she has darker skin and facial features that do not fit the ideal standard of beauty in the country. She discussed her thoughts in an article for Buzzfeed titled “I Wasn’t Beautiful Enough To Live In South Korea.” The other two subjects expressed how they were scrutinized by family members for not having double eyelids (the lack of a fold in ones upper eyelid) and therefore deemed unattractive. The video shows a plastic surgeon analyzing their faces and giving them feedback on how it can be more suited to the ideal beauty standards in Asia. Their faces are then Photoshopped according to the surgeon’s recommended changes. The video ends with them seeing photos of what their faces would look like if they did undergo cosmetic surgery. The results are subtle, but jarring for all of the participants as seen in figure 1.
The video visualizes a narrative that is rarely discussed and acknowledge in the media. These ideal beauty standards are not only seen in Korea, but also across Asian countries like the Philippines. The effects of these beauty standards on second-generation Asians in Western countries are still evident through the media. In this paper I will ask how progressive Western media like Buzzfeed is subverting the portrayed beauty ideals by mass media in Asia and encouraging discussion around this issue. I will be exploring the beauty ideals presented in Korea and the Philippines and will be focusing on its effects on women.
History of Ideas
As seen in the video, in order to be a beautiful Asian woman, she must have the following features to name a few: fair skin, big eyes with double eyelids, a nose that is not flat, and a slim and petite figure. These ideals stem from Western influences. For Filipino women, it’s rooted back in the colonization by Western countries such as the United States and Spain. From 1898 to 1946 the United States controlled the island and was governed under President McKinley who thought assimilation was imperative for the betterment of the country (Renault 5). This mindset allowed discrimination by Western countries as Filipinos were seen as “other” with their darker complexion and continued when Filipinos started immigrating to the United States. This highlights the origins of the discrimination that Filipino women face today “through the institutionalism of media and skin stratification of colourism” (Renault 6). Colourism, which is discrimination based on skin colour, is therefore evident in the lack of representation of darker skin tones in both Asian and Western media.
Furthermore, globalization has allowed Western beauty to become the global standard, which is “seen in the increasing number of Western and European models used in fashion magazines in Asian countries” (Renault 1). This is telling of the influence of media on a society. The creation of the female beauty ideal is heavily transmitted through mass media (Bissell 229). Magazines and ads can be seen anywhere and are easily accessible, so they set the standard of what is considered beautiful in a country.
Moreover, the Internet and social media create a bigger platform for brands and people to uphold these beauty standards. For women to only see white, thin, blonde haired models in magazines and ads creates a norm that they strive to reach, thus the creation of a beauty ideal that leads to activities such as skin lightening and cosmetic surgery. Aquino calls this “cosmetic westernisation,” which is the “modification of Asian features to appear closer, if not similar to Caucasian or White features.”
Furthermore, women specifically are put under significant pressure when it comes to living up to a certain body image. According to Aquino, Neo-Confucianism states, “the value of the female body in Korea is judged in reference to the roles women play within relationships” (437). This means a woman’s body is merely viewed as an object to be obtained, which is what fuels women in Korea to get plastic surgery such as “marriage cosmetic surgery,” which is a procedure that gives a woman the desired face that will give them a higher chance of getting married (Aquino 437). This further promotes the scrutiny that women are under when it comes to their appearance.
The participants in the video still feel the effects of these beauty standards, even if they are not in an Asian country. However, by acknowledging the discrimination found in these ideals and exploring the issue, they are able to bring light to an important discussion.
Form and distribution
In Asia, the promotion of Westernized beauty ideals can be seen everywhere. Whether it’s photos showing double eyelid surgery seen in figure 2 or it’s an advertisement for skin whitening soap seen in figure 3, these subliminal messages can get under someone’s skin. As stated by the participants in the Buzzfeed video, their families abide by those beauty standards, telling them to get cosmetic surgery. Those family members, having grown up in Asia, have been surrounded by these messages supporting the superiority of Western features over Asian traits. According to Bissell, this is due to cultivation theory, which suggests that “exposure and frequency of a message disseminated through a media form influences perception” (232). In simpler terms, the more someone is exposed to a certain message in the media, the more they will think that message is the norm. This is the case for women in Asia who experience racism and discrimination if they do not fit the beauty ideals seen on screens. Since those ideals are seen as the norm, women who do not meet the criteria then undergo modifications to their appearance in order to fit in.
Media outlets like Buzzfeed Video are subverting these thoughts by discussing the topic of beauty ideals and what is considered beautiful in the eyes of society. Using YouTube as their platform and videos as their medium allows them to reach an international audience. According to statistics reported by Carrasco in 2013, the top 10 countries in YouTube viewership include Asian countries like South Korea and Japan. The United States and the United Kingdom were the top two countries. This form of distribution means these ideas can reach a larger audience and perhaps even an audience that may be aware of the issues about beauty standards, but have not been exposed to media that is open to discussing the negative aspects of those ideals.
Imagery and Perspective
As a viewer of the video, the country that they are in and their surroundings affect their perspective. The viewer could be in the Philippines where a majority of the people seen on television, film, advertising and even on YouTube are “light skinned models, actors, hosts, and newscasters” (Renault 2). This is why the viewer could have preconceived notions of beauty and might even be a consumer of skin lightening products, or have had cosmetic surgery. Seeing the visuals of Buzzfeed unpacking these beauty ideals could therefore be something that changes their perspective on beauty.
Furthermore, the Photoshopped images of the participants are visuals that can be eye opening for viewers who are not aware of these issues. For the participants themselves, it was a test in being open to seeing what Asian beauty ideals would look like on their faces. For people who live in a more diverse and less homogenous Western city like Los Angeles where Buzzfeed Video is based and where different races, colours, shapes, and sizes are slowly becoming more celebrated, the participants’ perspectives are coming from a more accepting environment. Therefore, the images of their faces Photoshopped with the cosmetic surgery that fits Asian beauty ideals were not met with high enthusiasm. Instead, it further enforced the acceptance of their differences and what makes them unique. Of course, the participants in the video are privileged in the fact that they have the ability to get a glimpse in to the possible cosmetic surgery of their faces. They are also privileged in the sense that they live in an environment that is a little more accepting as stated above.
Overall, the video generated an important discussion in Asian beauty ideals and how the standards can create an unhealthy mental space when enforced on both women and men. The Photoshopped images of their modified faces are visual representations of how the body can be objectified and reconstructed to please another’s gaze. In the end, through the discussion of the criticisms given to their appearance by the plastic surgeon and the changes made in their faces, they were able to see and experience their insecurities removed. Being able to see their faces in the “ideal” light did not necessarily fix anything. Ultimately, it showed the reality of beauty standards and how appearances are truly diverse and how that should presented in the media in order for women to regain their bodies from objectification.
A, Sophia. Untitled photograph. Flickr, 24 Nov, 2010, https://www.flickr.com/photos/sophiakristinaphotos/5222426010/in/photolist-8XuiH5-8XuiiL-8Xreux-8XuhNE-8Xuiqf-8Xre5T-8Xuimq-8XuhJ5-61KY5b-do9AFG-EW6A8-8XuiCE-8Xrezi-8XuhU9/
Aquino, Yves Saint James. “Borrowed beauty? Understanding identity in Asian facial cosmetic surgery.” Medicine, Healthcare and Philosophy, Norbert Steinkamp, March 2016, pp. 431-441. Scholars Portal Journals, http://journals2.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/13867423/v19i0003/431_bbuiiafcs.xml.
Bissel, Kim L. “Americanized beauty? Predictors of perceived attractiveness from US and South Korean participants based on media exposure, ethnicity, and socio-cultural attitudes toward ideal beauty.” Asian Journal of Communication, Jee Young Chung, Vol. 19, No. 2, Jan. 2009, pp. 227-247. Scholars Portal Journals, http://journals1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/details/01292986/v19i0002/227_abpopaasatib.xml.
Buzzfeed. “Koreans Get Photoshopped with Plastic Surgery Ideals.” YouTube, 17 Oct. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YD0TRbLmZaw.
Carrasco, Ed. “The Top 10 Countries in YouTube Viewership Outside the USA.” New Media Rockstars, 18 March. 2013, http://newmediarockstars.com/2013/03/the-top-10-countries-in-youtube-viewership-outside-the-usa-infographic/
Cymru.lass. Untitled Photograph. Wikimedia Commons, 14 Sept, 2013, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:East_Asian_blepharoplasty_before_after.jpg
Renault, Kristin Baybayan. “Filipino Women and the Idealization of White Beauty in Films, Magazines, and Online.” Academia.edu, https://www.academia.edu/16797999/Filipino_Women_and_the_Idealization_of_White_Beauty_in_Films_Magazines_and_Online