I have been looking into Korea’s forbidden beauty industry. I’d hate to be cliché and say that as a female I have an interest in beauty but it’s true! I would really like my Autoethnography to be based around something that I have an interest in. On the other hand, it’s important to me that it is also based around something that I have little to no knowledge about. That area would be Korea and Korean culture. I say this with great regret and shame, but the only thing I know about Korea is Korean BBQ. (I know, I know, such a westerner thing to say.) The word ‘forbidden’ alone is just so attractive, am I right? Cosmetic surgery is very normalised in Korea and many young women are gifted nose jobs, botox, double eyelid surgery and other surgical procedures such as fat transplants to the face (to make cheeks look fuller) as their graduation gifts before or after highschool/university.
Although these types of alterations to the face are very common and normalised in Korea, there is one thing that is heavily frowned upon and that is tattoos. After watching a short film by Grace Neutral on YouTube about this industry in Korea, it was shocking to me to find out that there is a very negative connotation towards body ink. There actually aren’t many videos made by Koreans about this topic, and the most popular video I came across was made in the UK. Links are commonly made between individuals with tattoos and gang members. This type of modification to the body is so common in my life and isn’t something that many Australians see as forbidden or illegal. However, in Korea it is just that: illegal. I could not believe this! Young people were shown in the documentary who had tattoos that they had been hiding from their parents for over 10 years because of the fear that their own mother and father would dis-own them. I think that the prejudice towards tattoos is something that I can semi-understand, however the defiant correlation between tattoos and gang members was a concept that was totally absurd to me. Growing up with a conservative European upbringing, I was always told that tattoos were a silly thing to have done to your body because it’s there forever and you can’t remove it. My grandfather had a very large tattoo of an Eagle holding a flag on his forearm and he would complain about it every day, telling us how much he hated it and wanted to have it removed. Grandad’s tattoo disaster was a result of a drunk night with his friends who thought it would be a brilliant idea to have matching tattoos. It was because of my Grandad that I was sure from a very early age that I would never get a tattoo, and I still haven’t got one. My own reasoning for not having this type of artwork on my body is not a result of prejudice towards people who do. Who knows, maybe one day I will have a sudden urge to get a tattoo of a giant eagle on my forearm. (highly unlikely, but possible.) I can completely appreciate tattoos and I personally see it as beautiful and as an art form. It is a way that people express themselves. In Korea it’s not illegal to have a tattoo, and it’s not illegal to get a tattoo in the country, but tattooing is considered as an invasive medical procedure only to be conducted by doctors.
In the short film a tattoo artists argues “why would you study for 6 years to be a doctor and then become a tattoo artist?”. The problem with this law is that no one who goes through all the schooling needed to become a doctor is likely to be interested in then practicing tattooing during their off hours. And no self-respecting hospital is going to have a tattoo ward. This also reminds me that tattooing is an art work and should be done by an artist, and surely not all doctors would have this talent. This dilemma is what has led to the illegal tattooing scene is gaining a foothold in the country. The battle to stop associating tattoos with a slacker or with a criminal is an ongoing one. In Asian countries such as Korea, tattooing is linked to being in gangs such as the Yakuza. It was really shocking to me to discover how underground and frowned upon tattooing is in Korea, yet how normalised plastic surgery is for young women. As I mentioned earlier, my upbringing in Australia has a lot to do with my opinions on this, but I am very eager to discover more about this topic and try to understand the prejudice behind this.
BuzzFeed. (2017). I Wasn’t Beautiful Enough To Live In South Korea. [online] Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/ashleyperez/i-wasnt-beautiful-enough-to-live-in-south-korea?utm_term=.fkEBzyO2BD#.sdkzG0m2zO [Accessed 10 Sep. 2017].
Grace Neutral Explores Korea’s Illegal Beauty Scene. (2016). Directed by G. Neutral. U.K: I.D.
I-d. (2017). what it’s like growing up with korean beauty ideals. [online] Available at: https://i-d.vice.com/en_us/article/qv85g3/what-its-like-growing-up-with-korean-beauty-ideals [Accessed 9 Sep. 2017].
Orofino, E. (2017). This Woman’s Story Will Change Your View of Korean Beauty Standards. [online] POPSUGAR Beauty Australia. Available at: https://www.popsugar.com.au/beauty/Korean-Beauty-Standards-37972307 [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].
The Odyssey Online. (2017). Why You Probably Aren’t ‘Attractive’ In South Korea. [online] Available at: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/you-probably-arent-attractive-in-south-korea [Accessed 7 Sep. 2017].