Korean beauty has become very popular in rectent years. The country is known internationally for its strict and often unachivable standards. However, have you ever wonered how Korean beauty has changed throughout history, and where these standards actually come from?
Historical Korean Beauty
The origins of modern ideas of Korean beauty originate in the 1800s. During this period, elements of western fashion and Korean traditions began to fuse. First, men began adopting western acessories such as sunglasses as accessories as status symbols. And then, for about 30 years, from the 1880s to 1900 there was a unique period known as Gyeongseonshi-dae (경서시대). During this time, there was a huge influx in foreigners into the country and global styles fused together all at once.
With the arrival of Western and Japanese influence, Korean beauty began to lose its traditional elements. Korean beauty was influenced by major powers in the world at the turn of the century. Countries such as Russia, France, Japan, and the United States, all took their turns influencing beauty in Korea from the 1880s to the 1900s.
Japanese Colonial Era
With the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) at the beginning of the 20th century, a cultural and consumer transformation impacted the lives of Koreans. The banning of Korean publications – including fashion and beauty magazines – gave rise to a new concept of Korean beauty.
During Japanese colonization, Korean women were forced to follow Japanese beauty standards. Korean women began to spend their time and money on beauty products of Japanese origin. Of course, this included Pakgabun rice powder – the product was extremely popular. It made the wearer’s face extremely white, often not matching the skin on the rest of their body.
Although its use ended in the mid-1930s as it was found that some chemical components of the product negatively impacted health, its influence is still seen today. In Korean beauty, the goal of foundation is not to achieve flawless, natural-looking skin. Instead, people often opt for a foundation that makes their face appear whiter, even if it does not match their skin tone.
It was also during this period that the obsession with the ideal physique began. Pre-Japanese colonization, being thin was not the standard in Korea. The country fell victim to many famines throughout history, and so thinness was associated with poverty and malnutrition during the Joseon era. However, in Japan, the standard of women being slim and petite was a well-established beauty standard, present since the Edo period.
Double Eyelids and V-Line Face
The Korean beauty standards of a V-line face and double eyelids also began during Japanese colonization. In particular, double eye lid surgery is believed to have first been performed in Japan in the late 1800s and was a major beauty standard during the colonization era. While double eye lid surgery came to Korea later during the Korean war, this is when the standard began to take root in Korean society,
Korean Beauty During the Korean War
With the end of the Korean War, the contemporary movement gained strength and the 1950s laid the foundation for the development of plastic surgery. According to the Korea Herald, “The surgery (double eyelid surgery) was first developed and performed in Korea by Dr. D. Ralph Millard, an American military plastic surgeon who was stationed in the country during the Korean War (1950-53). “
Not only did the United States begin introducting Korea to modern plastic surgeries, it also brought a lot of cultural influence that ultimately changed beauty standards.
Women saw Western influence increase. There was new makeup and hairstyles that emerged that were the exact oposite of traditional beauty standards. While sleek, long dark hair had been the standards for centuries, women suddenly began chopping off their long locks. Short hair and bright makeup were signatures of Korean beauty by the 1960s.
The Introduction of Modern Korean Beauty
The 1960s saw the birth of modernization within the country accompanied by developments in literacy and better economic conditions. With greater job opportunities, fashion became more versatile, and, at the same time, makeup industries began to be created – including Uisang. And, in 1964, the first school for models was opened.
With the creaton of the modeling industry, a strict and unflexable beauty standard was formed. Pale skin, a small V-line face, an upturned nose, and maintaining a weight under 50 kg became the recipie for Korean beauty.
The 1970s were characterized by the authoritarian and repressive regime of Park Chung-hee. During this period, the government strictly regulated appearance, wanting to return to more conservative beauty standards. However, as his regime ended, style became a form of protest. More western modern styles were associated with modernization and democratic ideas.
As the 1980s dawned, color televisions also began to be popular, creating a new appeal for young Koreans who wanted to become entertainment stars. Women started to use brighter colors and combining blush with eyeshadow was necessary. The 1980s also saw the “disco” craze and the dawn of a new style of music.
With the emergence of K-pop in the early 1990s, idols became trend setters, having their styles copied throughout the country. The beauty trends become softer, going against the grain of the previous decade. If makeup before was more vibrant and colorful, the aesthetics of the 1990s brought thinner eyebrows, darkened lips marked with pencils, and softer eyes and skin bringing a more natural look.
Men Gain a Spot in Korean Beauty
Pre-1990s discussions concerning beauty standards mainly applied to women. However, during the 1990s, many of the Korean beauty standards that applied to women also began to be applied to men.
A large factor that drove men to enter the Korean beauty scene was the foundation of Vogue Korea. It was one of the first mainstream fashion publications in Korea to include both men and women’s wear.
Exporting Korean Beauty
By the 2000s, Kpop was in full swing. Korea began publically funded projects to increase its global soft power through Kpop, and gain economic benefits through selling Korean beauty products.
Until the end of the 1990s, France dominated the global cosmetics industry. And, while it still holds the number one spot, Korean beauty began to rise as a daunting competitor. Currently, South Korea is the third largest cosmetics exporter in the world, after France and the US. Meanwhile, South Korea is number one when it comes to men’s beauty products.
Korean Plastic Surgery
The country has also established itself as the plastic surgery capital of the world. The city of Seoul alone, is home to over 500 plastic surgery clinics. Plastic surgery is truely a staple part of life in South Korea, with around 1 in 3 people having undergone at least one procedure.
The country is known for having the most developed plastic surgery industry in the world. As a result, people from all over the world travel to Seoul for procedures. Aditionally, industry knowledge developed in Korea is shared all over the world.
Evolution of South Korean Fashion and Makeup Culture, Asia House
Mode & Moments, Korea Vogue
Tracing History of Cosmetics, TheKoreaTimes
How Asian Beauty Standards Have Changed Over 100 Years, AsiaOne