Lookism Lookism Put simply, “lookism” is judging an individual’s character through their appearance. The term first appeared in the US in 1970 and over time gained widespread usage due to its contemporary relevance. In fact, an August 2000 New York Times report went so far as to classify it as a new form of discrimination, tantamount in severity to racism, sexism, and religious or ideological discrimination. Contrary to popular perception, lookism is not merely a matter of marital and romantic preference. Its effects extend far beyond the domain of private life, impacting hiring, promotions and nearly all aspects of society. In this section, we will dive into the many facets of lookism: its causes, impacts, and implications for the future. In Korean, there are a number of expressions related to beauty, such as “Is being pretty everything?” and “You’re pretty, that covers everything.” Despite the former’s resemblance to the English “looks aren’t everything,” both of these phrases’ meanings are nearly the reverse. Rather than being condemnatory, such statements express that although someone has other faults, their good looks make up for them. This sort of language is used not only by adults but by children too, as this opening video clip illustrates. More important than the words themselves, however, are the superficial attitudes they represent. (Italian case) Unrealistic Beauty Standard & Plastic Surgery This article describes the massive scale of Korea’s plastic surgery industry, which makes up nearly a quarter of the global market and sees the highest number of plastic surgeries per capita in the world. The following clips illustrate the current reality of South Korea’s beauty standards and plastic surgery. For example, the first video is a trailer for “My ID is Gangnam Beauty,” a recent Korean drama based on the 2014 webtoon “Lookism.” TV Drama “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” The premise of “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” involves a girl driven by extreme bullying over her appearance to undergo drastic plastic surgery. The show follows her life after the transformation. The name “Gangnam Beauty” derives from the wealthy Gangnam neighborhood in Seoul, where plastic surgery is a major industry and a particular standard of artificial beauty is widely apparent. TV Talk Show “Hello, Hello,” Above is a clip from the Korean talk show “Hello, Hello,” where foreigners discuss various aspects of Korean culture. In this vignette, the hosts are discussing their perspectives on Korea’s plastic surgery industry, showing just how entrenched it has become. Miss Korea Pageant The emergence of unrealistic beauty standards is likely a direct result of Korea’s plastic surgery obsession. A striking example of this trend occurred in 2018 when Sumin Kim, winner of the Miss Korea Pageant, faced massive backlash after being crowned. Despite being a perfectly normal weight, she was flooded with malicious comments directed at her size and lack of cosmetic surgery. Lookism in Hiring Another area where lookism has become problematic is in hiring, wherein one’s appearance can deeply affect job prospects. A famous early instance of lookism in hiring was the use of “face readers” at Samsung under the company’s founder Lee Byoung-Cheol. The third video clip features this story. Plastic Surgery in the Job Market Plastic surgery has become yet another requirement for job applicants to fulfill. As this article illustrates, many HR directors see appearance as a reasonable factor to consider in hiring, which increases pressure on aspirants to spend excessive time and money on how they look. HR Directors’ Opinion The article linked above expands on the notion of lookism in hiring, telling how HR directors cite different aspects of appearance from clothing style to demeanor as informing potential job performance. They further claim that the reality of in-person interviews makes ignoring external appearance an impossibility. The Use of “Face Readers” at Samsung Although considering applicant’s external traits has certainly reached new extremes, this article provides evidence that such practices have historical precedent at Korean companies. In particular, Samsung was famous under its founder for the use of “face readers” during interviews. These individuals played a major role in the hiring process through their insights based on the traditional practice of physiognomy, the use of a person’s physical traits to judge their inner character (article) From Yesterday to Tomorrow There are diverse opinions on where “lookism” originated in Korea. To better understand current issues, it is a good idea for us to look backwards at Korea’s recent past. The possible origins can be summarized as follows. (1) The increase in leisure and free time following rapid economic development(2) The widespread taking of selfies from a young age(3) Korea’s “hurry, hurry” culture demanding rapid assessment of people(4) A culture hyperaware of others’ opinions(5) The glorification of celebrities’ appearance through mass media(6) The internet’s influence: usage of photoshop in advertising, popularization of beauty-related slang (e.g. “Face genius”) Beauty in Other Countries Is this problem unique to Korea, though? How do the situations in other countries compare? This clip discusses trends and perspectives on physical appearance in various countries. Positive Effects Even against the wave of attacks on “lookism,” some people emphasize its positive impacts. Notably, this sort of superficial culture has helped give rise to the K-Beauty industry, which has recently become a global phenomenon and major part of the Korean economy. Campaigns There have been numerous campaigns to counteract the damage done by lookism and exist diverse opinions on how to mitigate its effects. The most influential of these is a push to change mass media on a large scale, deemphasizing physical appearance. To fully address the issue of “lookism,” a comprehensive effort at changing the collective mindset is necessary. Such endeavors could include greater representation for a range of body types in popular culture and an effort to limit evaluations based on appearance as much as possible. One successful strategy in Europe has been increasing awareness of the dangers of extreme diets that sacrifice health for the sake of a skinny ideal. In Korea, similarly rejecting an underweight beauty standard could prove effective. At another level, it is essential to foster healthy attitudes about appearance and body image at school and in the home. Discussions about feeling confident in one’s body and education on self-esteem are the keys to lasting change. This final clip includes the stories of several people who managed to overcome complexes about their appearance and love themselves for their unique qualities.