Opinion: My Society is Not Your Wallpaper

Written and Designed By: Jo Yeoul (19-A2)

Introduction: Do you know kimchi? Do you know Psy?

In this day and age, it would be a lie if someone said they have never tried anything from South Korea, starting with their cuisines to listening to Korean pop artists and watching their Dramas. Okay, maybe not everyone, but with the recent surge in popularity in the renowned South Korean boy group, BTS, anyone should be able to tell you that the K-Wave is truly reaching its peak in this century. It should come as no surprise that several people have taken a strong liking towards this country, with the more extreme people being classified under the term “Koreaboo”, a person who tries to adopt an entirely new identity by embodying a culture that is not theirs.

Being a South Korean citizen myself who has been living in Singapore for the past 11 years, it has always been a pressing issue that has made me wonder why this phenomenon happens. Why would someone want to be of a different nationality? Are there any perks of being a foreigner in this land? Turns out, this was not the case. I was not given any advantages, nor any special treatment. Instead, I was mostly faced with jealous looks from schoolmates and people remembering my nationality before my name. Thus, it has come to my attention that as a foreigner studying in Singapore, it would be an insightful discussion for people to hear my side of the story, and my thoughts towards the trend of South Korea becoming an icon of idolization among many today.

How much of South Korea do you know?

How much of South Korea are we all exposed to exactly? For many people, it is through digital screens, photos, videos, posters, music, food, and other things which can all be manipulated and carefully filtered out so that the viewers are given access to certain content which the producers wish to show them. This creates a warped idea of the Korean society for international viewers. They are forced to wear rose-tinted glasses as they are made to believe that the things they see on their screens are actually mundane lifestyles that take place in the country.

Most people first learn about the country through the increasing popularity of K-Wave which is taking over the world by storm. This may not be bad for all, for such content is what the people want and expect from the media nowadays. Most of these viewers wish to see the kind of lifestyles these celebrities enjoy, especially those who earn millions of dollars at a young age and the actors taking on the role of an average girl who will most certainly end up winning the heart of a multi-millionaire’s son and become a real-life Cinderella. Such content helps distract many from their stress and develops a sense of hope that they may also have such life-changing encounters. For example, they dream of the day when they may bump into a guy in the corridors and drop all of their books in the process, and as they finally muster up the courage to look up,

 “…Sun-bae*?”

The majority of such encounters are scripted. There are so many talented trainees out there who get lost in a sea of other equally talented teenagers because they were just not good enough, or their concepts were not unique enough. Not every single one of the “oppas” out there looks like the ones whom you have saved as your wallpaper. In fact, the reason why they become celebrities in the first place is because of their attractive, above-average outer appearance which will capture the attention of people which helps promote themselves as a person.

For those who have personally travelled to the country before, to be very honest, travelling to the country does not give you a better understanding than those who experience South Korea through the consumption of Korean media. Many tourists will make their way to the busiest, most developed part of the country and are unaware of the more traditional, slow-paced parts of our society. Sure, they know Seoul, but are they aware of the different parts of Seoul where the roads are still quite uneven and the small population of people selling little pockets of dried anchovies and chilli flakes in cheap makeshift tents on the side of the street?

What goes down behind the screens

So we have discussed one side of the story. What about the teenagers who are currently living in South Korean society? Just like the other parts of the world, they are, too, exposed to such carefully filtered out content from the Korean media and most of them are avid fans of K-pop and Drama as well. To be frank, there is not much difference between international and local fans. However, one thing that sets them apart would be that the local fans are aware that these celebrities who are appearing on their screens on a daily basis share their nationality and were born in the same environment as they were. What impact does this have on the Korean youths? How are they influenced by this culture of their own country’s media choosing to show the lives of only the chosen few in their society?

In South Korea, it is quite common to see students with dyed hair (usually in various shades of brown), stained lips, and a pale face with no traces of blemishes. Most schools do not object to this and are quite liberal in allowing their students to put on makeup at a very young age. This has become the norm in our society, where there is a certain beauty standard that most strive to achieve since young.

(Disclaimer: please refer to your Code of Conduct. The author takes no responsibility for those who fail to clear the coming Attire Grooming Check)

It should be known that this is common between majority of the boys and girls, with both of them trying to follow certain beauty and fashion trends just so that they can fit in and be recognised as an ‘In-Ssa’, a short form for the word ‘insider’ ( a person who is considered to be popular, and is well-liked by a lot of people with many friends).

As a student myself, I have no objections to students wearing makeup to school to a large extent as there is some merit to putting on makeup. For some people, they feel more confident and less self-conscious by putting on makeup. For others, they use makeup to express their inner aesthetic and let their colours shine through as a form of self-expression. However, I do think this is pressuring young teenagers and young adults and, in a way, manipulating them into thinking makeup should be worn from a very young age. Those who do not choose to put on makeup are considered to be unconcerned with their appearance, hence being labelled as lazy and low-maintenance.

Observations over the last few years lead me to the conclusion that the number of students dabbling in using makeup is rising annually, and several makeup brands are aware of this. Hence, they resorted to pushing out products such as lip tints bottled in small, adorable containers and lipsticks disguised as crayons. Such products are meant to mostly appeal towards young teenagers and students, as the older consumers will not be as convinced to buy such products just because of its packaging. Some major brands which are the main contributors of such products are Tony Moly and Etude house, with Tony Moly making an entire collection of makeup products which were designed to look like normal stationery. (Author’s note: With a line of makeup named “My School-Look”, can their intentions be any clearer?)

Final Conclusion

At the end of the day, I would like to restate how my intention of writing this article was not to bash my own society, but instead to shine light on the problems which a lot of people do not seem to be aware of.

 Some questions for those reading this article: Did your perspectives on South Korea change after this? Will you still be able to like the country as much as you did before?

*Author’s Note: “Sunbae” is a term used to refer to seniors in Korean.

Image credits: pinterest

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