Hair & Beauty

Korean Beauty Standards. What are the Hidden Consequences?

August 27, 2021

South Korea is a place where both men and women have similar beauty standards, with expectations of female beauty outweighing male expectations. For the sake of this article, we will be focusing on female beauty standards.

The Korean beauty industry is enormous and is growing in popularity worldwide. They offer Women the opportunity to use products not readily found in western stores, and skincare routines that promise glass-like porcelain skin.

Another trend that has caught the eye of the public is the standard of beauty placed on South Korean Women. South Koreans have a strict standard of beauty that favors larger eyes (innocent puppy eyes), flawless skin, a small face, V-shaped jaw, pale skin, and a slim figure.

This article will be focusing on the hidden consequences of the unattainable beauty standards placed on South Korean Women.

1. Body dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. One of the known causes of body dysmorphia is trauma caused by bullying or teasing. It is often linked to eating disorders.

A growing percentage of South Korean women suffer from self-image problems, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction, due to them not meeting the criteria of what the media deems “beautiful”.

2. A rise in eating disorders

A lot of South Koreans have reported developing eating disorders. This is because part of the beauty standards is maintaining a super slim figure.

It’s alarming that it’s viewed as normal for Korean celebrities to go on their social platforms to promote strict, life-threatening diet plans like going for up to a week without eating, with comments like “you can go from thin to skeleton-skinny” viewed as a normal statement of encouragement.

What is even more alarming is the influence these celebrities have on young women that idolize them and assume to achieve similar celebrity status, they would have to emulate their lifestyle, from undergoing surgeries to replicating their strict diet plans.

A study conducted by Kim and Han (2021) of 90 female children (5- to 6-year-olds) from eight respective kindergartens in South Korea suggested that more than one out of five girls (31%) stated they have undergone dieting, had concerns about weight and body shape and even went to lengths of not eating food in fear of becoming “fat”. This is disturbing!

3. Increased plastic surgery

The truth is, Korean beauty standards are unrealistic and unattainable naturally. As a result, both women and men feel pressured to undergo unnecessary plastic surgery to meet the ideal beauty standard.

South Korea is a famous place to visit for facial reconstructive surgeries as they have advanced considerably in the past years. Common surgeries performed by South Korean women are:

East Asian blepharoplasty– where surgery is performed on the eyes to give a double eyelid effect and make the eyes appear larger. It is also known as ‘double eyelid surgery’ and has been reported to be one of the most common surgeries performed by South Koreans. The procedure is not risk-free. Women that can’t afford surgery turn to makeup to achieve similar results.

Facial bone contouring surgery– where surgery is performed on the jaw and chin to achieve the V-shaped jaw that is deemed most desirable, and reduction surgery is done on the cheekbone to change the facial contour. The aim of these surgeries is to achieve an oval face.

4. Negative effects of beauty products on users and the environment

The Korean beauty routine is known to have a 10-step daily routine. This routine includes using a makeup remover & oil-based cleanser, water-based cleanser, exfoliator, toner, essence, treatments, sheet masks, eye cream, moisturizer, sunscreen.

As a woman, I understand and promote self-pampering and self-care, and I am in no way bashing the routine. Also, there are proven benefits of incorporating the 10-step routine into your normal beauty routine. However, I wonder if the daily use of some of these products will not have long-term harmful effects on either the users or the environment.

An example is the sheet mask, a key ingredient in most Korean face masks is snail mucin or slime. The benefit of the secretion is known but what of the harm it causes the snails? An article posted on the PETA site describes the process of mucin extraction as “bullying them to get to their slime”. The article further states that “Snails used for makeup typically spend their lives in captivity on snail farms, where they are confined to boxes and often kept caged behind electric fences that shock them if they try to escape. Snails produce slime as a way to protect their bodies from harm. In order for farmers to extract the slime, they “agitate” and stress out the snails using salt, which is known to harm them, or they starve the snails to trigger them to release more mucus”. The site also goes on to recommend several cruelty-free Korean beauty-inspired alternatives to using snail extract cosmetics, which is amazing!

Are K-pop stars and Korean celebrities to blame for the unrealistic beauty standards?

I don’t agree that K-pop stars and South Korean celebrities are solely to blame for the body image epidemic engulfing the nation. They influence and impact the standards of beauty but they themselves are victims of those same beauty standards. It is a well-known fact that in South Korea, physical attributes are the most emphasized factor when it comes to getting work in the media industry. K-celebrities are under more pressure to fit into the ‘unattainable’ beauty standard and will go to any lengths to maintain their careers and public image.

How about South Korean commercials that encourage weight-loss products and facial surgery? They play a key role in advertising that a specific body type or facial structure is unattractive.

There are speculations that the reason why the South Korean media promotes unrealistic beauty standards for women is because there has been a change in women’s rights within the country. There are more women in the workforce now than ever before. As a result, women are objectified to switch their attention from their individual potential. This is explained more by a book called “Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks” where it states that:

“Any movement toward gender equality that threatens the stability of the patriarchy is followed inevitably by a heightened emphasis on unrealistic beauty standards and increasing pressure to meet these standards. Such pressure may be effectively applied as a means to oppress women and maintain patriarchal control, as unrealistic standards such as these undermine women’s self-confidence and materially shift their focus away from their individual capabilities to more generalized and superficial aspects of their physical appearance.” (Fredrickson et al. 1997)

South Korea is a patriarchal society, and this might have an influence on the unrealistic beauty standards placed on women as alluded to above.


Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Towards understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173-206. Doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.

Kim, H., & Han, T.-I. (2021). Body Image Concerns Among. South Korean Kindergarteners and Relationships to Parental, peer, and Media Influences. Early Childhood Education Journal, 49(2), 177-184.

Peta2 2016, Is there snail slime in your beauty products?!, Peta2, assessed 23 August 2021, < https://www.peta2.com/news/snail-slime-beauty-products>.

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