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Korean Beauty Standards Explained – Complete Guide 2024

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Over the last five years, Korean beauty standards have reached the highest level of popularity worldwide, taking over the Western ones.

Seen as soft and kind on the ‘outside,’ Korean beauty standards are some of the strictest in the world, at least when compared to the Western ones.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to a short history of Korean beauty and how the standards have evolved to the current times.

I’ll also detail what makes Korean beauty standards different from those of Western and Asian countries such as China and India.





Korean Female Beauty Standards​


Korean beauty pushes for an innocent look: small face, big eyes, and slim body aiming to recreate a youthful look.

Compared to Western beauty standards, Koreans pursue cuter and more feminine looks, at least regarding their faces.

Korean vs Western Beauty Standards


Koreans prefer slim, young, youthful faces with small facial features and pale skin.

Unlike the West, curvy shapes like Kim Kardashian or Rihanna are just too much by Korean beauty standards.

In this context, being girly, cute, thin, and even skinny is a beauty goal for Korean women rather than fit and healthy.

Below are the 4 main aspects Korean beauty standards are built on:

1. Small Face, Pointy Nose, Plump Lips, V-shaped Jaw, and Straight Eyebrows​


Korean beauty standards for face

In South Korea, having a small face is at the core of one’s beauty.

According to Joyce Kong – a Korean beauty correspondent at Refinery29 – Asians (particularly Koreans) have smaller eyes, giving them the appearance of a more prominent face.

Moreover, a small face is considered pretty because it makes you look like a child and, thus, younger.

Then, because of the differences in the facial bone structure of Asians, who have a flatter facial bone structure than their Western counterparts, facial bone contouring surgeries are pretty popular.

V-line surgery (jaw and chin reduction) and cheekbone reduction (zygoma) surgeries are popular tools to change Korean facial contour.

A v-shaped face must have the forehead proportioned to the face, ideally not too small or angular.

V-shaped Jaw


The v-shaped face look is achieved by creating delicate and unpronounced jawlines and a pointy chin via makeup or surgery.

V-shape Jaw in Korean Beauty Standards


The desire to portray a more petite face is so high that Koreans either hide part of their jaw when taking pictures or use filters on social media to achieve a v-shape look.

V-shape Jaw in Korean Beauty Standards on Instagram
Back to Korean makeup, contour plays a crucial role in portraying the illusion of a smaller face.

Contrary to Western societies, where the contour is aimed to accentuate cheekbones and the jawline, Korean makeup artists try to achieve the exact opposite.

For that, they shade the outer line of their faces to acquire a more slender and smaller face.

V-shape Jaw in Korean Beauty Standards Makeup


It is also interesting to note that, to reduce accentuated jawlines, South Koreans have invented all sorts of beauty utensils such as chin straps, jawline sheet masks, and massaging roles.

V-shape Jaw in Korean Beauty Standards face mask


Another way of achieving the Korean beauty standard is through permanent interventions, such as plastic surgery.

Many Korean women and men seek to achieve the same V-shaped face appeal to cosmetic surgery through a “V-line.”

V-shape Jaw in Korean Beauty Standards surgery

During the operation, the surgeon shaves the patient’s jawline to construct a slimmer and smaller face and a pointy nose with a high bridge.

Small, Pointy Nose


Another crucial facial feature, according to Korean beauty standards, is having a small but pointy nose.

People with small faces and pointy noses are seen as very elegant and sophisticated.

Small pointy nose Korean beauty standards


Interestingly, while having a small and pointy nose has become a critical beauty feature according to modern Korean beauty standards, big noses were a sign of beauty in the past centuries.

Small Mouth & Plump Lips


One must also have a small mouth to complete the ideal Korean beauty standards of a small face with v-shaped jawlines and a small pointy nose.

However, while the mouth must be small, the lips must be plump.

Also, the bottom lip should always be plumper than the top lip.

Small and plump lips Korean beauty standards


On top of that, the strictness of Korean beauty standards insists that the lip line should face upwards, like when you’re smiling.

Most Koreans achieve that ‘small mouth’ look with makeup and then complete it with an extra “lip effect” through fillers.






2. Flawless, White Pale Skin​


Flawless and pale skin in Korean beauty standards

Contrary to the much-desired golden tan skin color loved in the Western world, pale skin is a must in Asian cultures, especially in Korean society.

The desire for the pale skin color of Korean people is deeply rooted in the culture of many Asian countries.

It all began in the daily lives of the royal era as a social class identification and reached contemporary times as a cultural beauty standard.

Korean Farmer vs Korean royal


In the past, people with darker skin color were associated with agriculture and other labor-intensive jobs.

On the other hand, people with paler skins were assumed to be part of the aristocracy and to have higher-paid jobs.

Korean Skin Beauty


Koreans utilize many UV protection creams and makeup and wear garments that keep them safe from sun rays to achieve a paler skin look.

Flawless and pale skin in Korean beauty standards


They also use dedicated Korean skincare products such as acne patches to hide any blemishes or spots and sheet or face masks designed to whiten skin.






3. Large Eyes, Double Eyelids and Aegyo-sal​


Larger eyes in Korean beauty standards

As South Korea’s ideal beauty standard is built around creating a youthful look, having larger and more innocent eyes is very important.

Big, rounded, or almond-shaped eyes are considered pretty, as bigger eyes – paired with a small face – confer an overall youthful look.

Unfortunately, according to Allure, 50% of Korean girls have small eyes and monolids, which are considered unattractive.

Monolids vs. Double Eyelids


Monolids are single eyelids with the eye sitting flush with the browbone, connected by a skin stretch.

There’s no visible fold or crease, which usually separates the eyelid into two parts.

Therefore, the most efficient way to increase the size of the eyes is via plastic surgery – and estimates show that every third of Koreans had double eyelid surgery.

Monolids vs Double Eyelids


The most popular procedure is called “double eyelid surgery”, or “East Asian blepharoplasty”, used to create a second eye crease and confer an oversized eye look.

The procedure is also commonly used in cases of asymmetric eyelid problems.

Another less intrusive – and quite popular – procedure involves injecting fat or filler under the eyes.

The procedure is called aegyo-sal, a Korean term referring to the small fatty deposits underneath the eyes that give a person a youthful appearance.

The aim here is to emulate the natural pockets of fat that appear under the eyes when you smile and make you look younger.

And the least intrusive way to achieve bigger eyes is by using an invisible eyelid tape.

Invisible eyelid tape for double eyelids


The tape is glued to the lid area, creating a double eyelid fold when the eye opens.

Makeup-wise, contemporary Korean beauty standards of eye makeup have shifted from the traditional sexy cat eye to a larger, more innocent puppy-style eye.






4. Slim X or S-shaped Body, Straight Shoulder Lines, Long Legs​


Korean Beauty Standards Explained - Complete Guide 2024

While South Korea has arguably the lowest obesity rate globally, over 60% of Korean women and 41% of men are on a diet.

The choice is attributed to the desire to have a slim body, which is highly praised and seen as a sign of beauty in Korean culture.

Korean Weight Loss Market


In the case of diets, South Koreans resort to dedicated weight loss clinics or try popular diets promoted by celebrities online.

Dieting pills – available in almost all drug stores – are also commonly used by those seeking to achieve perfect beauty ideals.

Another way to a slim figure is achieved via plastic surgery.

In the case of plastic surgery, liposuction treatments are the most popular choice to reduce weight.

In particular, fat-burning injections, made famous by Korean pop stars, are the most requested procedures to reduce body volume.

However, while having a skinny look is trendy in Korea, it is essential not to look too thin, as it is seen as unattractive.

Korean Beauty Standards for Men​


While expectations of female beauty usually outweigh male expectations, South Korea is notorious for its male beauty standards.

Compared to the Western culture, in which makeup for men could be interpreted as an act of rebellion against society rather than a beauty standard, Korean male beauty standards are similar to female standards.

Korean male beauty standards


The current Korean beauty standard for men is a cute, pretty figure, feminine, androgynous look.

However, since 2022 and under Western media influence, more Korean men have started to emphasize fitness.

Nevertheless, even with a buffed-up body, it is still common for Korean men to wear moisturizing lotion, foundation, and makeup, even at the gym.

South Korea is recognized as one of the world’s beauty capitals on male beauty.

Male KPOP Beauty Standards


Korean Male Kpop beauty standards

Compared to the US, where the ideal man is a version of Thor, or in Europe, a metrosexual version of James Bond, Korean men’s attractiveness and ‘handsomeness’ are driven by K-pop band members.

Nowadays, men’s ideal Korean beauty standard clearly reflects K-Pop stars (Korean Pop music).

1. Slim Facial Feature


Surgery is Korean men’s weapon of choice to achieve smaller and slender facial features and a higher nose

2. Double Eyelids


Korean men recourse to cosmetic surgery to shift from monolids to double eyelids.

3. Fair Skin


Korean men invest in cosmetics and makeup that confer and maintain clear, smooth, and fair skin.

4. Dyed Hair


Darker hair is a sign of youth; thus, over 95% of Korean men with white hair dye their hair regularly.

5. Androgynous body


Korean men try to achieve an androgynous body shape, avoiding looking too skinny, fat, or muscular.

6. Fashionable Outfits


Korean men wear androgynous clothing, Femboy outfits, or streetwear fashion brands that keep them stylish and trendy.






Korean Beauty Market for Men


Korean Makeup for men


Contrary to Western culture and the beauty industry with a focus (almost exclusive) on women, the Korean beauty market embraces men’s makeup.

Beauty products are not seen as gendered, and South Korean men purchase and wear several brands and products.

Over the past decade, South Korean men have become the world’s most prominent male spenders on skincare and beauty products.

Koreans are also early adopters of anything new in beauty, such as skincare fridges, skin transplants, and blood transfusions.

Korean Male Beauty Stats


Between 2011 and 2017, the Korean beauty market for men only grew by 44%, part of a cosmetics industry (including the private label cosmetics market) that makes $10 billion every year.

Similarly, over 58% of South Korean men state they take advantage of beauty and grooming treatments at least once per week.




Idols That Fit (Create) Korean Beauty Standards​


There’s a saying in Korea: “If you want to know what kind of face is beautiful, look at Korean idols.”

These rigid beauty standards mean that if you don’t look like a Korean idol, you are not considered pretty.

Without further ado, these are some of the most cherished female celebrities in Korea right now:

Tzuyu Korean Beauty Idol

Tzuyu (주자유)
Irene (배주현) Korean Beauty Idol

Irene (배주현)
Jisoo (김지수) Korean Beauty Idol

Jisoo (김지수)
Somi (전소미) Korean Beauty Idol

Somi (전소미)
Suzy (수지) Korean Beauty Idol

Suzy (수지)
Seolhyun (설현) Korean Beauty Idol

Seolhyun (설현)
IU (아이유) Korean Beauty Idol

IU (아이유)
Lee Min-Jung (이민정) Korean Beauty Idol

Lee Min-Jung (이민정)
Jun Ji-Hyun (전지현) Korean Beauty Idol

Jun Ji-Hyun (전지현)
Kim Tae-Hee (김태희) Korean Beauty Idol

Kim Tae-Hee (김태희)





Korean Beauty – Height Standards​


The average height, according to Korean beauty ideals, can be divided into three core categories:

Short – 162cm


Korean Short and Cute Beauty

The average person’s average height in Korea is described as “short but cute.”

Taeyeon and IU are great examples of this category.

Average – 162/168cm


Korean Average Tall Beauty

This height is the “not so short, not too tall” group.

Imagine someone slightly taller than Gain Han (actor).

Some other great representatives of this height category are Korean idols Hara Koo (Kara), Yeseul Han (Leslie Kim, actor), and Chewon Moon (actor).

Tall – 168cm


Korean Tall Beauty

The name says it all. According to Korean beauty standards, idols around 168cm have the ideal height.

Some representative Korean celebrities in this category are Hyo Ju Han (actor), Yeonhee Lee (actor), and Nayoung Lee (actor).





Korean vs. Chinese Beauty Standards​


Korean and Chinese beauty trends are reasonably similar.

Both cultures think that a slim figure, a small face, big eyes, and pale skin are critical attributes to beauty.

Face, Skin, and Eyes


Compared to Korean’s v-shaped faces, the ideal face in China must be small and “shaped like an upside-down goose egg.”

But, similar to Korean beauty standards, big and cute eyes are famous in modern Chinese beauty standards.

Big eyes with eyelids, rather than mono eyelids, are considered super beautiful.

Korean vs Chinese beauty standards

Moreover, Chinese women use darker eyeliner makeup, such as black or dark brown, to further augment the size of their eyes.

On the other hand, Korean girls tend to pursue more natural eye makeup by using lighter color eyeliners.

Chinese beauty trends also recourse to the idea of puppy eyes, known in Chinese culture as the Wo Can, which translates into “lying silkworm.”

That’s because it refers to a 4 to 7-millimeter puff placed under the eyelashes – looking like a silkworm – meant to make girls look cuter and sweeter when they smile.

According to the Chinese traditional face reading, people born with Wo Chan have good and fortunate lives in relationships and businesses.

In China, skin must be “not just pale, but “as white as possible” to be considered attractive.

Body Shape


A slim figure is one of the most critical aspects of Korean and Chinese beauty standards.

However, the Chinese beauty standard on body shapes differs from the Korean one.

Chinese prefer tall bodies, long legs with tiny feet, and a Pippa Middleton bottom.

Korean vs Chinese body beauty standards


Another difference is seen in women’s body weight/shape compared to men.

In Korea, both women and men are careful not to get too skinny, as that’s a sign of health complications and is perceived as ugly.

But, according to Chinese beauty standards, women should be as skinny as possible, almost to the point of seeing their bones.

And, just like Koreans, the Chinese get inspired by their idols regarding ideal beauty looks.

One representative of the Chinese culture and body weight is Zheng Shuang, known for her fragile body.

At 168 centimeters tall, Zheng only weighs around 37 kilograms.

A notable Chinese beauty trend was the A4 waist challenge.

Also named the “anti-waist challenge,” Chinese women shared selfies on social media holding up sheets of paper.

To be considered a beautiful body, the paper had to obscure the woman’s waist entirely – the standard paper size was only 21 centimeters (8.3 in) across.






Indian Beauty Standards vs. Korean Beauty​


In India, everyone aspires to be fair-skinned, thin, and body hair-free.

Somehow positioned (culturally) between the Far East and the Middle East, Indian culture has imported the Middle East’s expectations of a hairless body and Korea’s norm for pale skin.

Unlike Korean beauty standards, which do not impose waxed arms, Indian women go the extra length, seeking perfectly threaded arch eyebrows, arms, and legs.

Face, Skin, and Eyes


Just like Koreans, having fair or paler skin is a critical element in the Indian ideals of beauty.

Indians are discriminatory towards each other based on skin tone, with a maximum acceptable level of brown one can be before it is considered ugly.

In the social context, a person with light skin is seen as someone of wealth and power, as there’s no need to work in the sun.

Korean vs Indian beauty standards

This preconception is speculated and accentuated by the beauty industry’s constant bombardment of fairness cream ads.

Unfortunately, in India, children with dark skin tones are often bullied in schools and face difficulties finding a job.

It is a situation that, once again, shows how much more educational work is needed to end stereotypes that impact our world.

Regarding eye shapes and sizes, the same Korean beauty standards are seen in the Indian beauty market.

Body Shape


In general, slim bodies are regarded as beautiful according to Indian beauty standards, similar to what we’ve found in Korea.

Korean vs Indian body beauty standards

However, unlike Koreans, an hourglass figure or even a curvy body shape is rewarded and demanded by Indian men and seen as an equally important beauty standard.

Nevertheless, similar to most Asian countries, boys & girls with an inverted triangle figure are considered unaesthetic and undesired.






Why Are Beauty Standards So Strict in Korea?​


A study from 2009 found that Korean women are very critical of their overall looks and, thus, prone to lower self-esteem and self-satisfaction compared to women from the United States.

A 2015 survey conducted by Gallup Korea determined that approximately one-third of South Korean women between 19 and 29 had plastic surgery.

Strict Korean Beauty Standards


A more recent study from 2020 determined that 20% of young Korean girls have undergone cosmetic surgery, a percentage significantly higher than the average of most countries.

The pressure to uphold a Korean standard of beauty is so high that it’s felt within all social strata, including the job market.

Compared to the West, South Korean employers require a photo, height, and even the family background of the applicants as a part of the hiring process.

Competitive Socio-Economic Ladder


Beauty is often seen as a means for socio-economic success in the rapidly modernized post-war economy of South Korea, which is going through a slow job growth rate after its economic boom.

As such, Korea’s highly skilled and educated workforce is competing, in a market with a short supply of job opportunities, for chances to climb the social ladder.

Korean beauty in workplace


South Korea has seen more than a twenty-fold increase in income per capita, with the country ranked in the top twenty economies in the world right now.

Women’s rights have also gained additional visibility within the country, “visibility accompanied by a rise in body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.”

Some Koreans view investments in beauty, such as cosmetic products and even surgeries, as investments.

Plastic surgery, dermatology, and cosmetic dentistry are means of cultural capital to get an edge over peers for social and economic advancement.

Media Influence


The ideal Korean beauty standard is often constructed and influenced by actors, TV personalities, and K-pop stars.

Korean idols try all kinds of diets and share their journeys on social media, influencing many young Koreans to try and replicate them.

Korean Beauty on social media

For example, the physical appearance of the famous Korean singer IU – well known for her diet of one apple for breakfast, one sweet potato for lunch, and a cup of protein for dinner – inspires the look of younger generations in Korea.

While already slim and tiny (162 centimeters tall and weighing around 45 kilograms), IU’s lifestyle choices – while questionable from a health perspective – are followed by most Koreans who want to look like her.

For example, the celebrity drinks 3 liters of water for five days straight to make her face and body look slimmer and thinner at the end of the week.

“On the seventh day, you’ll look like a skeleton,” she jokes, adding: “this way, you can go from thin to skeleton-skinny.”






Consequences of Korean Beauty Standards​


Unfortunately, the strictness of Korean beauty standards has some expected negative results.

Below, I’ll enumerate the main 4 ones:

1. Excessive Beauty Products Usage​


Korean Beauty Market

Compared to around $1.91 billion in 2014, South Koreans purchased and exported over $2.64 billion of cosmetic goods in 2015.

The most popular products used in Korean beauty are blemish balm (BB) creams, color correction (CC) creams, serums, essences, ampoules, seaweed face masks, and scrubs.

Korean beauty products contain ingredients not commonly found in Western products, such as snail extract.

However, the high demand for Korean-style cosmetics and beauty products has attracted a lot of criticism worldwide for two reasons:

On the one hand, lots of environmental hazards, waste, and pollution.

On the other hand, a parallel market of fake Korean beauty products with serious health consequences.

2. Growing Plastic Surgery Rates​


Plastic surgery in Korea

A global survey by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons found that in 2015, South Korea had the second-highest rate of cosmetic surgeries in East Asia.

Plastic surgery in South Korea is socially accepted and encouraged by media and celebrities.

However, there’s a less-discussed part of the beauty surgeries, such as the rise in the number of men who take their wives to court because the children do not look like their wives.

3. Unhealthy Body Image​


Body shame and negative body image in Korea

Korean beauty advertising feels like bullying compared to Western beauty standards, pushing for acceptance and inclusivity.

The idea that “fat” is ugly is promoted in media to become successful and popular, even by female celebrities and hosts.

However, what the media fails to show is the darker side of being under constant pressure to be fit: unhealthy eating habits, disorders, and some extreme cases of death.

4. Idealist Kpop Image​


Korean Kpop

K-pop is a considerable market in Korea (search “South Korea Music Awards,” and a list will come up).

Yet, all K-pop idols must meet the public expectations of Korean beauty standards in what has become a vicious cycle of starving or being starved.

Having to starve and keep disciplined (no food) or undergo painful procedures to meet beauty standards is not the correct way to live according to the Western lifestyle.

Yet, by looking at the rate of obesity in the US and Europe and its strain on the welfare system, it becomes a highly debatable subject of whose approach is wrong or right.





Escape The Corset Movement​


Following the #MeToo movement – women shared sexual assault and harassment stories on social media – Korean women launched the ‘Free The Corset’ campaign.

A feminist movement at the core, the protest was driven by the idea that societal oppression of women is like being bound in a corset.

Escape the corset movement


The movement aimed to deconstruct the culturally created definition of beauty, Korean men’s ideal of beauty, the aesthetic standard, and other common practices endorsed by media and the Korean Government.

As such, many Korean women have taken to social media in a backlash against unrealistic beauty standards that require them to spend hours applying makeup and performing extensive skincare regimes, which often involve ten steps or more.

Some Korean women have destroyed makeup, cut their hair, and rejected the pressures of getting surgery.

The purpose of the movement is to create space for Korean women to feel comfortable with themselves, away from social pressures that limit their identity.





Conclusion​


The demand for K-beauty products (face masks, cleansers, moisturizers, makeup) is so high that the Korean beauty industry is now a top performer, forecasted to reach $14 billion by 2027.

Snail slime, bee venom, starfish extract, pig collagen, and morphing masks are unique ingredients for K-beauty products.

The growing demand for these products is generated by the overall idea of a Korean beauty standard and how these products can help buyers achieve that look.

The uniqueness of Korean society and culture, so much different from what people are used to in the Western world, is at the core of Korean beauty standards.

Undoubtedly, Korean beauty standards are much more restricted than those of the Western world.

Korean beauty expectations are either “ridiculous” or “unattainable” through an American or European lens of beauty standard.”

However, let’s not forget that Western beauty standards are just as strict, if not even stricter:

Tanned skin, symmetrical face, small upturned nose, big feline eyes, full lips, high and defined cheekbones, sharp jawline, slim or curvy body…and so on.

Beyond the universal, biological beauty standard, every culture has its beauty standard.

Such standards are deeply rooted in history and culture, so while alien to you, try not to judge but enjoy Korean beauty standards.

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