Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Here Comes the Sun -- Run Away!

Dear Korean,

I noticed many Korean women do not like to sunbathe, and I noticed that many of them often wear very wide brimmed hats, and avoid getting tan in general. Is having fair and light skin a big factor in beauty for many Korean women?

Jack in California



Dear Jack,

Yes.

The Korean will even answer a follow-up question. Why do Korean beauty standards involve pearly white skin? Simple -- because dark skin means that you are one of the peasants, out in the field and working all day under the sun. Light skinned people are the nobility – they can afford to stay at home and out of the sun.

The fact that this attitude survived for so long is an indicator of how slowly people's frame of mind changes, even as the circumstances that surround those people change rapidly. Korea began industrializing in mid-1960s, and by 1970s Korea could no longer be called an agrarian society. By then the majority of the lower class of Korea no longer worked on the field, but worked in a factory indoors. To be sure, the factory workers had their own appellations to denote their low station in the society. But aversion to tanning is clearly based on the agricultural economy and field work. How long did Korea to take shed a paradigm based on its agrarian past?

Answer: between 30 and 40 years. Tanned face did not become an acceptable form of beauty until early 2000s, when this woman came along:



Her name is Lee Hyori, whose sheer force of hotness made Koreans accept that tanned skin could indeed be beautiful.

But aside from the delay in changing beauty standards in Korea, there is another level of delay that operates among Korean Americans, such as the ones that Jack saw in California. Simply put, Korean Americans have their own paradigm that either very slowly follows the paradigm of Koreans in Korea, or often does not follow at all. And the way beauty standards have been changing provides an interesting example of this phenomenon.

Take Hyori for example. For about a stretch of 3 to 5 years, she was the biggest star in Korean pop culture scene, about equivalent to Britney Spears' peak in terms of popularity and exposure. (Remember the stretch between around 1999-2002 when Spears was the only female celebrity who mattered?) Wherever you went in Korea, Hyori's (hot, hot, hot) images were plastered everywhere in the forms of TV shows, music videos and advertisements. An average Korean living in Korea, seeing such images, could slowly accept that tanned body can be beautiful as well.

But what about Koreans who live in the U.S.? Most Korean Americans immigrated to the U.S. prior to early 2000s. There has not been any massive exposure of Hyori in America. (In fact, there basically has been no exposure at all.) Korean Americans generally knew who Hyori was, but were not perfectly aware of the ground-breaking nature of her celebrity, exactly because Korean Americans did not see Hyori everywhere like Koreans in Korea did. Therefore, while Koreans in Korea moved onto a new standard of beauty, Korean Americans retained the pre-2000 standard of Korean beauty, as if being stuck in a time warp.

There will be another time to more fully discuss the "immigrant time warp", but the Korean thought this was a great example. The Korean has found that understanding the immigrant time warp is most helpful to the second generation Korean Americans who have a hard time understanding their parents. In most cases, they do not know that their parents think not just like Koreans, but more like Koreans of the 1970s (or whenever they immigrated). But more discussion on this later.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@hotmail.com.

19 comments:

  1. ooohhhh. waiting with breath that is bated for your "immigrant time warp" post.

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  2. I agree that it is time for people to accept tan skin in Korea (and Asia in general actually) as beautiful but I also think it is time for Americans to accept porcelain skin as well. I'm tired of people around me making fun of my skintone but I refuse to change it. Not only for medical issues because if I really wanted to tan I can always use some fake tanner, but because I think pale skin looks good too.

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    1. You are so right. The people of the WORLD need to accept that people of any and every skin color can be beautiful. The lightest,palest skin in the world is just as beautiful as the darkest skin in the world.

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  3. I just say, she, Ms Lee Hyori, is very beautiful.

    Have a nice day!

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  4. bump the immigration time warp post to be next please!

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  5. Maybe I've been living in Korea too long now, but I'm starting to feel afraid of the sun too. I've got pale Irish and English skin and I've had so many really awful sunburns in my life, I just don't see the point in sunbathing anymore. So many people have gotten moles and pre-cancers removed from their skin, I don't want that in 20 years from now. I'm getting sick of all the pressure to tan. My skin is white. I don't tan. I think the Koreans might actually be on the right page with this one.... but skin whiteners on the other hand is something else completely...

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  6. My father is currently, and has been, residing in a the state of "immigrant time warp" and is very happy there. I was told the same thing growing up, about how lighter skin is better since it meant you were from a noble family. I was an avid sun worshiper and brushed off my father's comments. I was raised in a small town, a town where everyone knew everyone, and I enjoyed my tan. Once I moved to a bigger city, I backed away from tanning because I didn't like getting mistaken as a Southeast Asian. I don't think anything is wrong with being Southeast Asian. (My father, however, would vehemently disagree.) Most people here just assume that if you are tan and Asian then you are Southeast Asian. Southeast Asians are in the majority here. I don't mind people asking my background but I'm very offended when people assume and proceed to ask me questions about Vietnam, etc. After a while I decided not to worry about the ignorance of others. I went back to my tanning, spray tanning but still sporting the darker skin tone. I think this is one of the reasons some Koreans in America aren't as likely to sport a tan. Sadly, I've seen Southeast Asians trying to pass as Northeast Asians. Can't we all just embrace who we are? Then again, that might be easier for me to say since I'm only half Korean. Only older Koreans can seem to spot the half part, strange huh?

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  7. Oh I know where you're coming from about the "immigration time warp". I grew up in the NW where there was only a very small Korean community. Therefore I learned to speak Korean exactly like how my parents spoke it to us. When I went to Korea @ ages 11, 13 and 14, and started hanging out with kids my age, I was brutally made fun for my old school ways of speaking Korean! I called the "t.v." "Te-re-bi" (we still do in my household). etc....

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  8. Was it really The Korean that wrote this response? With all of the grammatical errors, I would be shocked!

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  9. Despite a tan being slightly more accepted in Korea, I'd still say pale skin is incredibly popular and sought after.

    There are countless skin whitening products and plenty of advertisements promoting these brands. Not to mention the classic sub umbrella.

    Whenever I go to the beach, Koreans prefer to swim and relax in long-sleeve shirts and pants with the wide brim hat as well.

    This could be because of completely different reasons as well though. Perhaps its still a cultural taboo to just be on the beach with a swimsuit?

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  10. This is very dangerous as it (evading the sun) causes bad sight, and then, death from cancer.

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  11. Many people of European extraction can't tan well, because they get red and start peeling after 15 minutes in moderate sunlight, while most people of Asian ancestry are better able to stand the sun and get a nice tan. It has always stuck me as funny that the former group want to tan and the latter group usually does not.

    @the person with the Cyrillic: Sunlight causes the synthesis of vitamin D, so it's good for everyone to get some exposure. However, there are other methods of obtaining vitamin D, so someone who doesn't wish to tan, who prefers to cover up, or who is very dark-skinned for their climate can make up for inadequate sun exposure through diet or supplements. However, too much sun (or spending too much time in tanning salons), especially before age 20, clearly causes skin cancers. This problem is exacerbated with the thinning of the ozone layer, although the world is working on the issue, and the ozone hole is expected to recover within our lifetimes.

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    1. True, many Europeans can't tan well. But as many of us tan very well and quick in the Mediterrainean. I'm a living example. My brother and one of my sisters can't tan so well, though, but my other sisters do, especially the one closest to my age. She's really really dark.

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  12. People talking about having cancer etc because of sun exposure...- -" you know that if you don't expose yourself to the sun at some point you will lack of vitamin D, which causes depression, weak bones, skin pigmentations, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, bowed limbs, chronic fatigue and so many other things...I'm quite tan, I've got golden skin and been living in Scandinavia where the sun is almost inexistent, and I've been depressed since then until I started taking Vitamin D pills (like everybody over here). I'm not saying being pale is not good, but seriously bringing up the excuse of sun causing cancer to justify the fact that being pale is better is just sick - -" Plus, in Korea it's not the cancer cause that made people not want to tan but because they simply think it's beautiful. Tan people are as beautiful as white people, and you can also add Bi Rain along with Lee Hyori as being considered as really sexy because of his tan :)
    It is not the color of your skin that makes you beautiful, white people, black or tan people everybody is beautiful in their own way.

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  13. In my country, Croatia, there was a time when tanning was a trend. Because of a wave of American black and Hispanic pop stars. Nowadays it is still considered hot and healthy, still many women go to solariums to get tan even in winter and still so many bright skinned women a jealous when they see those tan and shiny bodies. However, it doesn't seem to be a trend anymore, especially because the media keeps warning people "don't spend too much time when the sun is too strong" and talk about skin cancer.

    Funny is the thing that back in Croatia I was really black every summer. Our sunshine is just so strong and my skin is the tanning, not the burning, type. I tan very quick, never "needed" a solarium. Since I know of myself, I have ALWAYS had those bikiny traces on my body, even in winter, my skin would simply not get white so easily, but would get dark as soon as it met the sun-rays. It didn't bother me at all. Now that I'm living in Seoul for a little more than 2 years, all of my bikiny traces have disappeared and I've got pretty white. The Korean sun is not quite so tanning.

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  14. This reminds me of a funny story. Several years ago my African American friend and I went to a Korean Church cookout. We were the gossip of the day. He was the only black dude there. Most of the Koreans were trying to figured out my race. My mom told me that several people thought I was from either Spain or Mexico. The consensus thought I was too big to be Filipino. After my mom had so much fun helping spread the rumors, she told them I was her son. Later that day most Koreans said I was too dark to be Korean.

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  15. I came here for the Lee Hyori picture :) Seriously though, living in a seaside town in Gangwon-do for a few years, and hearing from those who've been here longer, the beach culture (and consequent sun exposure) is changing. Sure, plenty of people still cover up, but each summer the beach gets more and more crowded and there are a lot of folks out frolicking in the sea. Proper sunbathers are an extremely rare sight, but at least people are out enjoying themselves.

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  16. Korean women have the lowest exposure to the sun of any women in Asia. 82% of Korean women are seriously deficient in Vitamin D. This will lead to bone disease later on in life.

    So say "the experts."

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  17. I think people shouldn't worry about skin color too much, there are light skinned women who are beautiful and there are dark skinned women who are also. When it comes to spending time in the sun, too little means that you'll lack Vitamin D. Too much time in the sun can lead to sunburns and (if you really spend too much time in the sun) skin cancer.

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