Success and beauty work

Throwback to week 2, when I couldn’t publish this on the blog!

A google search of Hilary Clinton will provide many articles regarding her potential 2016 presidential campaign, but inevitably it will also produce articles regarding her age,  notably her wardrobe choices.  In 2010, Hillary Clinton responded to a question about her favorite clothing designers in a radio interview with “Would you ever ask a man that question?’. The interviewer admitted that indeed he probably wouldn’t. It begs asking, why is Hillary Clinton’s beauty and style part of the discussion? Joe Biden or Mitt Romney would never be asked a question like that, or have their personal appearance become part of a larger political discussion. In this week’s readings we see how beauty and a woman’s success has been linked in through advertisements. In “Narcissism as Liberation”, Susan  Douglas highlights the ways in which a woman’s beauty is used as the true measure of success.  Douglas mentions an advertisement for Hanes, the advertisements were part of a series called “Reflections On…” She says “In one ad, the admiring male voice said,’She messes up the punchline of every joke; can tell a Burgundy from a Bordeaux; and her legs… Oh yes Joanna’s legs.’” In another ad, the woman, ‘Emily’ can recite Hemingway, and imitate Groucho Marx, but her legs are out of this world. If we look at this advertisement we see a perfect example of a pattern constantly repeated. These women’s intellectual accomplishments are nothing in comparison to their physical beauty. It is their legs that are the subject of admiration, not their minds.  While the  advertisement is supposedly intended to play into the feminist ideals of the 1980s the message is altogether different.  What is valued is not in a woman’s intelligence, humor, love of Hemingway,  knowledge of wines, it is their beauty.  The message is clear — intelligence and personal accomplishments are important, but beauty is much more significant. If we think of the ways in which a man’s success is measured their jaw line or choice of suit is rarely seen as significant.   So this takes us back to Clinton. By all measures she is an intelligent, successful, and educated woman, yet that is not enough. For her to be truly successful she must also be beautiful and stylish. Her undying love of colorful pant suits is made fun of incessantly. Even her age is seen as a weakness.  Her decision to wear glasses during a hearing on Benghazi made headlines and eventually lead some news outlets to report that Clinton was too old and question her ability to be president in the future. This would never happen with a man. While for men with age comes power, for women, being perceived as old is a character flaw, enough of a flaw to not to be a presidential candidate. What we gather from all of this is that the only way a woman can be perceived as equal to a man in success is by also achieving the impossible, being beautiful.

Food Carts of Gangnam

Hey ya’ll- squeezing in an entry on Prof. Lee’s last lecture. It was a big twist to realize that the “Gangnam Style” music video scenes were not just ridiculous scenes but an intentioned satire of the affluence in Gangnam. In thinking about the beauty and money culture there, I was reminded of a Gangnam civic issue that erupted last February that I thought would be an interesting mention to what we learned about…

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Last February, the city of Gangnam hired “workers” (more so mob members) to destroy the food carts on the street in order to “clean up the look” of the city. The food vendors who are mainly older, low wage citizens, were pushed aside or held back as their carts were upturned and destroyed. They sought help from the police officers that stood idly by. The Gangnam District Office called the incident a “special crackdown of illegal stalls” since the food carts and tents “threatened public safety” by blocking the sidewalk (I totally get this because it’s so hard to walk to class with all the halal and coffee carts in my way).  After destroying the food carts, the city government then said that they would charge street vendors with criminal prosecutions for assaulting mob members, I mean, workers hired by the city.

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Gangnam’s district office said this was necessary because it gets a lot of foreign visitors and is expecting more. The mayor, Shin Yeon-hee, explicitly said that the streets needed to be “cleaned up” in order to make the city more “global” and “foreigner friendly.” It makes sense for her to expect tourists since South Korea is one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world in the past decade, but I do think something as “trivial” as a music video had some influence in recent city government planning.

I know it’s a stretch to say that the three or four times we watched “Gangnam Style” by Psy when it first came out is a result of the food cart catastrophe, but considering a trickle-down effect…wouldn’t a city that changed Youtube’s view counter to accommodate more views (2 billion), be expecting more tourists and visitors because of that video? Especially if they are already the go-to place for plastic surgery in the nation (and arguably, the world.) Since 2011, it has been against the law to do business on the streets of Gangnam but there hasn’t been a crackdown until the year after “Gangnam Style” came out…hm.

Beauty permeates all aspects of Gangnam: the video that put it on the global map, the plastic surgery shops stacked on top each other, and the streets of the city itself, have something to say about beautification whether it’s biopolitics or urban upkeeping. This makes me see the city itself as a body and reminds me of what Susan Bordo said about the bodily relationship to culture.

“The body, as anthropologist Mary Douglas has argued, is a powerful symbolic form, a surface on which the central rules, hierarchies, and even metaphysical commitments of a culture are inscribed and thus reinforced through the language of the body. The body may also operate as a metaphor for culture.” (Bordo, 309)

In conclusion, here is the other “Gangnam Style” video you should see:


The U.S.’s Biased Gaze on Foreign Plastic Surgery

When reading about South Korean plastic surgery, I can’t help but think about Brazil, a nation where there is such astounding numbers and support of plastic surgery that it is considered a public right. In the AlterNet article, Han quotes a doctor in saying, “liposuction, breast augmentation and facelift, which are the most popular plastic surgery procedures in Western countries, are not so popular in Korea.” In Brazil, the most popular plastic surgeries are breast implants and liposuction, along with the U.S. where the most common procedure is breast augmentation.

We saw the incredible “Price of Beauty” video in class, where Jessica Simpson went to Brazil, condescendingly criticized their plastic surgery practices, and then danced Samba with her co-stars. But something that constantly came up in the episode was how proud Brazilians are about their plastic surgery procedures, and how it didn’t carry the same shame there that it does here in the United States. There is more of a stigma in this country attached to elective cosmetic surgery, and I think this stigma affects how we view plastic surgery in countries like South Korea and Brazil.

Coincidentally, this morning on the train ride to work, I took this picture:


And it got me thinking, this is one of maybe two advertisements I’ve seen for plastic surgery, the other I remember being for a nose job. I didn’t even notice it at first, the lady across the car from me brought my attention to it after she looked up and laughed out loud. She obviously found this amusing, probably because of how rare these images are here, but if we look at the picture we saw in class today, according to Professor Lee, most of these ads are for cosmetic surgery clinics all in the area in South Korea.


The shock that we express at things like that would be pretty out of place there. I think that this example speaks to the stigma we have attached to plastic surgery in this country, and how we’ve let our prejudices color our gaze on these countries. We talk about the so-called “extreme” plastic surgeries in Brazil and South Korea, and then we turn around and televise and watch shows like “Extreme Makeover,” and “Bridalplasty” where the contestants get an outstanding amount of plastic surgery done. I think it’s definitely easy to point at those countries and say, “well we would never be that extreme” the same way we turn and watch these exaggerated shows as a way to separate ourselves from that behavior, but truth is, the majority of the population indulges in beauty practices and, since there is an argument to be made for seeing plastic surgery as a a slightly more drastic form of self-care, maybe we as a country are in no position to be criticizing others choice of beauty practices.

K-Pop Girl Groups Promoting Plastic Surgery

Before & After
You can clearly see the alterations to jawline, nose, chin, and eyelids (common K-pop procedures)
Girls’ Generation is one of the most popular girl groups in South Korea

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, a staggering one in five South Korean women has had cosmetic work done. I was shocked to learn that in the US the statistic is only one in 20 women. This is largely due in part to the prevalence of K-pop culture (“Gangnam Style”) and its spread across East Asia and into the Asian community in the US. K-pop has created a new beauty aesthetic that many argue resembles certain Caucasian features yet does not completely replicate them. Double eyelids, slimmed jawline, nose and chin shaved down, lips injected – all common procedures and popular looks in K-pop culture. The K-pop stars, specifically the girls groups such as “Girls’ Generation” and “Wonder Girls” seem to be walking advertisements for plastic surgery (in fact many are spokeswomen for surgical companies). The popularity of the groups creates an extreme value placed on the surgery behind these stars and established South Korea as the go-to place for all things cosmetic surgery. In a recent ABC News article, one woman from the US discussed her decision to travel to South Korea for her own surgery, as they are simply “the best” for Asian cosmetic surgery. I found it particularly interesting when examining the girl groups, as I too was a young girl who idolized pop stars like The Spice Girls, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. Although the stars do not directly admit to having work done, there are fan websites that are dedicated to guessing which star has had what procedure and which doctors performed them. Little girls look to these performers and want to be like them. These are there role models, who are impacting the way these children see themselves more than anyone else. Korea has the highest rate of smartphone usage and internet access in homes compared to every other country in the world. In this technology driven society, women are expected to not only succeed at being productive citizens but also adhere to the standards of beauty and femininity that are demanded of them. This connects to Cho Jo-Hyun’s concept of the gender practices women adopt as “technologies of self”. Women are able to use these beauty standards to create success in the brutal circumstances of the standards expected of them.

Mihija Sohn (Miss Korea 1960) and Sung-hye Lee (Miss Korea 2012)
Mihija Sohn (Miss Korea 1960) and Sung-hye Lee (Miss Korea 2012) You are able to see how the drastic change in Korean beauty standards over the past 50 years.