(Image courtesy of Hyeseon Kim)
Fairmont Preparatory Academy

Opinion: Another look at lookism in South Korea

To most, the term “lookism” conjures up negative connotations in the mind. Some might contest, however, that such an ideology could in fact be beneficial to individuals and society at large.

Maintaining or enhancing one’s appearance is by no means easy. Individuals who endeavor to do so, are engaging in an act of self-improvement, which could indeed have a ripple effect in their lives.  

Many Koreans value aesthetic beauty and hence are perceived as being obsessed with their physical appearance. Such a desire to achieve societal standards of beauty leads many people to undergo procedures in order to avoid prejudice. 

Naturally, having your own charm and being unique is important too, but in such a competitive environment such as South Korea, where people are discriminated against when it comes to finding employment based on their looks, is this enough?

Notably, beauty standards in South Korea take a uniform shape. Having big eyes, a small tall nose, plump lips and a v-line jaw are all considered the paragons of facial beauty when combined, not to mention being in shape. Those who don’t fit the mold, so to speak, are subject to victimization leading to a lack of motivation.

Furthermore, lookism provides an economic benefit. South Korea’s cosmetic procedure industry makes up a sizable percentage of the nation’s economy, and thousands of foreigners flock to the capital, Seoul, each year in a bid to join the locals’ quest for beauty. Indeed, the fact that plastic surgeons are among some of the country’s top earners is a testament to this industry’s growing demand. 

Surveys suggest that individuals who enhanced their looks via cosmetics or procedure gained an increase in confidence. Additionally, the cosmetic industry is growing exponentially year by year, suggesting a positive economic impact. 

A vast amount of South Koreans are not satisfied with their appearance. According to GfK’s study, only 34% responded with “completely satisfied” or “satisfied.” The remaining responded with, “not at all satisfied,” “not too satisfied” and “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.” This explains why Koreans with low self-esteem pay thousands of dollars for plastic surgery and cosmetics.

Making a more concerted effort to improve their looks could lead to many “unsatisfied” individuals to feel more positive about themselves.

Undeniably, personal insecurities about looks exist in many cultures. Such personal hindrances could prove obstacles in regard to accomplishing one’s goals. Many who suffer from low self-esteem based on their looks have a lack of confidence which affects their communication at work and in their social life.

Moreover, many individuals who are bullied because of their appearance, find a solution by improving their looks. Unlike in America, where there is less lookism, South Korean rates of obesity are drastically less. This would suggest that lookism helps to regulate a healthy society in terms of weight gain.


Overall, those who embrace the challenge of looking good, tend to have more positive mental outlooks than individuals who neglected this part of their lives. This would suggest that on top of the economic and health benefits, lookism also has numerous positives, which shouldn’t be overlooked.