“Do you wanna be white?”
What kind of a question is that, you ask? Well, it was one posed by a Korean skincare brand recently that has sparked an immense amount of controversy and backlash.
Korean skincare brand Elisha Coy, in an attempt to make an entrance into the U.S. cosmetics industry, posed this horrifying question on a billboard for its makeup in New York’s Queens-based Koreatown. The advertisement features Elisha Coy’s new tinted moisturizer with “skin-whitening” abilities.
While there is a long history of skin-whitening, common across the world, this kind of practice is controversial in the United States. This advertisement especially, so blatantly charged with notions of white-power and racism, is extremely detrimental to the development and confidence for Korean-American women and men. It is well known that South Korea is home to some of the strictest beauty standards in all the world, but that same trend traditionally has not been present in the United States. In fact, celebrities like Rihanna and Beyonce have actually faced immense criticism from the media in the wake of allegedly lightening their skin.
It is concerning that in this day and age, children can walk down the street and see this advertisement. This kind of advertisement only promotes fear and inadequacy in individuals who do not fulfill this (impossible) beauty standard. Meanwhile, it is spreading more beauty and racial issues to the United States.
South Korea is infamous for its desire for whiteness. In fact, it is estimated that nearly one-in-five South Korean women will have plastic surgery in their lifetime. This preoccupation with appearance begins at an early age for many Koreans, and affects not only girls, but boys too. The social pressure to be “beautiful,” is defined by the white-European woman—light skinned, big eyes, light hair.
Contemporary Korea accepts only one measure of beauty, and Koreans will do anything to meet these standards of what they deem to be white perfection. Eye reconstruction surgery is an obsession for many Koreans. In fact, many boys and girls receive the surgery as a birthday gift on their sixteenth birthday. Plastic surgery, which in America is considered very “hush hush” and is commonly kept private out of embarrassment, is openly spoken about in Korea.
The eye surgery results out of an obsession with the Caucasian eye and a belief that these larger eyes are more beautiful. Asian women are striving to appear more Caucasian in the belief that the Caucasian individual is the picture of perfection and beauty.
The South Korean belief that their bodies, faces, and unique features as a racial and cultural group are flawed is extremely detrimental and saddening as well. Children grow up believing that they are defective and not beautiful — in dire need of fixing by means of plastic surgery and radical reconstruction.
There is a need for a radical change to this culture that believes their natural being is flawed. The incessant focus on being Caucasian is wiping away and entire racial group and the features that make them unique. It is saddening to hear the way Korean women speak about themselves and what they are and what they are not.
This is a beauty standard promoting racism and discrimination, even within and among Koreans. From speaking with friends that are Korean Americans, I have been informed that they face extreme backlash for not having undergone plastic surgery. Upon a return to South Korea to visit family, they feel out of place and shamed for not adhering to the Caucasian standard.
Here we have the case of a racial group trying to erase themselves and their own identity. How can we advocate for change? How can a whole culture rethink a beauty standard that has infected the minds of millions?
“Whiteness” is not “rightness” and it is important to promote self-acceptance and racial differences in order to preserve the uniqueness of each human individual in this world.
What do you think?