Koreans and their Lines
I drove 14 hours through the night, waited 2 hours in the chilly Jersey morning and
another hour in a crowded theater all for one measly minute. Actually, it was less than a minute
since one of the judges waved his hand to have my music shut off about 10 seconds before I was
done. The translator said, “You’re a pretty girl and a great dancer, but you’re not what we’re
looking for.” That confused me. Not the second part, but the first. The pretty part.
Now, I don’t have self-esteem issues, but it was an audition to be the next Korean pop
star. Considering the fact that one of the most popular k-pop girl groups 2NE1’s average weight
is 95 pounds with my same height (5’4”), I don’t exactly think I rank high on the “pretty scale.”
At least to Korean beauty standards.
Last month, an article praised Victoria, the lead dancer from girl group f(x), for losing
weight. The caption under the photo in the article read, “After a recent grueling diet, Victoria
[has] become so pretty.” Several people even commented that she had been “chubby” before.
Hold the phone. My favorite pop star had been fat and ugly before, and I hadn’t noticed? I had to
see this for myself, but in the pictures all I saw was a healthy girl (and I don’t mean that as a
euphemism for overweight either). She looked like she weighed maybe 120 pounds. Now that
she had lost the weight, she was skinny and admired for her S-line.
Ah, yes. The S-line. In a way, the Korean S-line is equivalent to the Western hourglass
figure but in profile. A woman with a perfect S-line has big boobs and a big butt with a tiny
waist. By that definition, I don’t think Victoria has a great S-line except for the fact that she’s
skinny and has a small waist. Having an S-Line is a big deal. S-Lines are so prominent in Korea
that almost every kind of advertisement includes some reference to them. Everything from
school uniforms to beverages to gas boilers. Yes, gas boilers.
Sandara Park, one of the four members of 2NE1, had to fake her S-line for a music video.
Cast to play the female lead in a music video, Sandara revealed on a talk show that she had
decided to wear butt padding to give a more “voluptuous” appearance. If you watch that music
video, voluptuous is not the first word that comes to mind.
Taeyang, whose music video Sandara stars in, has a great M-line. Hmm, M-line, you say?
The “masculine line” is desirable for all men. That means strong shoulders with a slim waist, like
Taeyang. Going a step further, Taeyang has “chocolate abs,” too. His abs are so distinct that they
look like a chocolate bar. Yum. What happened to having a six-pack or just being fit?
Also well-known for their “choco abs” are members of boy band 2PM. Fans even call
them the “beastly idols” for their defined muscles. While the nickname applies to the whole
group, credit really only goes to three members, Chansung, Nichkhun, and Taecyeon. It is almost
comical to look at Nichkhun specifically because he is so well built and muscular that it contrasts
with his pretty face. On one TV show, an older woman told him he was “ulzzang,” a Korean
word that loosely translated means ‘best face.’
“Ulzzang” is really one of the best compliments a person could receive. It means that
they meet the beauty standards. Part of that is having a small face or a 1/8 Line, as some call it. If
you have a 1/8 Line, your head is small enough to account for only 1/8 of your body. Last year,
some fans of girl group KARA edited a picture of Seungyeon, one of the main vocalists, to
shows that she had the ideal body ratio by taking a cut of her head and stacking it next to her 8
And it’s not just a small face. You have to have the right shape face, too—that is, a thin,
oval face narrowing into a pointed chin. Not many are naturally born with that V-Line in their
chin. For those that want it, face rollers are available. Starting from a young age, Koreans, boys
and girls alike, often purchase these to smooth their round or square jaws in the hopes of
achieving the perfect V-Line. If that doesn’t work, there is a surgical approach to it. Cheek
reduction is a common solution. This type of plastic surgery involves removing cheek fat and
shaving some bone off. It sounds extreme, but plastic surgery is normal in Korea.
Many Korean girls and increasingly more guys receive double eyelid surgery as a
graduation present. Highly prized in Asian culture, the double eyelid is probably the only thing I
have going for me. What is a double eyelid? Well, let’s think of it in terms of what is not a
double eyelid. What is the first clue that a person is Asian? Easy, what most consider the “Asian
eye,” or a monolid. Ethnic Asians usually lack the crease in their eyelid that gives the double
eyelid effect that we Westerners take for granted.
I was surprised when Shindong, a member of the immensely popular 13-member boy
band Super Junior, had the operation a month ago. To me, he had defied the beauty standards. He
had been overweight and hadn’t hidden it. When he lost weight, I saw no wrong in it because he
was healthier. But when he showed up at the 3rd Idol Star Athletic Championships wearing
sunglasses, he explained that he was trying to hide his still-not-fully-healed eyes. So much for
breaking down stereotypes.
Even Piggy Dolls, a girl group famous for being overweight, felt pressure. When their
first album failed, their CEO told them, “The fat concept won’t work anymore.” So what did
they do? Lost weight.
If you can’t tell by now, Koreans have a very specific set of characteristics that are
“beautiful.” The sad part is that I could go on, and that isn’t really all that fair. Does it mean that
if I who fall outside that list—or anyone, for that matter—am not beautiful? No, of course not.
But in a society where a girl group named Piggy Dolls can’t even maintain their image, I can’t
help but feel like I’m not beautiful. I’m not sure that the translator lied to me when she told me
I’m pretty, but I’m sure that she didn’t mean it in the Korean sense.