Monday, 14 April 2014

Plastic Surgery, Appearance & Expectations: The True Beauty of Women

"My blood boils because of a message that is being heard by the daughters of the earth.
I speak out because there's a voice that has been silenced for too long."

Yesterday, in the subway on my way back home from church, I saw a girl. 

She was a normal South Korean girl, boarding the subway carriage on the same platform with another girlfriend. She wore a white t-shirt that flowed down to the hips, navy blue skinny jeans and a gray sweat jacket in casual attire. Her hair was straight, black and tied back loosely, with a few waves decorating her face around the temples and the nape of her neck. She smiled as she listened enthusiastically to her friend, whose back was towards us.

As I said, she was a normal girl - perhaps in her early twenties - a simple girl, just like the rest of us. Her face was bright and animated as she chatted, lighting up every now and then as she responded with surprise to her friend's comments. She had the aura of a carefree young woman who had the whole world at her fingertips. 

Yet... there was something very different about her. An undeniable truth to the onlooker. 

There was a history on her features... A statement of a painful past. 

The mark of a cold, sharp knife that had once touched and pierced the skin on her face.

Her eyes. They were pretty. But there was something else about them. 

They were unmistakably, unusually large. Beyond large, they were enormous, taking up an unnatural ratio of the portion of her face. 

South Korean subway networks are built deep underground. Due to this, for the most part, subway trips consist mainly of artificial indoor lights and views of only smooth, black rock walls passing by quickly, inches away from the sides of the train. Those seated sit quietly staring at their phones with blank expressions, and those standing do the same, or stare out the windows back into the carriage. 

I never usually look at people in subways, especially if I am with someone. However, I couldn't help it that day. I stole a few quick glances in the most inconspicuous, polite manner possible. 

'Wow.. they're so big!' was all I thought to myself. I was amazed, but I quickly forgot about it as we reached our stop and oppa and I went on to complete our many chores for the day.

* * *

You might have wondered in the past few months what my life has been like since moving to South Korea from the relaxed down-under of good ol' Australia. Well, let me just say that for starters, it couldn't be any more culturally different.

Growing up in Australia, I never really gave a second thought about beauty. In fact, as you may or may not know, I was a wild child for as long as I can remember up until Year 7 (middle school - or high school in Aus). 

4 year old me on my first trip to Korea with my mum. This was my favourite
hand-me-down purple jacket that was way too big for me but I loved it anyway.

I loved running, playing tips, playing handball and hated wearing dresses. I used to think old people were beautiful when they smiled and you could see wrinkles form around their eyes. I kid not - I used to think red pimples all around the face was fun to look at and in a way pretty. I thought they decorated the face and brought colour and character. I never understood why my mum made such a huge ordeal over the moles that would continue to make new appearances on my face every year. I thought chubby people were nice to look at and hug. Hahaha. This was little Jen, untainted, in purest form. 

You might remember me sharing in my post titled 'I Hated Being Korean - My Korean-Australian Story', that despite my very un-Korean upbringing, I did grow up watching some Korean dramas and music programs. With no other Korean cultural education (I don't count Saturday Korean School as all they did was teach the language, not any values or social cues and expectations), I used to genuinely think that most of the actresses were not very attractive. Some of them even looked weird to me because their faces were so tiny. I used to feel sorry for some of them who were so skinny and pale and frail looking. (Please note this was when I was little, I don't mean this in a mean way now and of course do not look down on anyone.)

No one had ever taught me that small faces were pretty. No media had indirectly given me the message that I should try to have a small, white face and big eyes, or that if people had a big forehead (a concept I'd never heard of until I was a late teen), they should cover it with their fringes. My Western upbringing certainly never involved people commenting on how fat your cheeks were or how you were too dark and that you should stop going out into the sun.

Enter puberty, and a bout of a Korean exchange-student boyfriend or two. Enter Cyworld. (haha - this is absolutely the best way to brainwash yourself into following Korean beauty rules).

Finding yourself amidst a confusing world swirling with mixed messages about womanhood.
[Art by Yoskay Yamamoto]
At 16, I was introduced into the world of self-consciousness and insecurity. The boys (and girls) around me who were influenced by Korean beauty standards, began to influence me. I started to catch on that some things were viewed in certain ways, and that not everything is beautiful or accepted. In my teenage angst, I began to accept and mould myself according to these expectations that others began to exert, whether directly or indirectly.

'You're ugly if you're fat.'

'You have a chubby face and small eyes. You're not beautiful.'

'Girls should be slim and have the right amount of volume.'

This is normal, right? Just the typical adolescent stage of awkwardness and confusion. I don't see it that way.

Lies filled my heart and mind. My world swam with thoughts of who I should be as a woman. What is a woman, anyway? The messages flew in from all sides - 
Women are about beauty. 
Women are about desirability. 
Women need to be sexy. 
Women need to be pretty and soft and quiet and submissive (Korean). 
Women need to be strong and independent (Feminist - school education). 

It was a confusing mess of ideas coming in from every angle - magazines, TV, movies, online, people, posters, the mirror - about my beauty, my value, my identity... my worth in this world. 

Having gone through my stage of rebellion earlier than most, I may have a unique story here. Also, I started my periods super early - when I was on my Year 6 school camp (yup, worst timing EVER). Whilst many might've only been concerned with their studies, I might've been particularly vulnerable to these things during my high school days over others. Or I might be wrong and this could be a common story of many girls. I don't know. 

But what I do know is this.

There is a message being heard all throughout the world by the daughters of the earth. They are being told that their worth is in their beauty. In some places, it might be told that their worth is in their usefulness. In some, it might be in their success. 

They all concern me, but when it comes to beauty, it is truly most blood boiling. 

My Youtube channel stands for a single motto: Beauty From Within

This has been, ever since I started out with my channel and uploaded my first video in February 2011. However, being a Youtube beauty vlogger, it was so important to question myself about the notion of beauty and get to the root of my thoughts. I've done this throughout the years, and spoken to many people about it too. What is beauty? What makes someone beautiful? What do I stand for when it comes to beauty? What is the message I send out to young women? Why do I want to help women become more beautiful?

Do you want to know how Google defines beauty
"a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, which pleases the aesthetic senses."
.. And this is precisely the only quality of beauty that this world emphasises during the critical stages of the shaping of a woman.

Well, do you want to know what I think? There are different facets of beauty. 

  • Beauty of the outer appearance. Aesthetic. Something tangible. About quantity - i.e. how large is the ratio of your nose to your face, how proportionate is your boob to your butt. Inward focused - how can I improve me?
  • Beauty of the inner being. Intrinsic. Something intangible. About quality - i.e. how beautiful is your heart? How much love, peace, generosity, kindness, wisdom and care do you have? Outward focused - how can I help others?

Here's the thing.

The first kind of beauty is wonderful, and it is instantaneous to see. A man can walk past and whistle at the sight of a woman dressed elegantly, slim yet curvaceous, beautiful makeup and hair and a confident presence. But as much as it is quick to observe, it is quick to fade. It will never last forever. No matter how much botox, plastic surgery or exercise, it will eventually fade with time. It is also mostly about self, as it doesn't edify anyone else other than the subjects involved.

The second kind of beauty can only be seen when looked for. You need a different kind of eye to see this one. It takes time to get to know the person, spending time with them, in order to see this inner beauty. Not everyone has this, although everyone could have the first kind of beauty at some point in their lives with effort and money. Unlike the first one, this can last through the entire lifetime of a woman. It is also focused on other people. It is self-sacrificing and self-giving.

The more I thought about this, the more it made sense. 

Yes, I believed true beauty comes from within. I strongly believed that the true beauty and value of a woman couldn't be given by the judgment of the human eye. The most aesthetically beautiful woman in the world might have the character of a sour, evil criminal. The least aesthetically beautiful woman in the world could have a heart full of love, care and generosity. But WHY? Why is this so important?? That was the question. It couldn't just be because it sounds most moral. There must be a good reason for it. Something that would truly validate the point.

Talk to any man. What qualities does he look for when searching for a wife? Is it purely physical attractiveness? They will say - well, yes they have to look beautiful to them since they will be looking at this woman every day of their life. So it is important. But it's not all. 

Have you ever heard guys saying, "Oh, she's just girlfriend material." Then looking at another woman and saying, "That right there? That's WIFE material." Why would it be different? It usually isn't just about cooking skills, usefulness around the house or yearly income. Men can seem shallow but they aren't actually that dumb (well most). Haha. They are actually pretty good decision-makers by instinct. Yes. You're right if you're thinking it.. They look for someone who also has the second kind of beauty. The kind that can last. Inner beauty.

Men know that physical attractiveness is just the shell that fades, and they go for those qualities when at clubs looking for one-night-stands, but they certainly wouldn't go marry a woman simply for their beauty (unless they are planning to go through quick divorces). They will search for someone who with a good heart, full of love, generous, forgiving, because this they know is good for long-term. Because no matter how much they may insist on physical attractiveness through their guy-culture, they know it's really what matters the most in life. 

Then there's the point that whilst the first kind of beauty doesn't really help others, the second exists for others. I believe God is glorified when a woman is confident, shining in the beauty He placed within her that exudes from within but can also be seen without. Just as He created the beauty of nature, the flowers and animals to be appreciated, women glorify Him when they know they are beautiful and help others be and know that they are beautiful, too. There is absolutely nothing wrong with women having fun dressing up and grooming themselves. Thus, I think that a healthy method is to have a balance of both. 

* * *

So why am I talking about all this? The answer is simple.

I want women to realise the importance and value of their own true, inner beauty.
I also want women to know how to see the truth as they seek outer beauty.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears (honours) the LORD is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:30
Let me be honest.

My eyes aren't very big. I used to wish they were. I am like any other normal woman with flaws and imperfections, and things I see about myself that I wish were different. (And if you are wondering, I haven't had any plastic surgery and don't plan to do so.)

But living in Korea, I have come to realise ever more that the media & plastic surgery are giant motors that unendingly spur on the facade that huge eyes are the only accepted beauty. It's not just with the face, but also the limbs, hair, clothes. A set standard of aesthetics - a ratio of the eye to quickly capture, judge and categorise. It dwindles humanity down to the level of mere product. We need to know deep down that we are tailored individuals, with a unique beauty only we possess in the entire universe. 

My blood boils because I know that the message the media and society constantly condemns women with, is that we should be a certain way and manner. In South Korea particularly, it focuses on appearance and behaviour. You may not even believe me to what extent this is. Women are required to fit into a mould - yes one particular mould - in order to be considered beautiful or of value. I feel it is especially bad here, as people generally feel they are just not good enough if they don't meet the expectation. 

It hurts me to see other women hurting. Not only is it unfair, it is unrealistic, and it denies the individual. 

* * *

I touched on a lot of things in this post. I shared my history of becoming, I talked about inner and outer beauty, and I even talked about marriage candidates from a guys perspective. You might be wondering where I'm going. 

Well, I'm not sure if you've picked it up yet, but this post wasn't really about plastic surgery or makeup. It wasn't even about how we should focus on our inner beauty, although it rings true in all senses and I completely and utterly agree.

It was about knowing.

Knowing who we are. Knowing our power. Knowing our worth.

It was about how the media - in its' effort to sell products and market their puppets i.e. celebrities - have created a social structure, a hierarchy, that teaches how to rank women according to their worth. Every country and culture does it in a different way, and sends out a different message, but the standards are set by the people in white masks at the top to essentially dictate who we should be in order to be loved, accepted, desired.

It was about sorting through these messages about physical attractiveness, usefulness and success as a woman in this 21st century, to get right down to the bottom and finding that the ultimate message we are getting is really not about being beautiful.

It speaks of so much more than appearance.

It speaks of our worth. It speaks of our value. It speaks of our reason for being.

We were created to love, and to be loved. Just as the sight of a beautiful rose stirs something within woman, as if to reflect our own innate yearning to be desired and cherished. This desire is not wrong, nor is it weak. But it has been abused.

Sometimes it is broken.

We see a world in turmoil because the basic units are not working together as they were once meant to be. Abuse of power. Objectification of the delicate beauty that was to be cherished like a precious diamond. We see it in the news, we see it in the articles. We see it in the wealthy states, and we see it in the poorest of slums. And it's not just the women. It goes both ways.

No, I don't believe one can truly stand up again through the rejection of the other. There needs to be a realisation. There needs to be a restoration.

But until then.. I desire to see the day women, in ourselves, can unite and love one another for who we really are. The day we can stand together, hand-in-hand, saying to those white-masks,

We don't buy your message.
No longer will we put ourselves, and each other, down because of your message.
Our worth isn't defined by a set of aesthetics, a ratio of the eye or social validation.
Our beauty, worth and value runs so much deeper than you say.
We are beautiful because we are unique.
I am beautiful because I am me."


Women, the world needs us. Do you see this? Do you hear this?

Our true beauty lies within our inner strength. We add beauty to this world. We are life-givers. We are nurturers. We encourage and build up. We are multipliers of whatever we put our hands to. We have wisdom and an eye to see things that men cannot. We complete our husbands. We are daughters, sisters and mothers. 

Most importantly, we have a voice. And we can use this voice to tell the world that we know who we are. We are God's very own, precious, unique, prized, cherished daughters with intrinsic value, worth and beauty just in being who we are. And nothing anyone or the media says or does can change that.

- - - - -

I will never forget that girl in the subway, and the way how, every few moments, in the midst of conversation, the laughter would briefly and abruptly disappear from her face as she turned to check her reflection in the dark subway windowsills. I will never forget the hurt and insecurity I saw in her eyes as she did this. I will never forget how I could almost hear her thoughts as she questioned her beauty, her self worth and value. 

I wanted to go up to her and hug her and tell her she was so beautiful. I wanted to tell her that I didn't judge her based on what she did with her face, or how nice her makeup looked, or the clothes she was wearing. I wanted to tell her she was loveable and desirable, that she was so very precious, just for being who she was.

I wanted to thank her for showing me the still silence of an urgent, unspoken voice, longing to be heard by so many around the globe. A voice I wished I had heard when I was going through the motions at that sweet age of 16. A voice - be it small - that I now want to be... to those few who might hear me, and that I wish would ripple out to touch the hearts of many.

You are beautiful, because you are a woman.
You are worthy of love simply for being who you are.

Love Jen