SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Ji-yeon knew she needed cosmetic surgery when she was 7. For the following 13 years, she destroyed photographs of herself till her dad and mom paid for double jaw surgical procedure, a process that requires breaking the jaw to realign it.
Then Ms. Kim began to query why she devoted a lot — $200 a month and two hours a day, she calculated — to her look. She reduce her hair brief. Then she crushed her make-up into items.
Ms. Kim, 22, is one in every of a rising group of South Korean girls rebelling towards their society’s inflexible magnificence requirements — a push they name “Escape the Corset.” Impressed partially by the worldwide #MeToo motion, which has shaken up politics and society in South Korea’s deeply patriarchal tradition, the ladies are difficult long-accepted attitudes about cosmetic surgery and cosmetics in one of many world’s most beauty-obsessed capitals.
“Misogyny is extra excessive in South Korea, and the sweetness trade has made it worse,” stated Ms. Kim.
Magnificence is huge in South Korea. It has the world’s highest price of beauty surgical procedure per capita, and it retains rising. It has change into a vacation spot for nip-and-tuck tourism. The wonder market — cosmetics and facial care merchandise like masks — generated $13 billion in gross sales final yr, in line with Mintel, making it one of many world’s prime 10 magnificence markets.
Whereas males are an rising a part of the market, the sweetness stress is aimed principally at girls. Okay-pop stars who usually get in depth beauty surgical procedure are held up as the usual. YouTube celebrities with tens of millions of followers provide elaborate tutorials on learn how to apply make-up. Ladies are bombarded with adverts throughout buses, in subways and on TV.
“Born fairly?” reads one within the Seoul subway. “That’s an enormous fats lie.”
“We undergo 12 steps simply to placed on the essential merchandise earlier than we even apply make-up,” stated Ms. Kim. “That principally defines the issue.”
Ladies at the moment are pushing again. This summer time, tens of 1000’s gathered to protest towards sexual assault, the proliferation of spy cameras taking voyeuristic movies of ladies and the harsher requirements they face in different features of society, from magnificence to the legislation.
Political and financial disparities gasoline the anger. South Korea’s wage hole is the best amongst international locations within the Group for Financial Cooperation and Improvement. Ladies maintain simply one-sixth of the seats within the Nationwide Meeting and one-tenth of company administration positions.
“The depth of feminism in South Korea is stronger than in different international locations as a result of girls actually are usually not a part of the political and financial management,” stated Yunkim Ji-yeong, an assistant professor of feminist philosophy on the Institute of Physique and Tradition at Konkuk College.
In that setting, Escape the Corset has discovered an viewers.
Bae Eun-jeong, often known as Lina Bae, was a YouTube star who gave magnificence tutorials. After listening to concerning the anti-corset motion earlier this yr, Ms. Bae, 21, took a more in-depth take a look at the feedback on her YouTube channel. Many had been from younger ladies who stated make-up gave them the braveness to go to high school.
“I spotted there was one thing very improper,” stated Ms. Bae. “I needed to do a brand new form of video to inform them that it’s O.Okay. to not make your self up.”
In June, Ms. Bae uploaded a video by which she goes by means of the laborious means of making use of lotions, basis, eyeliner and pretend eyelashes. A sequence of simulated messages like these she has acquired prior to now scroll throughout the display screen. One says: “Your eyes are freaking uneven.” One other one: “I might kill myself if I had been you.”
Then she takes off all of the make-up and tells the viewer, “Don’t be so involved with how others understand you. You’re particular and fairly the way in which you’re.”
The video has been watched 5.5 million instances. Ms. Bae’s YouTube followers jumped to just about 147,000 from 20,000. A writer requested her to put in writing a e-book. She has since reduce her hair brief and stopped sporting make-up, saving almost $500 a month. Now her movies concentrate on cooking and sharing concepts.
Cha Ji-won, a video content material creator at an city renewal firm, joined the motion earlier this yr and created her personal YouTube channel, which now has 30,000 followers. Ms. Cha, 22, as soon as thought that spending as a lot as $700 on make-up every month was not sufficient. Now she has turned her make-up into slime to play with.
“They’re type of like toys, like crayons,” stated Ms. Cha. She used to really feel like a second-class citizen, she stated, however now that she has stopped sporting make-up “individuals hearken to me once I say issues.”
The motion has sparked an unsightly backlash.
Ms. Bae, Ms. Kim and Ms. Cha, who all have bowl haircuts attribute of the motion, say they’ve change into targets of verbal abuse and dying threats. Ms. Kim was advised by two potential bosses that she didn’t look female sufficient. Feminists discuss their friends “popping out” publicly as a result of many desire to remain nameless.
“The violence towards individuals who go away the mainstream path may be very intense in South Korea in comparison with different international locations,” stated Search engine optimisation Sol, 26, who has a YouTube speak present about feminism referred to as “As a result of There Is Too A lot to Say.”
Yim Hyun-ju has skilled the criticism. The 33-year-old anchor at Munhwa Broadcasting Company, a nationwide broadcaster, determined to put on her glasses on her morning information present on April 12. Her pretend eyelashes had been making her eyes so drained that she was going by means of a bottle of synthetic tears daily.
It turned an internet sensation. “I didn’t assume it could change into information,” Ms. Yim stated.
Ms. Yim’s producers reproached her. Viewers wrote to complain. However girls got here as much as her in public to thank her. Now Ms. Yim wears her glasses every so often, an act that she says sends viewers a message to guage her based mostly on her competence and never her look. However she doesn’t wish to be recognized as a part of any motion.
“If I may act freely, I might apply make-up much less,” Ms. Yim stated.
“However I’m caught between my thoughts and coronary heart, which says one factor, however there may be the fact of my job,” she added.
Many ladies within the anti-corset motion credit score their actions as having had a small affect on the make-up trade. One latest advert, for the Missha cosmetics model, encompasses a short-haired mannequin and one with freckles. “Get out, expose your flaws and comply with your individual requirements relatively than others’,” it says. Nonetheless, they observe, the ladies within the advert largely stick with Korean magnificence requirements — and the ladies are sporting make-up.
Kim Hong-tae, a spokesman for In a position C&C, which owns the Missha model, stated the advert was meant to convey “that there isn’t a predetermined normal of bodily look.”
And the social stress to put on make-up and have a small, heart-shaped face remains to be sturdy. Im Soo-hyang stars in a Korean drama referred to as “My ID is Gangnam Magnificence,” a couple of younger lady who has cosmetic surgery and grapples with picture points. The identify refers back to the upscale Gangnam district in Seoul, the place cosmetic surgery clinics line the streets.
“I can’t say I’m free from being aware about individuals taking note of me due to the character of my job,” Ms. Im stated throughout an interview at a hair salon in Gangnam. “Take a look at me. I’ve my hair achieved, I’m sporting make-up, I’ve my nails achieved and I’m sporting fairly garments.”
She smiled, then added, “I can’t be liberated.”
Su-Hyun Lee contributed reporting.