South Korean beauty standards have undeniably gained global prominence, with their skincare routines and products receiving widespread recognition. The K-beauty phenomenon has influenced beauty trends worldwide, celebrating clear, radiant skin. However, this trend also underscores a complex facet of feminism in the 21st century. While self-care and embracing one's natural beauty are empowering, the pressure to conform to these standards can be oppressive. The unrealistic beauty standards associated with K-beauty often prioritise flawless, porcelain-like skin, known as "glass skin." These standards place heavy emphasis on a white, pale, and dewy complexion, which can lead to an unattainable expectation for women, perpetuating the need for extensive skincare routines and sometimes invasive treatments to achieve an idealised look. These standards may promote a narrow definition of beauty that is not representative “or inclusive” of the diverse range of appearances among individuals.
How did it become a global phenomenon?
The global popularity of Korean dramas, or K-dramas, has significantly impacted the importance of Korean beauty standards. These shows often feature protagonists with flawless, porcelain skin and youthful appearances, contributing to the idealisation of K-beauty. Media representation, coupled with the widespread availability of K-beauty products, has made Korean standards of beauty more influential worldwide. Viewers, particularly in Asia, increasingly seek to emulate the looks of their favourite K-drama stars, fueling the demand for Korean skincare and cosmetics. This phenomenon underscores the media's role in shaping beauty ideals and how K-dramas are driving a global fascination with Korean beauty standards.
Korean culture, notably through K-pop and K-dramas, projects an idealized image of beauty, success, and lifestyle that captivates global audiences. However, this allure conceals a darker side, with instances of exploitation in the entertainment industry, gender-based discrimination, and body image pressures. For instance, numerous K-pop idols have faced grueling schedules and limited personal freedom. Acknowledging these complexities is crucial to understanding the full spectrum of Korean culture and addressing the issues that persist behind the scenes.
The unrealistic beauty standards in India
The closest thing to an Indian equivalent of the glass skin is the brown paper test. The "brown paper test" is an informal, discriminatory practice that was historically used in India, especially in the entertainment industry, to assess a person's skin colour for employment purposes. Employers would hold a piece of brown paper against a candidate's skin, comparing its shade to the applicant's complexion. Darker skin tones often faced discrimination and limited opportunities, perpetuating colourism and reinforcing harmful beauty standards. While this practice is increasingly criticised and discouraged, it highlights the deep-seated issue of colour bias in Indian society, emphasising the need for awareness, diversity, and inclusion in employment and beyond.
Indian Beauty Market
Despite the global recognition of K-beauty, India remains largely inclined towards Western beauty standards. The preference for Western products is deeply entrenched, with fair skin often associated with beauty and success. While there is increasing awareness of the potential harm posed by certain beauty products from both the East and West, societal conditioning still exerts a powerful influence. Shifting towards Eastern beauty products, like K-beauty, may seem like a solution, but it's vital to recognize that harmful beauty standards exist worldwide. The obsession with fair skin persists across cultures, perpetuating colourism and unrealistic ideals.
To combat this, a broader movement towards self-acceptance and a celebration of diverse beauty is needed. Encouragingly, some individuals are embracing this shift and exploring a balanced approach to beauty by incorporating elements from both Eastern and Western skincare routines. However, dismantling deep-rooted beauty standards requires collective efforts to promote inclusivity, self-esteem, and a healthier perception of beauty across societies.
The Global Beauty Market
Despite progress, certain global beauty brands like Tarte and Too Faced have faced criticism for not providing a comprehensive range of darker shades in their products. This lack of inclusivity highlights the need for brands to address the diverse needs of their customers to promote true equality in beauty. Brands like Rare Beauty and Fenty Beauty have revolutionised the beauty industry by prioritising diversity and inclusivity. They have recognized the long-standing lack of representation in cosmetics and skincare, offering a wide range of products catering to all skin tones and types. This inclusive approach challenges the conventional beauty standards and welcomes people of all backgrounds into the world of makeup and skincare. Brands are actively listening to their customers, offering more shades, undertones, and formulations that accommodate a broader spectrum of beauty. Furthermore, the industry is becoming more gender-inclusive, recognizing that beauty knows no bounds and is not limited by gender.
However, while these changes are significant steps toward greater inclusivity, there is still a need to address the pressure placed on individuals to conform to beauty ideals. It's essential to strike a balance where beauty is celebrated in all its forms, and individuals are empowered to define their own standards of beauty, ultimately embracing self-expression rather than adhering to beauty as the sole end goal.