The Evolution of Beauty

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Here’s a neat one-minute run through 100 years of beauty in Korea, an interesting history slide. Another Youtube mentions how the shifting political and economic climate shaped the country’s ideals of beauty. From 1910 through the 40s under Japanese colonialism, Koreans felt their overlords looked more attractive and sought to emulate their style. When the North and South split, the Communist ideology of industry and egalitarianism encouraged the picture of the happy, vibrant laborer while Capitalism imported Western glamor trends into a country that I would add was hungry for development and voice. Do you see your American or European wife, mother, grandmother in the video? I caught an NPR clip last month that noted how both frivolous and serious the world of fashion is. I’m seeing it isn’t just at the personal and cultural levels we make a statement by our appearance. Fashion is also a politico-economic expression of a country.

Once you tap in, the sidebar offers a look at 100 years of beauty in many other countries:

112 thoughts on “The Evolution of Beauty

  1. Interesting! People tend to perceive whoever is dominant, powerful, within their culture, as the beauty ideal. We want to emulate our “betters.” It isn’t really true however, that is not what defines genuine beauty, but it is what heavily influences fashion and imitation. We’ll walk around with a fried egg on our head if necessary.

    • What’s interesting is that rather than resenting the Js, the Koreans wanted to emulate them. My father told me recently that when I was a wee thing in Korea, the TV was a rarity. Korea hadn’t developed yet, was still slowly springing back about 25 yrs after the Japanese rule and the one family in the neighborhood who secured a TV (for the whole neighborhood) proudly showcased the box MADE in JAPAN. They were proud. The Japs had denied my dad his name when he was born, renamed him (with Japanese characters) and he was proud of his TV after what Japan had put Korea through.

      This gets into class, self-perception….fascinating, really.

    • I always wished to have lived back then. I love the Lindy (met my husband on the swing floor) and used to joke myself awake from the fantasy by reminding myself that had I lived then, I (being Korean) would’ve been toting an unlawfully heavy jar of kimchee on my head with 8 kids trailing my skirt. But I just realized S Korea was actually well advanced in fashion by then. I know so little Korean history.

  2. This video made me want to learn more about Korean history, the parallels and differences between North and South social issues. I’m pretty ignorant on the subject. But yes, what a great comment that fashion is also a political statement! I never thought about it that way.

  3. Really interesting video and a fascinating way to look at history visually. I hope these clips also inspire people to think about themselves and who or what they are representing through fashion. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  4. I saw this video just before your beauty series. It was direct inspiration for what I wrote at the time. I don’t know the full history of the Koreas but the little bit I do know was reflected here and it struck me that society seems to present beauty, particularly in the arena of fashion, as it relates to transient reflections of dominant forces of the time – almost like appeasement rather than self-expression. “Until we all look the same” and we can’t see through our eyes anymore. We could all consider doing one of these videos/collages for ourselves just for the insights. For example, after the age of 24 it’s almost impossible to find a photo of me not dressed in black. Anyone who has been to Melbourne would immediately recognise the uniform, but has that always been the case in this part of town? Anyway, I find it all incredibly interesting.

    • I had no idea the series on beauty would hearken back to the one on race and culture from over a yr ago. Wow. I had wanted to include the vid in this series earlier – but have been scrambling just to be able to blOg (to be able to finish this sentence. Be right back).

      *30 min later* Just above our thread someone talked about the cultural dominance. I think the appeasement (become envy? which) becomes expression. There’s status in there. Cultural superiority. And my husband goes zonkers when I shed the black. =) I hear a post in there on dress, the black, and Melbourne.

      “I find it all incredibly interesting.” Agreed!


      • Appeasement –> envy –> expression. Oh yes! Status. I agree. eg. many of my friends and acquaintances identify the black-on-black-on-black look specifically with my personal style despite the obvious influence from and specific response to my environment. Consequently it tends to blow their minds when I wear bright colours, so I can imagine the impact on your husband when you change it up. πŸ˜‰

  5. But just to play the devil’s advocate (I love that role), there are some elements of beauty that are eternal. The model in the video would be beautiful in any era with any hairstyle and any accessories.

    • Oh, I know how you enjoy playing the devil, MG (not just advocate). πŸ˜‰

      Right you are. But the evolving expressions and preferences of a culture in regard to beauty – and the forces that determine them – are so very interesting.

  6. DIana, this is very interesting. I’ve not seen any of these before and I’ll go back to view more when I have some time. I’ve read and seen on the news of a more recent cultural aspect of the younger generation of young women in South Korea who are opting for plastic surgery in order to look less Asian. Supposedly it is fairly common place. Here in the states more and more young women are also under-going surgery for breast enlargement and getting the nose reconstructed plus fuller lips and, the list goes on. These trends are interesting and one has to wonder what will be the next fad in changing the female body.

    • “opting for plastic surgery in order to look less Asian.” Woah. To look less Asian?! Tragic. And do they even remember how exotic they (we ha ha ha) were thought to be even a few decades ago, what an attraction that was? The question is will the reconstructions be just a fad? Don’t want to know. Sigh.

  7. Can I “like” the fact I know more now then I did before I watched the video? It’s fascinating what shapes our behaviors, trends, perceptions. We think we are individuals, but we are so strongly influenced by the collective, we cannot fully see our choices as being independent of the cultures, politics, social and economic movements of our time.

    • You put it so well, N. I can add nothing to your articulation of the Collective. Actually reminds me of those books like 1984 but it’s the brighter side of it that comes to mind. And yes, you may like this for such meaningful reason, ha ha ha. I would expect nothing less than the most sincere like from you. =) *The Angel of Vengeance flyeth over thy threshold* Thanks.

  8. I saw on a film about the Korean War that any veteran of the war is welcomeD by the nation and given lodging and a military escort for their visit … Also that trees are sacred to the Koreans because they were all taken by the Japanese in WWII.

  9. Thank you. I enjoyed that as I’ve watched this transition first hand for nearly 3 decades. And I liked it too but only in the non-button smacking way.

      • I honestly think Korea gains five years every year. In 1990 I felt like Korea was in the 60’s. Today they are ahead of us in many ways. The changes are nearly as fast as the video.

      • My father said the other day they’re crazy over there. That’s a whole other post but he said they developed too fast, the implication being they couldn’t handle it. Morals out the window, for one thing. I wonder what Wife would think of the vid.

      • Tiger Mom agrees. Some of the changes are not good. She loved the video. Some of her style changes are evident. I liked it when her hair was below her waist. She has the short shoulder cut now. She prefers wash and go to the long hair.

      • I was captivated by the long hair tied back with the ornate hair bands that always matched her dress. She looked like living art to me. When I was in the Army I got my hair cut very short. One time she told me not to cut it that way any more or she would cut hers that way too. I should have listened. Bad things happen when I don’t listen. πŸ™‚

  10. Beautiful woman in any age..I’m partial to the 1930’s look. And oh, the changes that the 50’s brought. So evident here, and everywhere else, I guess. πŸ’•

  11. really stunning clip!
    made me to think about my own – finnish culture – that used to be/stil is influenced by americans.
    i feel better to think: β€œswedes we are not, russians we do not want to become, americans are far away, let us therefore be finns.β€œ hehe!

    • HA. I find it startling how we are all hearkening back to culture, race, and identity (an old series of mine, though it’s not the series itself you guys are referring to). A reader shared back then a video projection of how the majority of people will look in a few decades given all the biracial marriages.

      • well, as a bit rootless person it’s from time to time emotional valuable to feel kind of homeland, somehere…as a universal soul, anyway.

  12. Really enjoyed this video. Speaking of Korea during Japanese occupation, have you seen the kdrama “bridal mask” (“galksital” in korean). It’s based on the lives of the independence fighters during that time period- a great historical drama that I highly recommend.

    • I don’t watch anything – no time – and have watched only one Kdrama (20 yrs ago?). That is something, that you can say the title in Korean. =) I do know Koreans are VERY dramatic. I’m glad for the reference, though. Thanks so much. =)


  13. Love it. I can’t wait to check out the other episodes. Thanks for sharing. Now, I’m going to share, good stuff, HW πŸ˜€ I want the model’s hair and stylists πŸ˜‰

  14. Really powerful to see how much the political climate and not just the culture can affect ideals of beauty. Also, how much the West does influence the East. I see this too in the Philippines. Love how this post on beauty has multiple layers to it, Diana!

    • “I see this too in the Philippines.” That’s neat, though I’m not surprised given the the far-reaching powers of the West. So it begs the question…is it white archetypes that are found to be so appealing? Yes, I was taken with the depth of the video as I wrote and talked about it with you guys.

  15. Wow, that puts “beauty” in perspective, although it is interesting how there still seems to be some overarching sense that this particular woman is beautiful and that beauty is differently enhanced.

  16. Hmmm… I don’t know a lot about Korea… would I be wrong to say that I see plenty Western influences? Western influence also dominates the beauty & fashion scene in Nigeria although recently sporting natural hair and using traditional fabrics in dressmaking has been on the rise.

    To see more variety, control of mainstream media may have to shift or other ‘local’ beauty standards may need to find/bulldoze their way onto the global stage. I’d like that.

    Now, let me go and look for my long weave. I feel like transitioning to longer hair after the video! πŸ˜‰

    • “wrong to say that I see plenty Western influences?” No…that’s what I was expecting. The confirmation’s still interesting. Funny thing you mention the return to the traditional bc I’ve been seeing a lot of it in CA fashion the last 2 yrs and this yr particularly. It’s extended beyond the boutiques to chain stores like Old Navy. Oh, I can just imagine how lovely you’ll look with the long.

  17. I remember seeing a couple of these videos for the U.S. last year and found them pretty interesting. I like how 100 years can be condensed into 60 secondes. Kind of reminds me of the young woman who sent her photo out to digital artists around the world for them to adjust per their cultures standards on beauty.

    • It’s funny you point out the time part of the video bc I’ve been listening to NPR presentations on (and so thinking about) time. How interesting that she did that, Steph. Something to learn everyday. =)

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