Julianna Haahsis, a young Korean American woman, took to social media to call out South Korean beauty standards after her own family criticized her looks.
When she was 24 years old, Julianna was criticized by three family members, whom she barely knew, during her summer vacation in Korea.
They told her she had gained weight and that her appearance had “deteriorated” since they last saw her, saying that she was much prettier the last time they had seen her.
In spite of the fact that these family members were generations older than Julianna, she confronted them boldly and told them that their words were inappropriate and disrespectful.
She also pointed out that she had actually lost weight since they had last seen her. At the time, Julianna was 5’4″ tall and size 2-4.
Rather than apologize, her family members told her that her American thinking was flawed because Americans only flatter; they are not truthful when it comes to talking about people’s personal appearances.
They said that Julianna should be eager to hear their critique of her visuals because it would help her to grow as a person.
Although their intentions were good, the results were completely detrimental. After their insensitive comments, Julianna ended up crying in a separate room.
Rather than telling her the truth in love, her family had jabbed at the very heart of the insecurities she had dealt with for years. She didn’t need more people judging her based on how she looked rather than who she was.
Julianna shared her experience on social media because she wanted to help change the negative aspects of beauty culture and, more specifically, the unrealistic and detrimental beauty standards in Korea. Korea is considered the world’s capital of cosmetic surgery and has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita.
Julianna once met a girl on the subway who had arrived in Seoul from the countryside and used all of her savings to change her face. She wanted to “fix” everything from her eyes to her jaw and even wanted fat added to her forehead to make her profile more distinguished.
Julianna told the girl that she was beautiful and didn’t need anything done, but since the girl planned to go ahead with the procedures, Julianna insisted that she stay with her, rather than in a motel, during the recovery period. After the girl returned to the countryside, she emailed Julianna and told her that despite all the work she had done, she still feels ugly.
Julianna stressed that she does not condemn anyone who has gotten, or wants to get, cosmetic surgery. Her purpose is to point out that the desire to meet impossible beauty standards has become an epidemic in Korea.
She feels that Korea’s relatively homogenous culture is being shoved into an even smaller box of standardized beauty.
If you’ve ever just sat and people-watched in Apgujeong, it’s eerily similar to a scene from Stepford Wives. Where did all the nuances of Korean faces go? I like thin, narrow eyes! I like wide faces! I like different nose shapes. I like different body structures. Now everybody is striving to be a size 00, porcelain-skinned, double eye-lid, V-jaw-shaped clone!
— Julianna Haahsis
Julianna said that healthy can mean skinny, but skinny doesn’t always mean healthy. Instead of commenting on someone’s “deteriorating” appearance, she suggested that people try to find out the reason why it has changed.
What if work is stressful? What if he/she is sick? What if someone in the family died? What if he/she is undergoing depression? What if it’s a natural process of aging, and it’s beautiful in its own right? Anyone can see the flesh. Only those who love can see the heart.
— Julianna Haahsis
Julianna’s “little manifesto” urges Koreans to “break past traditions when it undermines a person’s very inner being”. She encourages them to look at one another with love, not judgment, and focus on inner beauty instead.
Ask God for new eyes because the way he sees people is clearly not the way my relatives saw me. He sees beauty. He sees distinction not disgust. And because he has crafted everybody in the womb with detail and originality, he certainly doesn’t want to look down and see all of that carved away.
— Julianna Haahsis
Julianna’s post, written in many years ago, is certainly no less relevant today than it was back then. Besides, if someone’s calling her appearance “deteriorated”, what hope is there for the rest of us?!