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NOW READING Idealistic, Hyped-Up, Unrealistic Standards: What Korean Beauty Is Really About
November 27, 2017

Idealistic, Hyped-Up, Unrealistic Standards: What Korean Beauty Is Really About

As one of the OG K-beauty influencers, Coco Park of The Beauty Wolf has a unique perspective on K-beauty — its evolution, the industry, and its media obsession with some unrealistic standards. Here, she sheds light on the dark side of K-beauty as an industry, and what Korean beauty really means to her.



The media around Korean beauty often holds up Korean celebrities as the ultimate goalposts to aim for. If you fall short of that, then you might come away thinking that you’ve failed and “OMG, what’s the point anyway and forget all of this I’m just going back to my St. Ives scrub and Proactiv.”


But you really need to check yourself if that’s your attitude. Think about why the media might do this, and don’t lose sight of your personal goals.


Sales via exoticism


The media can be pretty icky when it comes to exoticism, and sometimes companies aren’t really keen to shut that down. “Ohhh, look at this rare creature from a foreign land and her flawless skin! Her ancient secrets and crazy snail slime can also give you this pearl-like complexion, but you must buy every product I just coincidentally carry/manufacture!” When framed like that, it’s apparent there’s no objectivity, but there is whole lotta objectifying going on to drive that bottom line.


unrealistic standards
Korean actress Song Hye Kyo has long been the beauty standard in Korean beauty.




Beware of the person posing themselves as the ultimate knowledgeable being and sole cultural attache for any movement, whether it’s yoga, Crossfit, or beauty. They’re also most likely trying to sell you something as opposed to trying to genuinely educate and bring helpful knowledge to the forefront. That’s also how cults get started, so if you’re ever offered some Kool-Aid, pass on it and book it out of there fast.


Unrealistic standards


Advertisers have long since relied on unrealistic standards to keep us feeling horrible about ourselves so that we might keep blindly consuming products in hopes of achieving the impossible. They put us at war with ourselves — a war we never wanted to be in — and the only casualties are our self-esteems and wallets. This is an unwinnable war, so it’s best to never set foot on the battlefield and let them keep shouting into the void. If the void doesn’t answer back, eventually they’ll shut up.


What K-beauty really is about for me


So that bring us to the actual reality. The tenet of Korean beauty is having great skin, but I feel like it’s sensationalized to the point that people are starting to think that not having “glass skin” is punishable by public flogging.


unrealistic standards
Media outlets recently touted the “glass skin” routine of L.A.-based makeup artist Ellie Choi (which consists mainly of Cetaphil, sheet masks, and fruits and vegetables).


It’s actually really simple:


The real goal of Korean beauty is to have the best skin you can possibly have.


Did you hear that? That means it’s still the skin you have, it’s just the best version of it. Not to have Jun Ji Hyun’s skin. Your skin.


We set our own standards. This does not mean completely flawless is the goal and anything short of that is failure. Unless you’re a Real Doll, no one’s skin is completely flawless, so let’s remove that notion from the table right away. I know that might be hard since every ad we see is Photoshopped to the point of looking like a mask, but it’s not realistic, and deep down we know this. And yes, it is true that there are celebrities and normies out there who really do have near flawless skin, but that’s a genetic thing or the result of an entire team of artists, gurus, and doctors. For 99% of us, we have flaws, and no amount of anything will totally fix them. We can make them better, we can improve, but unless you’re 20 and blemish-free you’re not going to look 20 again.


Take me for example: I’m aging, I have super crappy genetics, and I no longer have flawless, wrinkle-free, porcelain skin. I have visible wrinkles, I have sun damage (this was totally preventable, but I didn’t have the proper skincare education to stop it back then!), and I have visible pores. Sue me. And truth be told, at times it’s made me embarrassed to be held up as an ambassador for K-beauty because of how I look. I fear people thinking, “If that’s what she looks like on K-beauty, I’ll pass.”


I don’t have the disposable income to inject, fill, and resurface my skin back to flawlessness, but you know what I do have? I have healthy skin. My skin is fit. My skin is strong. I can handle acids, I know how to prevent further damage, and I don’t look as awful at this age as I would have had I not been educated in the ways of Korean beauty. I’m the best natural version of myself I possibly can be, and all of that is thanks to a Korean beauty skincare routine. I’m like a fitness instructor that’s not a size zero but is strong as hell. It’s not without work, I don’t look perfect, but it’s still totally worth it.


And most importantly, so are you. So beware of the snake oil salesmen, the unrealistic standards, and the media out there trying to make you feel like trash. You’re a treasure, and we’re here to pass along the knowledge we have to keep you feeling as valuable as the one-of-a-kind jewel that you are.


Have you ever felt disappointed trying to meet the unrealistic standards some companies and media hold up? What does Korean beauty mean to you? Let’s change the conversation around K-beauty and talk about it!




Coco Park is an author, beauty journalist, blogger, podcast host, and all around oddball living in Montreal Quebec with her family. Originally from the southern USA, she worked for several years in the makeup industry as a professional makeup artist and holds a certificate in esthetics. She is a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Want to know more? Check her out on the Beauty Beyond Basics podcast, on her blog, on Instagram @thebeautywolf, and in her book "Korean Beauty Secrets: A Practical Guide to Cutting-Edge Skincare & Makeup."



Beautifully written, as always, Coco. I especially appreciate this statement: "I don’t look as awful at this age as I would have..." This, I believe, is the road most of us are on, and being able to say that things could've been worse skin-wise is one hell of an accomplishment. We don't have to be perfect, but we don't have to beat ourselves up for being who we are. After all, it's just skin.

Good talk haha I totalmy agree, the matter is to have healthy skin !

This is a great article. People need to realize that less really is more. The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine really is pretty excessive. From what I've read and heard, many Korean people do not actually use that many products at one time. Constantly layering ingredients upon ingredients onto your face will overwhelm your skin barrier and more often than not, not all of those ingredients are going to work well together and will either result in your face breaking out, weakening your barrier even more, or simply no change in your skin condition.

I loved your article because is so realistic!
People can get obsessed with theyr own image to the point of making bad to themselves, like wanting to get super skinny or using very harsh products on theys faces to achieve a unreallistic goal.
We should just be happy and healthy.

Isn't it refreshing when the standard is just the best you can be, and not like some Photoshopped celebrity? I love this article too because it gives me room to breathe and just be!

Thanks for writing this article. It's hard sometimes not to get caught up trying to look like the actresses on TV and thinking the next product will do magic. Since starting K-beauty, I believe it's taking the best possible care of my skin with the best possible products that are out there that I can afford. I'm definitely not flawless, but doing K-beauty makes me feel good and it does my skin good!

Thank you so much for reading it <3
Just allowing ourselves to feel good is a great gift we can give to ourselves.

My skin has been freaking out for months now, and it's hard not to get down on yourself. But seriously, I love that message that you're just reaching for YOUR best skin, not Song Hye Kyo's skin. It gives me a lot of comfort when I look in the mirror.