Beauty Comes in All Sizes
A Path Between Poetry and Self-Acceptance
Story by: Lorena Jiménez
Pictures by: Manon Thore
Beauty has great diversity because, at the end of the day, it is in the eye of the beholder. Or at least that is how it is supposed to be.
Even though we have all heard this phrase before, more times than not, many beautiful attributes do not seem to be properly appreciated by society. This is even more so in a country like Korea, where standards of beauty can be quite narrow, a country in which, for many years, there was only one kind of beauty.
A Standard of Beauty to Rule them All
Beauty in Korea is, even today, a symbol of value, almost like having a good job or economic resources. It is a standard of value through which many people are praised or criticized, one guided by very strict rules that unfortunately not everyone seems to be able to naturally follow.
Yet, Korea is slowly changing. More people seem to be standing by their own version of beauty, fighting to defy the norm by embracing and loving their uniqueness. Slowly but steadily, many people seem to be breaking the mold, standing taller in their shoes, one person at the time.
For example, single eyelids which used to be deemed “non beautiful,” are now trending and many teens and youngsters are completely passing on double-eyelid surgery, still one of the most commonly performed surgeries in Korea. But now due to the influence of male fashion models locally and internationally, single eyelids have become more present than ever in the media worldwide, influencing many girls to now list single eyelids as an attractive trait for their ideal man.
Darker skin tones are also being increasingly embraced among Koreans and more and more body positive activists, individuals, and even models are showing up to the scene with something of their own to say. But even with the grip slowly loosening, it is still not easy to be different here, and as a “foreigner,” I also know that to be true. What stands out here is publicly looked at, almost stared at, and much more openly than in most other places. Yet we have to remember that it does not always have to be due to bad intentions.
Shine Wherever You Are
The inspiration for this editorial came to me in a very natural way. I had been playing with similar ideas for a while but it was on a simple subway ride on an average Sunday afternoon when the exact title for this piece hit me like a lightening.
As a fashion editor, I pay attention to many things, and l always seem to be unconsciously on the lookout for beautiful, creative, and special things. Even in the most unusual places. In this case, I was in the subway about to get off at my stop when a specific girl's style stood out to me. This is something that does not usually happen, especially in a place like the subway.
She had colorful purple hair, something that is occasionally seen among university students and artists but that is still not the average color in a still conservative country like South Korea. Her makeup was also quite unique and interesting. She had drawn on freckles and colorful blush on her cheeks, once again not a common makeup style in a country where perfect spotless skin is strongly preferred.
Her style suited her very well and she wore it with pride with an outfit fully coordinated in purple to complete her look. This may come in as a slight surprise to you if you have ever been to Korea, where you might have noticed that most people prefer to stay among a muted range of colors.
It was refreshing to see someone standing tall and proud embracing their uniqueness so fiercely, even though she might not have fit the Korean standard of beauty, nor was she following the mainstream set style.
When I quickly glanced at her, I wondered how often had she had been made to feel bad for how she looked and how many of her inner injuries were recent. In front of me, she seemed to be standing strong and confident, but I know from experience that we might not always feel all that confident internally as many of us have had to learn to build a shield around ourselves and our insecurities. Our eyes quickly locked and I smiled, wishing for a second that I was in a country where it was okay to say something like, “Hey you look pretty” or “I like your style” so she would know that she and her beauty were not being judged but appreciated.
The thought of anybody, particularly a young girl, being judged for merely being herself made me a bit sad as I believe that, as humans, we should accept and support each other, not tear each other down. So it was then and there that I thought about how many people might feel that same way on a daily basis and how, as an editor, I should at least try to give my 2 cents and spread the word, writing a piece to give some hope to those who might not be sure of their own value. I wanted to deliver that reassuring feeling of you being understood, where you can feel and understand that you are more than good enough and that you are supported.
I am Han Jiwon
I happened to cross paths with the - at that time still unknown - Jiwon at my next subway transfer. After my quick thoughts about this subject, I wished l could interview her and maybe tell her story. So in the middle of a crowded subway, I did something very unlike me, especially considering that l was in Korea: I tapped on her shoulder and told her that I really loved her look and that I would love to interview her. I was a bit afraid that she might take me for a lunatic, but to my utter relief and happiness she took my card and agreed, and that is how you are going to hear her story today.
“Hello, I am Jiwon Han. I was born in 1999. I am a university student majoring in creative writing. l was born in Pohang and moved to Seoul to study at university.” So went her answer when l asked her to briefly introduce herself and this is a bit about her story:
“When I was young, I always thought that I was not beautiful, not only that but I also thought it was wrong not to be ‘beautiful.’ I never had anyone to look up to that was a different type of beauty. All the celebrities were skinny, had big eyes and were very fair-skinned. Also back then there was no social media like now where you could see different types of people. Growing up l used to be made fun of at school but so were many kids and that also made me stronger. Now l have good friends, not a crazy amount but a few real friends that l can count on, good friends that support me.
“Those friends helped me build up some confidence, but also, strangely enough, so did posting pictures of myself online. At first, I was scared about posting, thinking about what kind of comments and reactions I would get, but fashion is one of the things that I love the most, so I decided to post the pictures that I liked anyway. To my surprise, there were a lot of positive comments. Of course, there were some bad reactions and nasty comments but I learned to live with those and l was actually taken aback and inspired by all the positive ones that l received.
“There were actually many more positive comments than negative ones, ranging from people telling me that l looked beautiful, to people thanking me for giving them confidence. I had never been called beautiful like that before, and it felt good to be supported in that way. It made me think, oh maybe they are right… Maybe l can be beautiful too...
“It was, of course, nice to be complimented but what made me feel even better was when other girls that maybe had a similar weight or confidence issues as me wrote me messages telling me that they had always wanted to wear this or that but that they had never dared because they were afraid of people's comments or not looking good in those outfits. Messages telling me that seeing my pictures gave them the confidence to wear what they love and be who they want.
“Knowing that l was giving confidence and support to other girls made me feel good and gave me a reason to keep being myself despite what others might say. I used to care but now l don't. I used to feel like something was wrong with me when people said certain things about me, but now if l could reply to any of those people l would not send them hate or say something equally as mean; l would just tell them that ‘it is not me who is somehow wrong but that it is perhaps their thinking that is wrong.’”
Fabrics and ink guiding her path
“That sort of thinking together with reading is what made me switch my mindset completely, as before deciding that I wanted to be a writer, I read a poem by writer Dong-ju Yoon. He is my role model and his name is actually the name that is written on my necklace in hanja. He wrote a poem that completely touched me and when I read it, I thought: ‘I want to write a poem just like his.’ He wrote a poem during the Japanese occupation of Korea and his sincere heart of thinking about his country was moving. That is when l realized that I also wanted to write a poem that touches and inspires people. His poem showed me what it means to have a strong heart, and after that I knew that I wanted to have a strong heart as well, not only for me but for others too.
“Nowadays, the most important part of my life is writing, but the next big thing is fashion. That is why I once decided that from that moment on, I would wear whatever l liked, because it makes me happy and I had once decided to love myself, honor myself and believe in myself. That is how I decided to think about it now, but I also once felt alienated, so I also felt the ‘Oh maybe l cannot do this’ and that is why l want to let other people know that they can also do something or wear something too.
“I want to tell people that it is ok to be different. I want to influence people for the positive, change their thinking, make them understand through my future poetry and stories that different does not have to be wrong. I want to write everywhere and for everyone. I want to write fiction and poems, but overall I want to write stories that make people feel like they are good enough. I want to write other people's stories, not just mainstream stories but stories that shed light on discrimination and violence against minorities. Starting first by sharing stories about Korea and then after learning more and more, going on and writing about everybody else's stories too.”
When asking this lovely and beautiful human my last question, which was something along the lines of what would you tell the world if everyone could hear you for a minute, this young at heart but strong in spirit 20-year-old told me:
"I would tell them to just do it, do whatever makes you happy. I would want to tell them to be themselves, because whatever race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, appearance you have or anything you are… it is not wrong. It is the individual personality what should be respected and that is what l wish to tell the world through my writing.
“Korea is changing and I also want to change with it, l want to change with my country knowing that even when it is true that sometimes I get people that look at me wrong, there are also people that look at me with welcoming eyes and for that l already feel happy and thankful.”
It is not about them; it is about you
It is funny that, when l saw Jiwon, l wished I had said something so she would have known that she was beautiful in other people's eyes as well. l wished I could have had let her know that she was not judged, and that is exactly the message she has been wanting to spread too.
We all have our own preferences, our own desired attributes and dreams, but just let me remind you to not let society, media or anybody else tell you what you should be. Be who you are, be what makes you happy; you always have room to improve or change if that is what you wish to do, but do not do it because of the feeling that there is something wrong with you.
Do not turn off your light just because of the fear of being seen as you are because my dear beautiful you, that is your superpower. And if you happen to be stared down at anywhere, just understand that, as Jiwon herself said, “You are not wrong, it is that thinking of someone looking down on you what is.”
Love yourself, you are wonderful, you are precious, you are enough. And today I celebrate us all.