I’m proud to call Julianna Haahs a personal friend of mine. She’s always had an air about her that was genuinely sweet (extra emphasis on genuine) and selfless. Julianna is also beautiful on the outside as much as within, so when she visited Korea and her own family criticized her looks (which is a more than common practice in our culture) she became vocal in a very important way.
Julianna took to social media and wrote a public post about her experience and relationship with the unrealistic and detrimental beauty standards in South Korea, which is not a singular tale. This body shaming goes on too often, especially in South Korea which is the capital of cosmetic surgery on the planet.
Read below to see what Julianna had to say.
My name is Julianna Haahs. I’m Korean-American, 24-years old, and I have a message.
Currently I’m in Korea on summer break and today 3 family members, some of whom I’ve only met a handful of times in my entire life, ganged up on me saying:
1) I gained weight
2) My appearance has “deteriorated” from the last time they saw me and
3) It’s a shame because I was actually pretty the last around
They did not say this just at the initial encounter, but repeatedly over the whole night. To make things worse, they went from saying this to my face to talking ABOUT me as if I wasn’t there. Despite them being generations older than me, I confronted them boldly and told them that:
1) They can NOT talk to me like this
2) What they said is hurtful and wrong
3) I, in fact, have lost weight from the last time they saw me (it’s true).
[To note, I am 5’4″ and a size 2-4. I swim, dance and run 5-6 miles a few times a week. I am not skin & bones- I have muscle and I like it. I am naturally tan and I like it.]
They responded by telling me that this is the American flaw: that we only flatter (which couldn’t be further from the truth – Americans can often be way more candid), and that I should be eager to hear such critique because it will “stretch me” as a person.
I told them I understand their logic about critique, but I don’t agree with it in this context. The truth is what they said hurt me deeply because my health has indeed taken a toll ever since 2012 when I had a one-year work experience in Korea. It was during that time I suffered from overwhelming stress, intense bulimia, weight gain and acne. Ever since then, it’s been a slow but sure process of restoring my health.
After their insensitive comments, I ended up crying in a separate room because rather than telling me “the truth in love,” they jabbed at the very heart of my insecurities. And this isn’t the first time. Many girls [and I’m sure boys as well] know the feeling of being judged on sight. Of that first encounter, of those first words stating how you look rather than asking how you are.
I’m sharing this personal story because I want to change culture. Currently South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita. Numerous sources state that an estimated 1 in 5 Korean women have received some sort of alteration under the knife. I personally took into my apartment a random girl I met in the subway who had come from the countryside, used all her savings, and decided to get her entire face changed (eyes, nose, jaw…she even had fat removed from another part of her body and placed in her forehead to make her profile more distinguished since Asians have flatter faces). I told her she was beautiful and she didn’t need anything done, but when she decided to go ahead with the procedure, I insisted she stay with me during the recovery process rather than a motel, since I didn’t think it was safe for her to stay alone and unattended after such a major operation. At first she was alarmed. She probably thought, “Who is this COMPLETE stranger inviting me to stay with her post-operation?” But she felt my warmth and sincerity, understood the logic and since she really did not have money to spend on a motel, agreed. Her and I became good friends and when she went back to the countryside, I emailed her asking about how everything looked (before she was still swollen and taped up). She responded by telling me that despite all the work she had done, she still feels ugly.
I personally am not trying to condemn anyone who has had work done. I just cannot help but point out that that an epidemic on beauty has totally swept this nation. People’s eyes are being plagued, and an already relatively homogenous culture is being pushed and shoved into an even smaller box of standardized beauty. And 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!
News flash! Health can mean skinny but skinny doesn’t always mean healthy. And because the physical body does often reflect one’s emotional/mental/spiritual state, it isn’t a crime to perceive something with your eyes. I’m just saying, if someone’s appearance has “declined”, isn’t it better to ask the person what he/she may be going through? 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.
This is my little manifesto urging Koreans to break past tradition when it undermines a person’s very inner being. 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.