I've spent this past week doing a lesson on "Beauty" with my students. The idea had been stewing for some time, and I knew I wanted to try and pick their brains on the topic, before my contract was up. This seemed like the perfect opportunity, as I struggled to create another lesson plan.
The results have been quite interesting so far. Instead of an activity, it's more of a conversation based class, where I show them photos and they tell me what they think. I run the gamut from celebrities with before and after photos, right through to botched plastic surgery videos on YouTube.
But what's fascinating, are their thoughts on the subject. At the start of every class, I ask them, "What does 'beautiful' mean?"
Most responses are as follows:
"Perfect 'V' shape!" (referring to the 'V' of your face)
"Perfect 'S' shape!" (referring to the 'S' silhouette)
You get the idea.
My goal for this lesson was to somehow ingrain it in their heads that beauty comes from inside rather than outside, (something that everyone seems to know, except my students, it seems). In fact, I made sure to end each lesson with an encouraging "... if your heart and mind are good, your beauty will shine from within" speech.
At one point I think the idea started to register with a few of the girls... until a photo of Kate Winslet showed up on the screen.
"Titanic!" one girl shouted.
"Yes, this is the actress from Titanic," I said. "Do you think she is beautiful?"
"No!!" they said, almost in unison.
"Why is that?"
I was dumbfounded! Were they telling me that getting older meant losing beauty? I felt forced into a battle and dove right in.
"Is your mother beautiful?" I asked. There were some nods and uncertain stares.
"OK, how about your grandmother?" I received 30 blank looks and dead silence. "You know, one day you too will be old," I said. "How would you like it if young people called you ugly then?"
This seemed to affect some students who blushed in embarrassment, while others simply rolled their eyes.
I was telling S that since a majority of the young women in Korea seem to think the same way -- that external beauty and plastic surgery are keys to happiness -- there must be a bigger problem at hand.
Here I'd like to point you towards another blog that explains how the Korean media markets to self-conscious youth and young women, with the help of the English alphabet. Korean Women Are Not Alphabets, a blog post/article that appeared in the Korea Times, explains how the media uses letters like M, S, U, V, W and X to depict the ideal body shape for a woman. Yes, the so called 'perfect' woman should have all these alphabets.
If you watch Korean television, go to grocery stores and even ride the subway, you are bound to cross advertisements depicting how you too can achieve these letters -- through juice boxes, traditional drinks, a certain diet, and gadgets and gizmos tailored to target specific areas on your body.
There's no proof really that any of these things work... however, it's interesting to note that though Korean women are some of the slimmest women on the planet, they also consume the most amount of diet supplements. Check out The Grand Narrative to read more on this fascinating subject.
Hence, my lesson for the week has been as difficult as it's been interesting. Though I've been tested and had moments of frustration during the classes, I also feel sorry for my students. I hope that some day they'll be able to look past the media messages being sent their way and finally realize the truth behind the idea of 'beauty' -- that it most certainly does come from within.
Image courtesy of Google Images