Miss Korea is an annual national beauty pageant (this year taking place on July 8th). The title of ‘Miss Korea’, is still a relevant part of Korean modern culture. Not only is it the pinnacle of glamour and beauty, it is also a respected and honourable position to be a representative of Korea. There’s a saying that every Korean girl has dreamt of being Miss Korea at least once, but how does one become the title holder?
Just like any other job, it involves a lot of paperwork to even qualify to compete in regionals. Contestants must be a Korean national, aged 18-24, and must have lived or studied in the region that they are competing in for at least 5 months. Those who have competed in the pageant before will be disqualified. From there, the contestants go through rigorous interviews, and train for one month.
While appearance is important, dedication, personality and showmanship are vital. The tough process of becoming Miss Korea has spawned a TV series (2013-2014 ‘Miss Korea’, variety show (2013 ‘Miss Korea Secret Academy’), and music (Lee Hyori – Miss Korea). All of them commenting on ‘the ugly side of beauty’, using glamour and sex appeal to soften the blow of the dark message. This ‘edgy’ commentary has now become dull. Many people know the challenges of becoming Miss Korea and now the general public are eager to try.
While there are no formal restrictions, pageant contestants are mostly 170cm tall and weigh around 50kg. These measurements are the biggest hurdle as the average height for women in Korea is 160~165cm. Many who dream of becoming Miss Korea attend ‘Miss Korea’ academies, where they are coached on everything from speech, interview, diet, exercise and the perfect walk. It turns out that you truly can be whatever you want in Korea, as long as you have money (and height).
While all the contestants are beautiful, do they have a face which can represent Korea? Back in 1957 when the first Miss Korea was held, beauty was traditionally defined by a round face with small yet symmetrical eyes and mouth. Now they seek Eurocentric bone structure with a hint of Asian features. Plastic surgery was obviously the only option for women who wanted to achieve this rare look.
Images of the 2013 contestants looking the same went viral online, and only further damaged Korea’s reputation as a plastic nation. Actually the contestants did not look the same at all, but it was the foolishness of one photo editor, who photoshopped the images too much in the publicity photos. But the damage was already done, and Korean beauty became a laughing stock again.
Of all the contestants, Kim Yumi (Miss Korea 2012) is the most infamous for her plastic surgery. When photos of her ‘before’ pictures were leaked online, people were shocked and appalled that someone created by a surgeon could hold such an important title. You would think that a more natural looking winner would win over the public, but the following 2013 winner Yoo Ye-bin was criticised for looking too plain.
The Miss Korea pageant exposes the two sides of Korea, the traditional and the modern. Selecting the representative amongst 50 beautiful women is becoming more challenging, as the public seek both natural and beautiful. Those who seek to be Miss Korea, use all their time, energy, and money by attending these academies and altering their face. Should the pageant be open only for those who are born with it, or should we accept women who use resources to make their dreams a reality?
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