While desiring to look youthful is common in most countries, the ideal age of beauty varies. Broadly speaking, Western women find mid to late 20s to be the peak of beauty. Young girls style themselves to look more mature, while older women maintain fitness to look fresh. This ‘beauty’ age bar seems to be set much lower in the Far East, as late teens to early 20s is most desired in Korea. While a ‘baby face’ in the West has more connotations with chubby cheeks and pre-pubescent qualities, it is considered to be the most important and desired feature in Korea. ‘동안’/ ‘dong-an’ is the term that is used to describe a youthful face, and it is always considered a compliment, like the word ‘beautiful’.
But, why is it that Korean women want to look so much younger than those across the pond? What started it, and what does it mean to have a baby face? A combination of factors are likely to have created this overall movement. (Disclaimer: While speaking generally, it is important to note that not all women, and not all Korean women may feel this way; this is only a commentary on mainstream tastes.)
1. Confucian Roots
Confucianism had a major role in shaping Korea during the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasty, and its influence is still present in modern society. In the past, the woman’s role was restricted to marriage and childbirth; because of this, chastity and purity were valued as it had strong ceremonial significance which understandably meant that younger brides (or young looking brides) were desired. Although one’s appearance has very little to do with their purity and chastity, this unconscious connection is still remnant in Korea today.
2. Conservative Society
Although the woman’s social role has changed, in most parts, females are still expected to be innocent due to the conservative society. A new word has hit the mainstream lexicon relatively recently, which encapsulates the subtle balance of sexy and sweet that is most desired. ‘베이글녀’/ ‘Bagel Girl’ is a combination of the word ‘베이비페이스’/ ‘baby face’ and ‘글래머’/’glamour’ (meaning curvy body), creating the compound Ba-Gl, pronounced ‘bagel’, but not to be confused with the circular bread. Being overtly sexy is still attractive, but a baby faced girl is more acceptable in mainstream conservative society, as the youthful face also exudes innocence.
2. Symbol of health
There are unconscious biological reasons why humans are attracted to youth; it is associated with good health, fitness and fertility. Looking younger than one’s real age is also a sign of good genetics. Young women are always seeking the youthful and cheerful baby glow to emphasise their youth and health. The above comic illustrates in a dramatic way, the physical changes of typical Asian women. Although the term ‘Ajumma’ is a name for women in their 60s, most middle aged women fear the day that they move into ‘Ajumma’ status. Although not entirely negative, women do not seek to be called an ‘Ajumma’ as it has connotations of being chubby and motherly with a perm helmet. In a bid to move away from the stereotype, older women are becoming more desperate to look young and have a baby-face.
3. Symbol of Wealth
It is difficult to look young if you are not; unless you are extremely lucky and blessed with good genetics. Maintaining youth is an expensive and time consuming activity which is reserved for the wealthy. As Korea was once a very poor country not too long ago, most of the population relied on farming as the main source of income. The poor were naturally tanner due to manual labour than their richer counterparts who could rest at home. Back then, you could literally see the difference between the poor and rich. Although times have changed, still light coloured, youthful, even skin tone is associated with wealth because of these historical influences, but also the cost of products and derma-treatments.
4. Beauty Trend
Even if you don’t actively seek to look younger, the baby-face trend has meant that the media industry has heavily publicised this look. Advertising has reinforced into women, that looking young and having a baby face is beautiful and desired. Even in the beauty industry, the dialogue is much to do with achieving or maintain the baby face. There are always tutorials, photo shoots, new make-up products which all allow you to achieve the look. Naturally as a consumer in this environment, you will most likely move with the trend. While Kim Kardarshian in the West launched extreme highlighting and tanning into mainstream media, the prominence of teen-idols are forever reminding women of their age.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2, where you too can achieve this look!