Yuri’s comment from our previous class really struck me as I was thinking about my own growth from a teenager to a young adult. Sitting in the Gender & Media class, I only now am starting to see the aspect of images and representations in the media that should make me tilt my head, question, and take action (whether it be sharing my thoughts on this blog, or doing my own investigation to find a more helpful context). But outside of class, I get swept up in the everyday cycle and continue to not only evaluate myself, but also let others evaluate me based on these images and (mis)representations of me in the media. By “me”, I mean identities of myself both visible and invisible––male, Asian (South Korea), adult, international student, gay, cisgendered, able. If I have been socialized to evaluate myself against white, male, heterosexual, and attractive ideal within a heteronormative society for the first 18 years of my life, how do I learn to unlearn these “values” and respect myself more? Even looking back at my high school years, I realize how unaware I was of the stereotypes and inaccurate representations of Asians and gay/lesbian people were both in the media and the society (and the lack of representation of gay Asians, transgendered people, asexual people). Not only was the message from the society strong enough to suppress me into denying my own identity, but it was also showing me that my underrepresented or misrepresented identities didn’t really matter––that putting a pink triangle on your backpack, eating cafeteria-versions of “Asian” food during the Chinese New Year, and going to Asian Students Associations (school affinity group) was “enough”. I’m learning to really examine the world around me, but it’s proving to be a difficult process to maintain, and that it seems like the rest of the world hasn’t changed––my friends from high school who share multiple identities as me go on with their “normal”, more familiar ways. So is it too late––for me to completely rewire myself, for my generation to become more aware, and for the world to take action?
“Cultural messages on the rewards of thinness and the punishments of obesity are everywhere. … Most women accept society’s standards of beauty as “the way things are,” even though these standards may undermine self-image, self-esteem, or physical well-being” (Hesse-Bieber, 616).
Jung-min: There are 3 types of women for men. Look. Pretty ones. They’re a treasure. The average ones. We’re a present. You? A reject! Get it now?
Jung-min: Remember 3 types of women I told you about?
Hanna: I’m a pretty one now.
Jung-min: No. It doesn’t apply. You know why? Those with plastic surgery aren’t women. But monsters.
Jung-min: All men are the same. They say plastic surgery is okay, but not with their girls. That’s men. And Sang-jun is a typical [South Korean] man. Or he’s gay.
Hanna’s best friend, Jung-min, illustrates the mindset and awareness of the “most women” (context: In the Hesse-Bieber reading, she talks about and defines the average, media savvy––and media-conscious––woman that describes the women of the society) in society that “accept society’s standards of beauty as ‘the way things are[,]’ and clearly defines the hierarchy in these “standards[.]” Not only is Jung-min trying to ‘educate’ Hannah about the social systems––the “standards[,]” but she also embodies all aspects of “most women” in South Korean society. (616)
“A woman’s sense of worth in our culture is still greatly determined by her ability to attract a man. Social status is largely a function of income and occupation. … Even a woman with a successful and lucrative career may fear that her success comes at the expense of her femininity.” (616)
Sang-jun: Hanna is the one to be crying. She’s talented but ugly and fat. You’re untalented but gorgeous and sexy. You got it all going.
Sang-jun outlines the way the industry––and “our culture”––works; Hanna is considered worthless regardless of her voice and talent since her ability to attract a man is insufficient; Ammy, on the other hand, thrives from her attractiveness and her femininity at the expense of her individuality (and the possibility of actually improving her singing).
Hanna, after her transformation, gains a new privilege––her attractiveness––that almost make her feel infinitely powerful. [00:36:35]; [00:39:00]; [00:40:57]; [00:41:10]; [00:42:28].
However, Hanna struggles to keep up with the “ideal” image of attractive women; she is discouraged when she cannot attract the man of her dreams, Sang-jun.
Dr. Lee: Do you know what it is? It’s lack of confidence. Didn’t I tell you? Unless you act confidently, you can’t win his heart. Beauty is attitude.
The plastic surgeon later uses fashion magazines to ensue in Hanna the “attitude” and “self-esteem,” which she mimics in hopes of attracting Sang-jun. What the plot of the film refreshingly takes on to present us with the male character who, in the end, does not go by the standards of the media and society. (He still gets a “perfectly-thin” girlfriend.) However, how can anyone expect to gain self-confidence and “attitude” from the images in the magazine that uphold unnatural sexuality and put down the “real” self-identity of the reader?
Hanna soon realizes that her sense of worth is not justified by the superficial attention she receives, and that the standard of “attractiveness” may never be satisfied.
Pres. Choi: By the way… Let’s get your face fixed up. Slit your eyes bigger, and get your nose raised.
Hanna: Wait. Are you telling me that I’m not pretty enough?
Hanna: It’s scary. So I’m only a product. Hanna is worthless, but Jenny is a fortune. Is that it? Because of you, [I’ve been thinking] that I’ve been deceiving you. It’s been so hard. Now I see I was a big fool.
I have noticed, but more so after attending this Gender & Popular Media class, that the standard of beauty we each have is causing us to internalize the message (“This is what beautiful / sexy / attractive / (fill in the blank) looks like. This is how beautiful people dress / behave / sound / live. This is what beautiful people buy / eat / believe in / do.”) by recognizing the things we don’t do––and therefore we are not beautiful or sexy or wanted. We are told to feel that we are not what we want to be.
This type of self-criticism based on false evaluations wasn’t anything new or surprising or all that hidden; however, the way these messages can be manipulated to target different groups of people––whether the group identification is based on gender, age, race, sexuality, ability, or class––was rather a shock to me, especially since I had not noticed how much of my own self-identity was shaped and twisted by the media and the (South Korean) social norm, even when their standards really aren’t relevant anymore here in the US.
I kept on finding myself in situations or conversations that seemed to perpetuate the downward spiral of our self-esteem and self-image; my boyfriend and I would see each other, and see a piece of ourselves that didn’t deem “good enough.” (Good enough for what?) Sometimes it’s just a couple of bittersweet admiration of each other, while at other times, it almost becomes a contest of who looks more “awful” based on our different standards of beauty set by our cultural differences.
For me, being thin or skinny has never been a good thing. Being a male in Korea, I was always harassed by older relatives, friends (both guys and girls), and the popular media’s portrayal of men, for being “too skinny,” “too scrawny,” and “looking weak.” Although being skinny wasn’t entirely my fault (I was a preemie baby), by the time I was old enough to do something about “it”, internalization and socialization have already taken their toll and I spent more time worrying about six-pack abs and workout routines than anything else.
For my boyfriend, it was an entirely different story. The issue of obesity in America has been the most influential message for him while growing up, and this has evolved into the general dislike or prejudice against overweight or “fat” people and a constant concern about gaining weight. He firmly believes that he is “fat,” and that my skinny body type was “the ideal.” To me, not only does my boyfriend seem just perfect with his current body, but his juxtaposition of my body-image to lower his own also does not make sense, both because I feel that his perception is skewed and because I myself do not see my own body-image as “the ideal.”
Here are some snippets of the “positive” traits we see in each other:
- I am skinny.
- My boyfriend has masculine body.
- I have the “Asian hair” (apparently it always looks good).
- My boyfriend has green eyes (and bigger eyes).
- I have little facial hair.
- My boyfriend can grow a beard.
Of course none of these “positive” traits are focused on our intellect or personality while we are on the downward-spiral competition. And we would both deny the other’s compliments, out of modesty or denial.
But what these experiences make clear for me is the illogicality and the foolishness of human perceptions forged by the messages we consume from the media (and the society). How can one trait, being “skinny” for example, be both admired and despised at the same time?
It’s almost as if the media and the companies who benefit from the paid messages are trying to minimize the deadweight loss of their target audience. A shampoo company could profit from hair thickening shampoo by idealizing thick, strong, and possibly more masculine hair to my boyfriend, while marketing another, hair softening shampoo product by idealizing a smoother, softer, and silkier hair for people with much coarser hair like me.
The media is tapping into our insecurities, and we are also at fault for perpetuating these negative mindsets about ourselves and each other. The popular media definitely has to step up their game and stop intoxicating the masses’ mind, but we also have to step back, take a deep breath, and shut down our own internalizing machine.