[200 Pounds Beauty] Is to be beautiful to be in pain?: Film/Reading Parallel

“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.

Hanna: Do you find me repulsive with plastic surgery? Scared? … Get rid of these. They’re repulsive and scary.
This film, overall, does not necessarily condone plastic surgery; it bluntly shines light on the superficiality of our standards of beauty, the society’s treatment of women, and the different kinds of pain women endure to fit in and survive.
Even as the film ends on a happy-ending with all loose ends tied up, the last message it leaves the audience with is the image of the “average” woman striving to physically mold herself into the society’s standards, turning to plastic surgery and sacrificing her time and money, and enduring pain of a full body surgery. [01:54:09]
 The men in the film do not face any real pain, nor do they go through any change (except for maybe Sang-jun and his growth in perspectives). The rather shady plastic surgeon thrives on his fame and enjoys his position of power as an upper-class and professional male.
I highly recommend this film, for its messages and its well-timed humor to make its more difficult messages heard.

2 thoughts on “[200 Pounds Beauty] Is to be beautiful to be in pain?: Film/Reading Parallel

  1. I’m sure that the both of us especially are all too familiar with South Korea’s obsession with looks. South Korean pop culture is in a catch 22 – you must be physically perfect but you should also be blessed with this naturally. Online fandoms obsess over whether a certain celebrity had gotten work done or whether she SHOULD get work done.

    I watched this movie in high school and agree that it shone a much-needed night on the dark side of plastic surgery. However, I also remember feeling conflicted about the last segment, when Hanna (the protagonist)’s best friend, after all that Hanna had been through, also decides to get plastic surgery. Did her best friend not learn anything? It seemed to allude that beauty is still worth all of that pain.

  2. I completely agree. Which is also why I so strongly appreciate the director’s decision to include the segment in the film. I think where I’m kind of uneasy about it is the implied code of humor used in this segment, its placement also as the last message of the film.
    The film’s attitude toward plastic surgery was not all that sympathetic. Just off the top of my head, the definitions of “plastic surgery” used by the characters in the film were: “n. A part of medical procedures that help remove the scar from your soul; n. A chance to live a life rather than a suicide; v. (to have) Something vulnerable people do to feel better about themselves; n. Something that is okay, but they wouldn’t prefer it for their “own sake” (their girlfriend, wife, etc.); adj.n. Something repulsive, scary. They were pretty evenly voiced, and all of them were all true and valid within the context of those moments in the film. I guess maybe, the final gesture from the film, this (dark) comedic view of the average woman of the society, comically desperate to change her entire body––to change her identity… maybe it was a commentary on the behaviors of the average, media- and culturally socialized young women of South Korea. maybe it wasn’t.

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