This week, we’ve had a slew of kids attending our winter camp. Two of them stand out in my mind particularly, neither of which I actually taught. They’re simply so memorable because of their appearance. These two 5th/6th grade girls approached me to say hello and although their orangey-hued hair stuck out, I was taken aback even moreso by their blue eyes. If you have never seen an Asian with bright blues eyes and orange hair, it’s creepy. And completely unnatural looking. So much so that you can’t help but stare like you were looking at some oddity of an creature at a circus. On closer inspection, it appeared as though they had already had the cosmetic eye surgery so many Koreans get upon high school graduation. I’ve previously mentioned the importance of appearance in Korea (up to 70% of Korean women in their 20s and 30s have had plastic surgery), but to me, this is crossing the line; though it’s an extreme case, it’s not uncommon to see children with an altered physical appearance.
It does seem, however, that Korea is not the only country that has an obsession with this trend. Chris Rock’s recent documentary, Good Hair, follows African American women and highlights their obsession with having good hair, no matter the price. The documentary also exhibits the controversy over the kiddy perm. It seems that it’s just as common in America as it is here in Korea, though some are taking a stand against it. I had to giggle a bit when I came across NappyKitchen.com, a blog that uses “humor to encourage [African American] moms to embrace their daughter’s wonderfully nappy, napptural, natural hair.” I guess even the most bizarre cultural phenomenons, such as the kiddy perm, can cross borders.
Yet, let me assure you, my friends, that such “dolling up” doesn’t stop at the human level. In Korea, they are just as obsessed with dressing up and beautifying their pets. Yes, appearance is that important. Due to the small apartments in which most Koreans live, their choice of house pets is basically limited to small dogs, which they often treat as family members. Small businesses that specialize in dog clothing and grooming have no doubt banked on this obsession. Walk down any busy street in Seoul and you will be sure to find an assortment of doggie costumes, hats, and shoes… yes, shoes. Still, I had seen this before my big move to Asia, so with the exception of the popularity of it all, it seemed pretty normal. One thing I had not seen, however, was the oddity of doggie hair dye. The most fashionable doggies have both their ears and their tail dyed. It seems that the season’s hottest colors include neon orange and fluorescent green. Think I’m kidding?