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Korean Beauty

April 7, 2022 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

As part of our Spring 2022 series on contemporary Korean culture, please join us for an event with Prof. S. Heijin Lee (New York University) and Prof. Hye-Kyoung Kwon (UNC-Chapel Hill) looking at Korean beauty products and standards of beauty. This event will be moderated by Prof. So-Rim Lee of the University of Pennsylvania.

Prof. S. Heijin Lee (New York University) will speak on “Making over ‘The Big Reveal’: Neoliberal Multiculturalism and the Globalizing of the South Korean ‘Look’ “:

Searching the words, “South Korean Plastic Surgery” will lead to a plethora of vlogs with titles like “My Plastic Surgery Experience in Korea.” Sponsored by plastic surgery clinics or medical tourism agencies, such vlogs chronicle the YouTuber’s journey to South Korea, their multiple surgeries, the pain of recovery and surgery’s results. Focusing on US-born BIPOC YouTubers, I show how these vlogs are remaking the Makeover genre. I argue that these videos are legible through globally shared neoliberal multicultural sensibilities and as such, enact the South Korean “look,” made popular by K-pop idols, as global by literally showcasing non-Korean bodies transformed as such.

S. Heijin Lee is Assistant Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University whose research explores the imperial routes of culture and media. In addition to her forthcoming book, The Geopolitics of Beauty, which maps the convergence of pop culture and plastic surgery coming from South Korea, Lee is co-editor of Fashion and Beauty in the Time of Asia (NYU Press, 2019) and Pop Empires: Transnational and Diasporic Flows of India and Korea (University of Hawai’i Press, 2019). Lee has been featured on National Public Radio’s Code Switch, Korea Society’s “K-Pop 101” series, and at KCON discussing beauty, pop and power.

Prof. Hye-Kyoung Kwon (UNC-Chapel Hill) will speak on “K-Beauty’s Rise from Dictatorship: AmorePacific’s Saleswomen and the Park Chung Hee Regime of 1961-79”:

My talk is about the non-singular and lucrative power of K-Beauty and its international allure: from its ubiquitous call for translucent, BTS-like skin (best maintained by cosmetic products from VT Cosmetics) to its cutting-edge surgical enhancement procedures developed in South Korea, and now available across nations like China and Hong Kong. Upon delving deeper into Korea’s socioeconomic and political history, connections emerge between South Korean modernization and the US occupation, an emergent South Korean cosmetics industry, and the export-driven military dictatorship of 1961-79 led by Park Chung Hee. These connections show us that K-Beauty is not just a trend, but a significant historical phenomenon.

The second part of my talk will discuss the South Korea’s pioneer cosmetics chaebol AmorePacific, whose door-to-door saleswomen were newcomers to a changing workforce; they were also door-to-door beauty evangelists able to disseminate knew knowledges of beauty products and skin regimens to everyday Korean women. They thus empowered both saleswomen and customers to explore new understandings of their own beauty and femininity, of ideals of international beauty and femininity, and in various cases, of their own possibilities of self-entrepreneurship.

Hye-Kyoung Kwon is a visiting lecturer in Korean Studies in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This series is free and open to the public and held virtually over Zoom.



April 7, 2022
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
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Carolina Asia Center
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The Carolina Asia Center supports diverse Asia-related events. However, CAC co-sponsorship of any talk, seminar, documentary screening, film screening, performance or celebration does not constitute endorsement of or agreement with the views presented therein. As an academic institution, we value diverse perspectives that promote dialogue and understanding.

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