Escape the Corset: How South Korean Women are Defying Beauty Standards

South Korean skincare routines have set standards in the beauty industry for years. However, from the country that owns the makeup market comes the “Escape the Corset” movement, which shows that Korean beauty standards can be a lot uglier than they seem. Grace Tepper shows how people are now cutting ties with the pressure of an industry that demands conformity, and what they are demanding instead.

When it comes to cosmetics and plastic surgery in Korea, business is booming. It is estimated that at least 20 percent of South Korean women undergo some sort of procedure, and that number is even higher the younger the patient is. The most common procedure, a “double-eyelid surgery,” involves inserting a crease into the eyelid to make the eyes appear larger. Some girls are even given these surgeries as graduation presents or gifts.

The reasons for plastic surgeries and strict skincare regimens vary. For many, it’s only skin-deep, a wish to alter oneself to be seen as more beautiful or fix a feature perceived as unattractive. Others pay for procedures to look like cultural icons, such as K-pop stars, or to appear likeable/ employable when it comes to their professions.

The Escape the Corset movement has gained popularity in recent years as a revolution against typically strict standards. In a world where advertisements for plastic surgery are everywhere in the media and on the streets, many Korean women have had enough. They’ve begun to trade expensive makeup collections and 10-step skincare routines for more freedom of expression, cutting their hair short to sport the signature bowl-cut of this new beauty movement.

Youtuber Lina Bae was interviewed by the New York Times about her experiences in the beauty industry and involvement with the Escape the Corset movement. She recounted the exorbitant amounts of money she spent on beauty products per month and the Youtube tutorials she made along with them. Her decision to change her lifestyle came after realizing the toll that harsh beauty standards took on young girls, and decided that she did not want to conform to the social laws that she grew up around. Now makeup-free with a drastically different lifestyle, she makes her videos and online presence about her other interests.

However, it’s also important to remember that this movement shouldn't become another type of corset; one saying that all women should not wear make-up or have long hair. There has been continuous criticism of this movement since it launched in June. Some argue that is has shaped young people's point of view that wearing make-up was the direct equivalent of wearing a corset.

Those in support of Escape the Corset also face a backlash from mainstream media, who disagree with the abandonment of current popular Korean beauty trends and expectations. However, for many people, it is a celebration of Korean feminism and embodies a new freedom in women, where more than one lifestyle is supported and expressed. As more and more women Escape the Corset, Korean women continue to break the plastic mold they were raised with and explore other perspectives on beauty and body positivity.