“At first, it was very embarrassing to me to be praised for my single eyelids, cheek bones or flat nose by a designer or photographer because I thought it was my handicap. However, I realized what I should emphasize among life size models.” This was the famous Korean model Jang Yoonjoo’s speech after her trip to Paris. Nowadays, many fashion or media experts say the Oriental Woman has a very mystical attraction. This preference was also discovered by Korean exchange students who visited Western countries. The winner of the 2007 Miss Universe was Mori Riyo who was Japanese. The year, as Korean representative to the competition Lee Honey ranked fourth, a breakthrough in the barrier against Asians was seen. In addition, in the Miss Intercontinental contest which has always been more exclusive towards Asians and is held in Europe or South America, Korean representative Yu Hanna also made a great achievement by ranking second. These prizewinners wear an Oriental mask rather than distinctive Western features. As many Asian women are winning prizes in world-famous beauty contests, it can be argued that standards of beauty are changing to admit more varied values. The existing recognition which regards Caucasian patterns as the absolute standard of beauty is an example of the cultural flunkeyism of East. However, in the West, the frequency of hiring Asian Models for famous brands’ advertising is increasing. Although at only 168cm she is shorter than most models, Japanese mixed-race model Devon Edwenna Aoki is becoming a world-famous fashion model. CHANEL, the world famous fashion brand, also recently ran an advertisement which used Korean model Hye Park. This advertising trend is not limited to CHANEL, but can also be seen in Salvatore Ferragamo and Balenciaga.
Orientalism – The Janus Face
As modernization was led by Western society, the East became passive, only introducing Western Civilization. This tendency influenced cultural aspects and many values or standards of beauty imitated those of the West. Through this mechanism, many Oriental regions came to believe that western culture was superior to that of the East, and based on this cultural toadyism, many Asian countries traced western cultural patterns rather than cultivating Oriental uniqueness. Because of this, Western standards of beauty were accepted as absolute and universal. Recently, however, a movement has appeared which recognizes Oriental culture as a novel standard of beauty and cultural values. This change is not limited to women’s beauty but has been seen in many cultural patterns from fashion to spiritual ideology. This change which has an interest in Oriental culture is called Orientalism.
Defined by the West - Negative Orientalism
The word Orientalism first appeared in 1830s France and was a trend of Romanticism. It is a concept which has a relationship with the Orient and exotic oriental tastes. Orientalism involving interest towards the Orient has double meaning. Edward W. Said, American culture critic (1935~2003), said the word Orientalism embodies the ideological view of the East held by the West. That is, as the subjective organizing concept of Orientalism is Western, the East is in a passive position observed, investigated and defined by the west. In other words, Orientalism is a scientifically systematized concept using rational western logic. Actually, once you see that the trend of having an interest in Eastern culture began in Western industrial society and did not begin voluntarily within Asia, Said’s assertion is impressive.
Concerning the West’s interest in Asian women, Korean journalist Hong Se Hwa said in his essay that the interest is born of Western men’s machoistic fantasy about Eastern society. In other words, the obedient Oriental woman who is oppressed in Eastern regions, even in a passive society, stimulates western men’s sexual fantasy, and this mechanism romanticizes Oriental beauty. Practically, it can be seen frequently that Oriental women are sexually abysed in famous Western art works of the past, such as ‘Slave Auction’ byJean Léon Gérôme,M ‘Odalisque,’ and ‘Turkish Bath’ by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.
Admiring Lux – Positive Orientailsm
However, Orientalism has not always had an oppressive view of the Orient. Since ancient times, the West has held a notion called “Ex orient lux” (Light from the East). As this slogan suggests, the West regards the East as the source of truth and wisdom. Therefore, Orientalism is a kind of admiration of the Oriental region and also perceiving the region as an ideal land. Orientalism also contains the desire to learn about Oriental spiritual values and their outcome, religion, ideology and culture. The first literary occurance of the yearning oriental spirit is in Thomas More’s Utopia. More set the location of Utopia in the Orient and described an ideal land which was full of dreams, mystery and peace. More’s recognition reflects West’s attitude to Asia. Recently,this kind of Orientalism has been highlighted more. Max Weber, a German socialist (1864-1920), said that the rationality of the West had nothing beyond the function of a tool. The ideology which concentrates only on rationality and utility cannot answer the question of ‘how to live,’ or ‘why to live.’ Nowadays, limited by this skepticism, the article notices that many famous American CEOs find their way with the help of Oriental religion or meditation. More practically, according to the Times, the number of Americans who meditate has doubled in the last 10 years. The eagerness for Oriental civilization also can be seen in the fashion field. World famous fashion brand ETROhas gained popularity by using a praisley print which emits an Oriental atmosphere on its products. Oriental costumes are applied to fashion and also getting popular. Many items contain hints of kimono, such as using obi -like belts or gowns which imitate yukata. The construction of Chinese costume is also applied to modern clothes like Chinese collars or slits up to the collar bones. In addition, Indian costume like the sari which is worn around the head and shoulders or the choli which is shaped like a tank top and henna also repeatedly appear in famous fashion collections. The reason for Oriental fashion’s activity is it effect. The Orientalism in fashion aims not only at mysterious effect but also aristocratic impression. In the past in Western society, it was only the upper class that could choose or collect oriental art works. As they held parties at which guests wore Oriental costumes and accessories or displayed Asian items, they showed off their taste and status. Today’s interest in Oriental arts and crafts is also related to this historical background. Another reason for this trend is related to a film trend in the early 1990s in the West. As movies set in Southeast Asia such as The Last Emperor and Indo China gained popularity, Oriental beauty, which retains natural beauty without the drawbacks of deforestation or exploitation, also gained popularity. These trends are a kind of positive Orientalism which reflects and admires Asian nature, culture, study and spirit.
Korean’s Position in the Orientalism Trend
In this way, Korea has also plunged into this Oriental trend especially regarding mentality. Dan World, a Dan study institute, is a representative example. Dan World developed a program using hypogastric breathing and meditation which is mixed with Indian Yoga. With these programs they are advancing into the world, not only locally. Dan World started under the name of Dan Yoga in 1991, and at present, manages 140 branches. A foreign client, John Kinburg (50), who is in the Dan Yoga program, stated “Why I started the Yoga program is that until now, I thought that I lived too fast and too stiffly.” This is not over. Korean culture is advancing into the world as part of the Orientalism trend. The self-cultivating Korean character Pucca has the image of a traditional Asian girl. She has earned over 16 billion won in royalties, and famously cooperated with the Italian fashion brand Benetton to sell fashion items from T-shirts to bags and shoes printed with her image, for which she earnedover one billion won. “The reason for Pucca’s popularity is freshness. The Oriental atmosphere rooted in black and red feel fresh and appeal to Spaniards”, explained Mr Sergio, the official in charge of overseas trade in Euro Mundo enterprises, which sells Pucca character products in Spain. Other examples are Korean films which have Korean traditional flavor like Chun Hyang Dyun or Chui HwaSeon and which have won awards at famous international film festivals. In addition, films based on original Korean scripts and displaying modern Korean sentiment like My Sassy Girl, My Wife Is Gangster, Monster, and A Tale of Two Sister (Janghwa and Hongryun) are also being appreciated and exported to the Hollywood market.
Recently, Koreans have been excited about Korean figure skater player Kim Yuna and the singing group Wonder Girls member An Sohee. People are enthusiastic about their Asian identity but there are still some people who use the yardstick of western beauty, another name for flunkeyism, and want to have cosmetic surgery to look more “Western”. Toadyism also exists in our linguistic habits, especially in fashion magazines. Words like Celebrity, Luxury, Wearable, Formal, and “Bling bling” are imprudently presented in English although they can be translated into Korean. Abusing foreign language for the reason that it can be delivered in a more polished style is also a barrier faced by Koreans. This bad habit is another form of toadyism, clashing with the sprit of designer Lee Sangbong who said ‘The most traditional Korean is the most universal’. He merges fashion with the Korean alphabet Hanguel. In spite of being Korean brands, some companies, especially in the fashion and cosmetics industries, employ Western models to promote their products’ image. It is the most representative form of toadyism which reflects the perception that western beauty is superior to eastern beauty.
Who Knows Genuine Beauty?
Although people like seeing beautiful women like Mojang or Yuhee, if fish see them they hide in the water, if birds see them they fly away into the sky, if deer see them, they run away.
Among these four, who knows genuine beauty?
This was written by Changtzu in his essay on On Arranging Things(Jemul, qi wulun). Through mankind’s eyes some people can be seen as absolutely beautiful men or women but through another organism’s eye like those of fishes or birds, they may not be beautiful. With these words, Changtzu insisted that because every being is varied and individual, no objective standard, beyond the being’s uniqueness, can exist. That is, as humans are also limited in existence, people should not try to estimate another being with only the yardstick made by themselves. Originally, this sentence applied to people who judge others with dogmatic yardsticks requiring various senses of value. However, conversely, this sentence also can be applied to the bad habits of the Asian media who are influenced by western standards and devaluate themselves. As previously stated, Orientalism has two phases. The first is positive Orientalism, admiring and yearning for Oriental culture. The other is, on the other hand, negative Orientalism which turns Oriental things into passive objects. No matter how positive the trend of modern Orientalism may be, it has limitations which are imposed by the West. It is ironic that culture which cannot be conceded by native inhabitants can be conceded overseas. Asia needs to concentrate on its native culture. This concentration and concession does not insist on the supremacy of Oriental or Korean culture. It accepts that every culture has its own unique value. Swimming with the current, Asian styles are being taken notice of in the world, Asians should voluntarily find out what is most Oriental, their unique identity. Without self-examination, eventually, Orientalism will remain as cultural colonialism which cannot exist without the West
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