Beyond Borders

Shaving pumpkins

2010-11-12 09:40
Lebogang Mogashoa is currently teaching at a school in South Korea.

Lebogang Mogashoa is currently teaching at a school in South Korea.

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Lebogang Mogashoa

Between classes my Korean co-teacher, Grace, and I shop online. Clothes, appliances, ginseng, German fat-burning gels, anything goes. We’re browsing noses, chins and cheeks, today.

"That nose is fantastic," I say.
"Hmm," she magnifies the photo. "Too pointy for your face."
Selective and attentive, she's a connoisseur.
It's just like when I tell her to stay away from peachy colours that wash her out.

"But what can I do?" Inexplicably, I'm desperate for alterations.
"Look at this guy's, uhm, how you say?"

She scrolls down the screen.

"Jaw," she adds triumphantly.
"He's a, uhm, gamjah?" She says the last part in Korean. "Potato. He was a potato but look, now, movie star!"

She's right, mostly. In the before photos, most people - barring the medical cases - just don't look right. There's nothing particularly wrong with them and they shouldn't be compared to common vegetables, but they look, different.

In real life you see them once in a while on the street, in the countryside or in class when Korean teachers cruelly point out a certain girl is just not pretty. It's as if their features have been phased out of style.

Doll-like faces

The current face has a certain doll like quality to it. Giant manga eyes are not just for comic books; they flutter down the streets of Seoul and dwell on friends' faces. They are so ubiquitous that actual double folded eyelids on anyone - children and the very old excluded - make you question time and space. Did a time machine just land somewhere?

Here's a joke popular with Korean teachers:
A student visits an old teacher.
"Gin Hee? Really?"
"Yes teacher, did you forget me?" Gin Hee's disappointment is palpable.
"I didn't." He feels he's lying because the girl looks nothing like the Gin Hee he remembers. "You look so, different."
"Oh, I forgot. I have new eyes now."

Had Gin Hee visited after Grace decided her own face was a pumpkin, I would have believed her. It's an especially harsh way to describe one's face but even worse is to decide that particular pumpkin is asymmetrical and needs to be shaved down.

"Shaved down, like, they are going to open the sides of your face and shave your jaw, shaved down?"
"Look at this girl." She ignored me for a mummy.
"She did the sides of her head, her jaw, her nose…most girls in their twenties like all in one," she scrolled down, the computer screen a blur of bandages.

Becoming 'beautiful'

A few months later Grace became one of the mummified beauties, making plastic surgery part of our regular talk.

As we scroll even further down the screen, I ask Grace why so many Korean women get plastic surgery.
"To look beautiful," she says. I expect her to follow up with a, "Duh."
"It's just normal and it's cheap."
I nod.
"Like make-up, I think."
She finds the nose.
"How about this?"
"Hmm, looks good, but maybe not today," I say.
"Laser surgery on your face?"
"How much?" I lean in.

- Read Lebogang's blog Ramen Ranch.

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