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Posted : 2012-11-16 17:13
Updated : 2012-11-16 17:13

'Am I pretty?' Korean teens look online for answers

James Pearson
By James Pearson and Raphael Rashid

You're sitting on the subway, in a bus, in a coffee shop. Engrossed in your smartphone, you delve into the world of gossip and smear campaigns surrounding the upcoming Korean presidential election, or fire up Anipang if you're bored. As it loads, something in the corner of your eye distracts you from
Raphael Rashid
rabbit bombs: a lowly girl lowers her head, looks up, raises her arm to the optimal inclination of 45 degrees and looks into her smartphone. Carefully angling her face, she pouts her lips and points her left hand index finger into her inflated cheek, creating a weird, unattractive cartoon face. ''Ka-tchik.'' Welcome to the world of the "self-cam-shot."

Thousands, if not millions, across the country are still in the process of perfecting a unique pose to upload on Facebook, or for their profile photo on South Korea's most popular instant messenger, KakaoTalk and its smartphone-only social network KakaoStory. Whether it be a big-face complex or a pesky double chin, the quest for the perfect self-cam angle is a lifetime pursuit for some.

But for many young Korean teenagers, a new trend is emerging as they take to the Internet to ask for so-called "Eolpyeong," a contracted word to the equivalent of "face-rating," according to an article from NoCutNews.

On one particular forum, a middle school student says "I know I'm ugly, but I just want an evaluation of my face." Another girl, aged 13, asks "I didn't upload five portraits of myself because I have confidence or something like that. It's just that I really wanna know what the standard of my appearance is, and for people to evaluate whether or not I'm ugly, and if so, where." She continues: "When I look at my face, I can see I'm ugly, but everyone keeps telling me I'm pretty. I'm asking for members of this page to give me an objective evaluation."

So numerous are the "please rate my face" posts that some Internet communities have created separate sections under the title "Outward Appearance Agony: Face Ratings."

Netizens, commenting on the NoCutNews article's lead image of a blurred-out screenshot of a boy seeking advice, had nothing but praise: "You're still ugly, even behind that mosaicked photo of yours" and "Omg, you're SO ugly! Seriously, you're not attractive."

Others, trying to make more sense of the situation, added: "Being pretty comes first over getting full marks on the TOEIC exam for girls when they find a job. Looks are essentially part of your skill set." Lest we forget, most job application forms in Korea do require the necessary photoshopped headshot to be attached.

Another commentator, however, accused the young image-conscious boy of "wanting to become an Eoljjang," another online slang word meaning "best face."

The Eoljjang phenomenon is nothing new to Korea and has origins that go back a decade, right back to the dawn of the Internet boom. On many an Internet "cafe" and Cyworld (Korea's once-popular social network that has since lost out to Facebook) some unassuming teens would upload their best photos of themselves, but then gain unprecedented popularity among their fellow netizens. Soon after, it wasn't uncommon for their accidentally popular headshots to go viral, and eventually get picked up by talent agencies.

Eoljjang stars are all grown up, but still very present in the Korean entertainment industry. Actress Park Han-byeol, for instance, was a high-school student who became an overnight sensation after posting pictures of herself on the Internet. Thanks to her striking resemblance to superstar actress Jeon Ji-hyeon, Park was quickly signed up by an entertainment agency and has since become one of South Korea's biggest names. There's even the cable TV show ''Eoljjang Generation,'' a program dedicated to, well, Eoljjang stars.

These days, however, things have changed. The natural phenomenon of Eoljjang has evolved into something a bit more sinister in the form of Eolpyeong. And it's kids, not adults that are doing it.

Some will remember hotornot.com, a site where people could judge who was ''hot'' and who was ''not'' based on a profile picture. The site's popularity peaked in the mid-2000s, but was only ever frequented by young adults, i.e. over 18s.

Some people argue the popularity of Eolpyeong among children is because it gives them a platform to flaunt their assets where they own little else. Miss J, a self-confessed cultural voyeur at koreaBANG, argues: "Looks are all these kids have. Adults can show off with wealth, their position in society, their job or their expensive car etc. ― those are the things that people judge you on. While looks are important, when you have these material things, you can fall back on them if you're not attractive."

"Take JYP, the manager of K-pop group 2PM, for example. He's butt ugly, and he knows it. But no one can touch him because of his wealth and popularity."

Surely, you might ask, teenage angst might drive youth across the whole world to engage in seeking a similar level of approval from their peers. So why are more and more Korean kids becoming addicted to Eolpyeong? Miss J argues:

"It doesn't take a visitor to Seoul too long to see that everyone is on their smartphones, everywhere, all the time. The widespread use of the Internet means that all these kids are online at all hours, comparing one another, and checking out each other's KakaoTalk display pictures. Korea might be one of the most well-connected countries in the world but, while this is a great achievement, it also has a tendency to exacerbate some of our more undesirable cultural traits."

James Pearson and Raphael Rashid are editors of koreaBANG (http://www.koreabang.com), a daily-updated blog that translates trending topics on the Korean internet into English. They can also be followed on twitter @koreaBANG or on facebook.com/koreaBANG.


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