Escape the Corset: The South Korean Feminist Campaign You Need to Know About


While some of us swear by our highlighters and would cry out in despair at the sight of a broken pallette, women in South Korea have started a movement to escape the constraints of rigid beauty regimes that have been upheld in the nation for decades.

As women, we are often scrutinised for our looks, with beauty standards narrating how we dress, style our hair, or wear our makeup. We are pressured to go along with the trends and not be too different or alternative in case we won’t be seen as beautiful. As a result, we tend to look up to certain style icons, models and figures, longing to one day embody the idolised looks that society places at the top of the beauty hierarchy. South Korea has been one of the nations worst hit by this trend. As of 2018, the country has the highest rate of plastic surgeries per capita in the world, with around one in three South Korean woman aged between 19 and 29 having undergone some form of plastic surgery in their lifetime. A national survey revealed that 80% of respondents believed that beauty and appearances were a marker of success. Women therefore undergo procedures such as nose jobs, eyelid surgeries and skin whitening to achieve the ideal Korean beauty standards dictated by historical ideas of South Korean beauty. In addition to plastic surgery, many South Korean women undertake a gruelling skin and makeup schedule that can take hours out of their day. Some common South Korean routines involve up to  18-steps, meanwhile the average Korean women uses roughly 13 beauty products a day. Of course, this means that the South Korean beauty market continues to thrive at an estimated value of over $13 billion in 2017, making the country the eighth biggest beauty market in the world. As a result, South Korean women are faced with immense pressure to look perfect. One Cuban/Filipino/Korean-American woman who went to Korea for a year expecting to fit in, wrote of her experience, “In a culture where so many people strive to look the same way, any slight difference in appearance rapidly singles you out. In my case, I was too tall, too fat, and too dark — traits that are not typically considered beautiful by Korean standards. In many ways, being partially Korean actually made my experience more difficult than that of my foreign white friends.”


Women in South Korea have had enough of being told to spend hours labouring over their looks every day. They don’t want to wake up hours before work to steam their faces and exfoliate vigorously to remove dead skin before spending hours meticulously applying their makeup. As a result, they’re literally smashing the patriarchy by smashing hundreds of dollars worth of makeup as a sign that they’re done with strict beauty standards and are taking a stand. Dubbed the ‘Escape the Corset’ movement in a nod to the restrictive garments that women used to wear, South Korean women are reclaiming their beauty regimes in a string of acts against society’s views of the norm. Thousands of women have taken to social media to share videos of them smashing their beauty products, and some women have taken the opportunity to educate others on feminism. Cha Ji-won, a Korean activist started a YouTube channel off the back of the “Escape the Corset” movement, where she runs lessons on feminism, menstrual health and other women’s issues in South Korea, racking up over 101,000 views.

The movement comes at a turning point for women’s activism in South Korea. Recently, a Korean news anchor became the first woman to wear glasses on air, as it was revealed that many Korean women are obliged to wear contact lenses to work even though men are free to wear glasses. Meanwhile, in June 2018, over 22,000 people marched in the country’s biggest women’s rally in history to protest against the use of spy cam surveillance which has seen the rise of a strange surveillance porn called Molka. Rebecca Crosby writes, “Molka is the result of hidden cameras being set up in public bathrooms, showers, trains, buses and other public areas where women could potentially be filmed and watched by others without their consent”. Women in South Korea continue to mobilise against the unfair standards and expectations piled on top of them on a daily basis. They’re fighting for the right to dictate how they control their own bodies, and for the right to not be seen as objects of porn in public spaces. Let’s hope that each smashed makeup palette will embody a crack in the glass ceiling upheld by an unjust system that puts immense pressure on women at every stage of their lives.

Article by VERVE Operative & Blogger Chanju Mwanza

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