My ID is Gangnam Beauty (2018)

Out of sheer curiosity due to the raves I'd read online I decided to take a look at this late adolescent, coming-of-age Korean drama. I knew nothing about the drama going in except that a lot of people seem to like it. Oddly enough, I'm having a hard time relating to or engaging with the drama... a fact that I attribute to demographic and philosophical differences. To me much of the angst being portrayed seems to be non-issues or as someone has said quite rightly, "first world issues". Moreover, the value system of this particular world seems completely foreign to the one that I was raised in. I can't fault the storytelling much because it is good (probably too good) but I'm struggling to maintain interest in the subject matter and feel much sympathy for the woes of young men and women whose extracurricular interests seem largely confined to attracting the opposite sex and/or judging people by their physical appearance. The moniker "Gangnam Beauty" refers (pejoratively perhaps) to a woman who has had extensive cosmetic surgery done to enhance her looks.

Apart from the stand-offish, devil-may-care male lead, everyone else seems to have happily bought into the big lie that physical appearance is the foremost requirement in selecting a dating partner or at least the ticket to the popularity club.

Perhaps I spent a large portion of my life in the rarefied atmosphere of not having to obsess over looks... not that I had/have much to brag about... although I certainly heard comments and comparisons over the years that stung. But to spend so much of one's precarious existence angsting over one's appearance makes little sense and it makes other people's opinion the idolatry of one's life. And what a cruel master that usually is. It seems to be more the case too for the girls than the boys which I imagine is meant to show up the gender double-standards. Some of the boys who pop up regularly are really nothing much to boast about (and frankly there's nothing wrong with not being Adonises) but apparently they can afford to delude themselves while the ladies have to be "more realistic" about their dating expectations. Of course, they're all willing prisoners of this self-perpetuating system. The pain is entirely self-inflicted.

Even for the female lead, the hard-headed part of me feels that the panacea that she has chosen -- hiding behind a nose job -- is essentially a bandaid solution. Her desire for acceptance though understandable has only brought about another set of problems... unwarranted attention in which her history has left her ill-equipped to handle. Sure you can change what's on the outside but ultimately it's what goes on the inside that gives a person the ability to live as a free human being.

I don't know where the drama is headed with all this but it is suggestive that the female lead claims to be in search of a "normal life" which is why she's turned down the Adonis that she likes. Because dating him will inevitably draw more attention to herself. She claims that she's unworthy and "out of his league" while the poor fellow hasn't the faintest idea what all those categories mean because he is the outsider/non-conformist in this reality. She claims to crave normality but it sounds like what she's really looking for is a conflict-free life so that she can quietly conform to the pre-existing system and get no push back from it.

I suppose the current orthodoxy in all of this is that she needs to increase her self-esteem and realise that she is good enough or deserving enough to be hanging off his arm in a long term relationship. I beg to disagree. What she doesn't need is more self-esteem... but a complete overhaul in her thinking about what matters in life. Beauty in and of itself is not a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with men admiring beautiful women per se. What's wrong is the way it seems to impact perception of reality in all aspects of life. Perhaps it needs to be reiterated that physical beauty is something that passes with time (here today and gone tomorrow) and relationships built on that shaky foundation alone is doomed to end in tears. Mi Rae's nemesis, Soo-Ya is a girl who has self-esteem in spades but she uses it to manipulate others and situations for her own benefit. Her natural beauty hides her incessant need for more adulation and feeds her addiction, as it were, to be admired and pursued. In her case, self-esteem has led to delusionary behaviour.

What Mi Rae also needs is courage to name the flaws in the prevailing "wisdom" and call them out for what they are. It isn't because she deserves to be loved and have love... whatever that means... But because ultimately such thinking is destructive and brings about unnecessary misery. Right now she hasn't got the courage to buck the system and so she's traded one form of misery that might not actually occur for one that actually does.

We are judged every time we rub shoulders with other human beings. In and of itself, I don't think that's automatically a bad thing. We are judged for character... how we treat other people... which is valid and for the work that we do -- performance. There's nothing inherently objectionable about making judgments about people. In fact, in many instances, it behooves us to do so. The reason why judging a person based on physical appearance is to be denounced is because it is a superficial criteria that doesn't guarantee an accurate or thorough evaluation of the subject's intrinsic value and even within their community.



"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." Genesis 1:27