Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Can we argue rationally about whether something is beautiful? When we say something is beautiful, do we expect others to think the same? Is beauty universal?
As a teenager, I struggled to reconcile between American and Korean beauty ideals. Toned and tanned women may be the envy among American girls, but Korean women chased petite figures and porcelain complexions. During my summer visits to Korea, my aunts and uncles often lamented about my golden complexion. In contrast, my American schoolmates commented on my pale complexion whenever I spent an extended period in Korea. (One could never win ㅠㅠ)
It took me well into my late twenties to really come into my own and understand my own beauty. I first dipped my toes in the world of Korean beauty and skincare while on an extended business trip in Korea five years ago. Due to the increased exposure of air pollution in downtown Seoul, my skin practically rebelled and broke out. Unfortunately, the Neutrogena face wash and moisturizer weren't going to cut it. It was time to explore alternatives.
Luckily, I had a girlfriend to show me the way, so we strolled the streets of Gangnam and stopped into every K-beauty store on the block. We sampled countless products over three hours. By the end of the afternoon, I purchased two cleansers (oil and water-based), toner, essence, exfoliator, emulsion, eye cream and sheet masks. We also added a few makeup brushes, my first cushion compact, eyebrow pencil, eyeshadow, colored lip balm and blush. My usual five minute morning routine turned into fifteen minutes (twenty with makeup).
At first, it was annoying. "Who would trade off an extra 10-15 minutes of sleep to put on all of these serums and creams?" Despite my initial reservations, I stuck with it. After a few weeks, I started to enjoy my fifteen minutes of personal time. My morning routine evolved into a personal form of meditation. As the first thing I do in the morning, cleansing my skin became a conscious commitment to me. By prioritizing myself first thing in the morning, I am not only focusing on what's important for me to accomplish that day but rather an intent to invest and belief in myself.
Your skin is truly a reflection of your thoughts, emotions and health. If you're having a really stressful day, your skin is not going to lie. It's truly remarkable how investing 15-20 minutes per day can transform my perspective and attitude towards life. I've always been confident in my own abilities, but it was a little different this time. As my dry, dull skin gave way to a radiant glow, not only did my lingering self-doubt transformed into overflowing confidence, but people started to respond differently. What started out as simple compliments morphed into conversations with strangers.
People gravitate towards beauty but not in a way you'd think. If you treat beauty as means to hide your acne scars or imperfections, people just notice you and try to take advantage of your insecurities for their own benefit. On the other hand, by treating beauty as means of self-love, power shifts to you. Confident people want to get to know you better because your poise and spirit are something they see in themselves. Insecure people want to be like you because they wish they can have your self-assurance and strength. By owning your beauty, you're in control and can connect with people on your own terms. Your external beauty like your skin, physique and energy enable you to make connections with the people around you. Your internal beauty like your personality, intelligence and emotions allows you to make those connections meaningful and fulfilling.
You can't completely ignore one side, because they're so interdependent. Nonetheless, it's important to strike a balance between the two sides. Having been blown away by the results, I eventually "overinvested" in external beauty. My nighttime regimen ballooned to an average of 45-60 minutes. I started stressing about not applying products in the right sequence and feeling guilty about the number of unused products that would sit on my shelf for months. Let's not get into how much time I used to spend researching the latest skincare product releases on the Internet and the money I've spent to try them out.
Nowadays, my regimen is nowhere near the infamous "10-step Korean beauty regimen." (It's actually 4 products with the occasional sheet mask.) Despite my rollercoaster relationship with my skin over the years, my skin and I are now BFFs. We know what works and what doesn't work. I don't buy into the hype of new skincare products or the latest ingredients. (In fact, my skin responded much better with a simpler skincare regimen complemented by healthy diet, regular workouts, consistent sleep schedule and plenty of water.)
What we find beautiful is a reflection of our personality and individuality. Developing an appreciation for beauty is a way to reflect on how lucky we are to live today, think about what the world could be, and inspire us to pursue our happiness. What can we learn about ourselves from what we find beautiful? That should be celebrated. Through my beauty journey, I found a new form of confidence. By finding my own beauty, I feel ready to take on anything (or at least figure it out as I go). I hope that I can help others do the same. <3