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Media, Cosmetic Surgery and Aspirational Beauty Aesthetics of the Ageing Body in South Korea

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This article examines how thinking about technologies of the body and beauty outside mainstream youth-focussed discourses complicates prevalent media arguments that posit aesthetic preferences in South Korean society as primarily driven by a desire to radically alter or to “Westernise” Korean bodies. This article draws on in-depth qualitative interview data, examining aspirational beauty aesthetics of a sample of 20 urban Korean women between the ages of 64 and 93. The participants were asked to reflect on the visual presence of the ageing bodies of celebrities in contemporary Korean popular culture, and to consider how this corresponded with the interviewees’ own aesthetic preferences and practices in later life. The findings illustrate how images of older celebrities are read and consumed by participants, who, rather than yearning for an unobtainable “fountain of youth”, actively identify with and aspire to beauty ideals that are considered both fashionable and age-specific. An analysis of the participants’ narratives of beauty, celebrity beauty and care of self illustrates the important role that beauty work plays in ageing women’s everyday lives as a tool to maintain social etiquette, design ageing, and maintain age-specific aspirational appearances.




Elfving-Hwang, J. (2021). Media, Cosmetic Surgery and Aspirational Beauty Aesthetics of the Ageing Body in South Korea. Asian Studies Review, 45(2), 238–252.

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