Monday, December 14, 2009

Facial hair in Korea.

First, let's take a look at some background source material. A selection from the American literary classic: A Brief History of My Face by Matthew.
I'm a hairy guy. I've resisted this natural protein growth by shaving, plucking, waxing and zapping my way to relative hairlessness in order to attract the opposite sex. I've endured scalding hot burns, embarrassing ingrown hair blemishes, and unspeakable pain as I have journeyed to a discover the perfect balance between 'naked-mole-rat' and 'rocky-mountain-man'. I've spent an innumerable amount of precious funds on razors, trimmers, creams, gels, lotions, and toners all in a vain effort to control my undying masculine mane.
KC101 blog korean facial hair beard
But now, I shave my entire face slowly and shamefully. I die a little inside with each calculated drag of Gillette's finest across my face. Lather. Repeat.
Where did I go astray? Why not just let it all hang grow out? When did I become such a sellout?
Believe it or not, in my death metal early 20s heyday I was a member of a hardcore rock band. We produced several albums; two of which I was the singer. Facial hair was a part of the tough, post-emo 'yeah he's dirty but at least he's clean enough to take a shower' look. I was old man winter. Like a carpenter, I was proud of my work. I cared for it, shampooed it, brushed it and cradled it to sleep. I loved it and it loved me.
But then I had to go and move to Korea.
Suddenly, my fierce furry follicles were no longer miniature objects of sexual desire. No, they were now tell-tale signs of homelessness. If it wasn't already painfully clear, I now had "외국인" all over my well-carpeted face. I sported the Korean equivalent of a facial mullet. I was a dirty, swine-flu carrying foreigner. I was doing something bad. I was expected to purge myself of these epidermic sins.
So now I cleanse myself of all facial sins three times a week. Sometimes more if I've been really evil.
But don't think for a moment that I've lost my edge. Dude, I'm still sooo hardcore. I mean sometimes on the weekends, I even let my facial hair grow out until Sunday night. But you should see it when I shave it. It's like mad burly. Until bedtime at 8pm after I drink a tall glass of soymilk, I'm rocking out a full millimeter of facial hair. Take that, society.
KC101 blog korean facial hair beard Matthew fresh faced
Yeah. I'm a rebel. I still got it. Just don't tell my girlfriend.
Classic reading material, isn't it?

But not everyone buys into it. It's not that facial hair is completely devoid in Korea it's just that it's mostly devoid in Korea.

Some believe it's due to the simple fact that Koreans are less hairy than Westerners. Others believe that due to social constraints, Koreans are pressured to shave in order to fit into the norm. Others just believe that facial hair is dirty looking.

While there's certainly no data to back this up, I would guess that some American women like facial hair while others prefer a clean-shaven guy. Perhaps 50/50. Others may even tolerate a full forest of gruff and call it "nice". Others might puke in their mouth. The difference is that instead of only some American women puking in their own mouths at the sight of questionable chin growth, most Korean women have already puked and are looking for a towel.

The real point here is that Koreans tend to look at facial hair slightly differently than Americans. Where some facial hair might be acceptable in a professional setting, it's seen as unrefined here. Where a thick man-forest of cheek hair might be a symbol of pure studliness in the states, you just look decrepit in Korea. This shouldn't be too much of a stretch for most businesspeople. Some American company dress codes require a professional demeanor at all times; to include a fuzz-free face. Also, you should look like you don't sleep underneath a bridge at night.

So, my fellow hairily confident foreigners, I ask you: what are we to do? Fall in line and recreate a facial version of a baby's bottom? Or are we doomed to rock out with our hair out? Won't we look like fuzzy freaks, though?

Well, to those of you thinking that facial hair has a place in Korea, I offer you these fine gentlemen. Surely this is how we must look.
lebowski facial hair korean blog KC101
So, the next time you ask your significant other "면도 해야할거 같아?", you'll understand if she hands you the razor with glee. It's not because she's madly in love with you. It's because you looked like a bum.

To get into the more hairy parts of this topic, I suggest this fantastically funny 2005 paper, a interesting post from the walrus blog, and of course everyone's favorite 교포 has covered this and plenty more at AAK.