Westernization: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This essay is AGAINST the effects of Westernization in East Asia; it received a score of 95%. Westernization is the process of a country adopting the ideals and lifestyle of a Western country, such as the USA and England. Western beauty for women is typically depicted as a light skinned Caucasian, but this image is fatal to the minds and lives of women in East Asia. Some aspects of Westernization help the entire world such as computer innovation. If the world can tame the domination of Western culture, the synergy of these countries can produce a better future for everyone that the West harms.

Western countries and regions, such as the United States of America and Europe, set the modern standards for living, fashion, and beauty for much of the world. Typical Western families own cars, televisions, computers, and smartphones which provide ease of access to local information, world news, and entertainment. Ethnicity plays a major part in distinguishing Western people, for the media impresses that only White people live these desirable, modern lives. Other countries, home to different native ethnicities from all over the world, aim to adopt these ideals in their own cultures through television, music, and advertisements. Western media, specifically in the United States, often shows Caucasian people instead of Black people or indigenous Americans, so the West broadcasts a limited perspective of life in the States. Unfortunately, non-Westerners’ obsessions with modernization does not end at materialistic items because of this view. East Asian women take life threatening risks with surgery, apply skin lighteners, and adhere to devastating diets so they can be part of the American dream. From here forth, any mention of Korea is referencing South Korea, and Asia refers to East and Southeast Asia, unless otherwise stated.

Korean women are susceptible to the ubiquitous Caucasian model of beauty, especially in beauty advertisements. Stanford University Professors Christine Alfano and Alyssa O’Brien pose questions in their Envision in Depth textbook regarding a Korean Estee Lauder ad for skin-lightening cream starring a Caucasian looking woman. Alfano and O’Brien agree that “clearly, the normalizing of these distorted images of ideal beauty becomes even more problematic if we consider it in the context of racial, ethnic, and national difference” because native Koreans do not have most of these features (Alfano 415). Caucasian women in Western media tend to have pink-toned, white skin, a narrow nose, and a defined eyelid fold; Asian women, on the other hand, typically have a wide nose, yellow-toned skin, and a single eyelid. According to psychotherapist Susie Orbach who wrote “Fat is an Advertising Issue”, “half-an-hour looking at a magazine [with Western images] could lower youngsters’ self-esteem significantly” because these models display features the youngsters do not have (Orbach). When advertisements present White women as an example their Korean audience should admire, these people with significantly different features lose self-esteem and confidence which leads them to make drastic decisions about their appearance.

One of the greatest asset known to Asian women is their pale, white skin, the primary characteristic of Westerners. Gerald Horne, University of Houston historian, says in Global Post’s “Why White Skin is All the Rage in Asia” by Phillip Martin that White skin has historically signified wealth in Asian culture because laborers, such as farmers and carpenters, worked outdoors and tanned in the sun (qtd. In Martin). With the higher standard of living associated with the west, however, it is more imperative to fit this social status. Asian women, and some Asian men, use lightening creams and cover themselves from the sun to prevent the possibility of a tan. However, these coveted skin creams come at a deadly price. Marianne Bray of CNN reported that Doctor Michael Chan of Lam and Prince of Wales Hospital “found eight creams [from China and Taiwan] exceed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety limits for mercury” out of the 36 creams they tested (qtd. In Bray). Lam attributes harm to “the central nervous system and kidney” and “convulsions, coma and death” from high dose exposure of this potent whitening agent (qtd. In Bray). Because mercury is the active ingredient of these Asian lightening creams, the most effective creams have the most mercury, and consumers prefer these products, which puts them at a higher risk than those who use creams with lower concentrations. Another popular ingredient in skin lightening creams is hydroquinone. Incidentally, popular American brand Murad proudly uses this in their lightening products. According to Mona Al-Amodi, Iman Al-Saleh, and Neptune Shinwari who produced the scholarly journal article “Accumulation of Mercury in Ovaries of Mice After the Application of Skin-lightening Creams”, “it is banned in Europe because of its potential to cause cancer” but the American FDA still approves it (Al-Amodi, Al-Saleh, and Shinwari). Western media impresses the model of porcelain white skin, so Asian women indulge in fatal skin creams to feel comfortable in their own skin. Beauty is worth more than good health to these people, and these cosmetic companies and the media encourage this behavior.

Many Asians are trading their traditionally bridgeless nose for the thinner, Western nose and their epicanthic folds for the fashionable double eyelid. The United States National Library of Medicine considers the epicanthic fold normal for those with an Asian background (Kaneshiro). This fold is considered a single eyelid, compared to the double eyelid found in other ethniticies. Darryl Macer quotes Jennifer Kung in his article “Ethical Consequences of the Positive Views of Enhancement in Asia” when discussing that “double eyelid (blepharoplasty) and nose (rhinoplasty) surgeries [have] become akin to getting braces”, a common procedure in America that is necessary to fix misaligned teeth (Macer). So many Asian women dread their natural appearances so much that they resort to a solution that involves operating around the eyes and inserting an artificial nose bridge composed of silicone or silicone and cartilage (Wang). This is not the right solution to the epidemic of low self-esteem. Steve Glain of Wall Street Journal warns in “Cosmetic Surgery Goes Hand in Glove With the New Korea — What Would Confucius Say About the Westernization Of Eye, Nose and Breast?” that “malpractice is inevitable in Korea’s plastic-surgery industry” and the Korean government fails to regulate it (Glain). Blepharoplasty could lead to infection, difficulty closing eyes, and injury to eye muscles (“Blepharoplasty Risks”). Rhinoplasty surgeons can make mistakes that result in “a crooked or twisted nose”, much to the dismay of the patient (Litner). Other side effects of surgery not exclusive to those aforementioned can occur, including the doctor’s failure to properly care for the patient. Glain claims “cosmetic surgery can cost 1 million to 5 million won (between $1,200 and $6,200)”, a hefty price to pay for East Asians who come to South Korea on an enhancement trip (Glain). It is inevitable that many interested Asian women cannot afford this luxury, especially for those who must travel from afar. This means there are still a large population of insecure women whose desires are not fulfilled. These women may resort to hazardous measures, including cheap surgery from an unlicensed or inexperienced practitioner. If Asian women had confidence in their natural eyes and noses, despite Western media praising a different image, they would not spend their money and risk their quality of life on surgery.

Asian women are not immune to body size criticism; Westernization makes them sick. Women’s Newsjournal Off Our Backs reports “The globalization of Western culture, including the fashion and entertainment industries, has brought starvation chic to Asia” because of the ubiquitous skinny image it presents (“Western Culture Brings Starvation to Stylish Koreans”). Western media often display nearly stick thin women, especially in magazines and advertisements that give insight to a luxurious lifestyle. Asian media assumes the same image and presents them in their music videos. The members of Korean Pop (K-Pop) superstar girl group Girls’ Generation proudly display their thin legs in the Japanese version of their hit Genie (SMTOWN). Because of their high ranking and seniority as a long lasting girl group, many other groups take from their image. Actresses of popular Korean Dramas (K-Dramas) follow the same trend, especially those who double as singers such as superstar Lee Hyori, who incidentally has a Caucasian nose. When the average Korean woman turns on her television, she will most likely see the skinny bodies of K-Pop stars or K-Drama actresses and harshly judge her own body among the other aforementioned traits. Off Our Backs mentions the variety of weight loss treatments available including “liposuction surgeons, diet powders and pills, cellulite creams, and weight-loss teas” which can lead to a decline in calcium intake, future osteoporosis, and weaker disease resistance (“Western Culture Brings Starvation to Stylish Koreans”). Similar to the white skin trend, these Asian women are putting their health at risk to achieve an ideal skinny body. Fashion editor Park Sung Hye tells Off Our Backs that women’s bodies in media are abnormal (“Western Culture Brings Starvation to Stylish Koreans”). Korean women try to achieve a look that is abnormal without realizing it. The Western image’s presence in Korea leads women to absurd decisions because it appeals to the idea of a glamorous life of fame and success.

The West’s negative impact on Asia may lead one to question if Western culture has ever benefited Asian people. People in Asian countries yearn for the United States’ 21st century living standard. Bloomberg’s Olga Kharif shares in her article “Average Household Has 5 Connected Devices, While Some Have 15-Plus”, “the average U.S. household owns five devices connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi… which includes smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TVs and digital photo frames” making American life technologically advanced (Kharif). These computers bring convenience to families because they can access information about relatives’ lives, school events, and world issues. Asian countries adopted these industries and flourished in their respective markets. The Journal of Technology and Science noted in 2008 that South Korean, “world class” companies LG and Samsung began developing a digital television standard for North America (“LG Electronics, Inc.; Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.; LG and Samsung Join Forces to Develop and Promote North American Mobile Digital TV Standard”). LG and Samsung advanced so far in the North American market that they have the power to set the standard of digital television, affecting the types of televisions people own and the technology that broadcast channels. These companies took prominent technology in the United States and improved it, innovating South Korea’s standard of living along with the rest of the world. Another East Asian company that prospers from Western influence is Lenovo. The Chinese company released a statement on their website that “Lenovo has become the number 1 PC supplier in the world” compared to American-owned companies, Hewlett-Packard and Dell (“Lenovo Statement on PC Industry Rankings”). By establishing brands to compete with Western technology, Asia’s economy thrives and the whole world benefits from the innovation from LG, Samsung, and Lenovo.

One of the best elements of Westernization brought to Asia and the rest of the world is the English language. In order to understand the dialog in the Western media, Asians must learn English. Frank Ching discourses Japan’s adoption of English as an official language in the Far Eastern Economic Review article, “English Can Help Asia Grow”. Ching mentions in 2000 the Japanese officials realized the lack of English knowledge hindered foreign relations with their country, so to combat that obstacle, Japan wanted to provide official documents in English (Ching). When Asian countries learn English, they have the capability to increase their commerce and build relations with other English speaking countries, especially Western countries. There is less miscommunication and error lost in translation because everyone is on the same page. However, these countries may surge in their use of English to the point where their native languages become obsolete. Cultural documents, family records, and other writing with these native languages cannot be translated by a future generation that abandoned their ancestors’ tongue.

Many countries want to achieve the modern standard of living and build onto it, but modernization does not have to mean Westernization. Technological improvements benefit the entire world, especially when competition increases the demand for development. The futuristic lifestyle does not need to strictly associate with the West, but Asia’s media can influence the world similar to LG, Samsung, and Lenovo’s influence in computers. K-Pop from South Korea can change the focus on the skinny, Caucasian definition of beauty and embrace beauty in other forms physically, musically, and personally. These stars can prevent depression and other diseases in women who cannot alter their body. Asia can use its broadcasting power and English knowledge to redefine beauty all over the world because the women, men, and others unrepresented who cannot face themselves in the mirror need it the most.

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