There’s celebrity overload in America. It’s no wonder we’re experiencing an epidemic of eating disorders, bullying, and plastic surgery. We – particularly impressionable tweens and teen-agers – feel pressure because of the people we see reflected in magazines and on screens. What is beauty? Look to culture and mental health for connections.
But compared to other countries, the U.S. has it pretty easy. Case in point: South Korea.
In South Korea, the social pressures extend far beyond the desire to look or act in a certain manner. Durham native Kelly Katzenmeyer discovered this firsthand.
Katzenmeyer has spent the past year living in South Korea as an exchange student and is making a documentary on the social pressures that exist in Korea. In a recent interview with North Carolina Public Radio, Katzenmeyer described the country’s academic pressures. These pressures have contributed to South Korea gaining an unwanted status.
“Korea has the highest suicide rate of developed nations and I feel like part of that is a result of the education system,” Katzenmeyer told North Carolina Public Radio.
After spending time as a student in a South Korean high school, Katzenmeyer said she understands the influences on teen suicide rates. There is academic pressure: Students study for 16 hours a day, and Korean teens are taught that good grades and acceptance to a good college are important steps if they want better social status.
But the pressure doesn’t end there.
“There’s a lot of pressure to be beautiful in Korea,” Katzenmeyer said, “and for a long time I thought of that as a separate issue from education. But I’m starting to think it’s kind of rooted in a similar problem.”
Young people in South Korea feel so much pressure to be perfect that cosmetic surgery has become commonplace. Procedures to enlarge eyes and to reconstruct noses are becoming a new norm in Korea.
In a recent CNN article, South Korean plastic surgeon Dr. Kim Byung-gun said, “Asian people want to have a little less Asian, more westernized appearance. They don’t like big cheekbones or small eyes. They want to have big, bright eyes with slender, nice facial bones.”
Koreans, Katzenmeyer said, don’t have idols that come from different backgrounds and represent different types of beauty. To them, beauty is defined as having big eyes, a slender nose, and a small face. And this standard is what many young Korean girls strive for, even if that means undergoing surgery.
“There’s pressure to be beautiful in whatever culture you go to,” Katzenmeyer said, “but the fascinatingly tragic thing about Korea is that there’s only one standard of beauty.”
In America, we understand the value of therapy when we’re in these high-pressure situations. But that may not be the case in Korea. Rather than seeking help, many Koreans choose the rash method of plastic surgery or suicide.
“Some of the cultural differences that may pose the greatest barrier include the therapist not recognizing [or acknowledging] the impact of the social context that their culture places them in,” Dr. Nyaka NiiLampti of Southeast Psych says. “They may not also understand some of the stigma associated with seeking the assistance of a therapist in the first place, and beginning the counseling process with that information and sensitivity in mind.”
Because of differences, therapists must have some cultural understanding. Cultural experiences shape a person, requiring different therapeutic strategies.
“While we’re all ‘wired the same’,” Dr. NiiLampti says, “we do have different experiences that may [not always] be connected with our cultural backgrounds. As such, if someone is seeking support from a therapist, it is important they are aware of that, honor it, and are able to integrate it [to the degree that it is important] into the therapeutic process. In fact, ‘Cultural Competence’ is one of the components that APA dictates is required to be an ethical psychologist.”
Social and peer pressure are tough to handle. How do you deal with them? At Southeast Psych, we’d love to chat with you about ways to confront these stressors head on.
Learn more about Kelley Katzenmeyer’s documentary and how you can support it by visiting her Kickstarter page.
Photo courtesy of http://www.oneasianworld.com/