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Belles, Belles, Belles


My first girlfriend was a southern belle from the University of Virginia.  She astonished me one day when she said that she routinely spent 60 minutes each morning at her toilette.  I couldn? believe it, because I was the kind of guy who rolled out of bed in the morning, threw water on my face and hurried to class.  How could she have sacrificed an hour of delicious REM sleep for her looks?
Southern belles are the legacy of generations of handsome men marrying gorgeous women in the American South (the eleven southern states of the doomed Confederacy), a society that likes to think of itself as embodying the chivalry and womanly virtues of Sir Walter Scott? ?vanhoe.?Belles?nonpareil beauty is part of Southern folklore, inspiring poets, lyricists and authors.  Scarlett O?ara and the hoop-skirted belles of Tara in ?one with the Wind?are their idealized sorority sisters.  And they have worn the coveted Miss America crown more often than contestants from other regions of the U.S. of A.
During student interviews I asked a Dongguk Univ. (DU) belle how much time she spent on her toilette.  ?ixty minutes,?she answered.  This didn? surprise me since she is always stylishly dressed and nicely coifed, looking like she stepped out of the cover of Seventeen, the arbiter of style of American teenage girls since the magazine began publication in 1947.  My older sister by a year and a day subscribed to Seventeen, whose all-American models were the dream girls of my innocent years, replaced later by the cotton-tailed Bunnies of Playboy.
Guys returning to DU from military service are struck by the many belles on campus.  They don? remember it being a belle school when they left to do their service; and it wasn? until a couple of years ago.  It used to be that freshmen girls arrived for the first semester as plain janes.  During the next four years they would experiment with makeup, become fashion conscious, and develop a sense of style.  Many of today? freshmen, however, arrive on campus looking like fashion-conscious belles.
One would have to be blind not to notice that many DU girls put a lot of effort into looking gorgeous.  I was transfixed by a belle when she arrived for her interview dressed from head to toe in a lavender motif.  Her nails, lips, complexion and hair glowed lavender, while her clothes and accessories were color coordinated.  Everything was just right.
When I queried her about her perfect appearance, she said that she had a date at KOEX after the interview, adding ?inally?  I inferred from her ?inally!?that she had been pinning for a date for some time.
Other campus belles are pinning for a date, as well.  And they all do their 60 minutes religiously in case there? a chance of meeting ?r. Right?--- the proper guy for the date.  Although it must be so disheartening to try to look one? best every day yet go un-rewarded.  One belle I interviewed admitted to dressing up on Saint Valentine? Day to make other girls think that she had a beau, even though she didn?.
Belles do complicate matters by being too choosey about Mr. Right.  When my 18-year-old niece was agonizing over the proper Mr. Right for her Senior Prom --- the social event of the year for high-school seniors in America --- her 16-year-old sister said, ?ou?e too choosey; just go with anyone.  What does it matter?  Going to the Prom is all that matters.? Just about the wisest words I?e yet to hear from the mouth of a 16-year-old girl.
A successful first date leads to another, and then Mr. Right and Miss Belle is a couple.  She then parades her trophy boyfriend on campus for all to see.  Miss Belle strides the campus on Mr. Right? arm, flaunting him as if to say ?ook what I?e got?to all the envious Miss Lonelyhearts.  Meanwhile, he is oblivious of his boy-toy role.
Seoul? belle culture influences foreign women who live here, too.  They often get a fashion/cosmetic makeover after arriving in Seoul, especially after seeing the competition --- Korean belles.
Then there was the day I was waiting for the Orange #3 train and a fetching coed caught my eye.  She was sexy looking.  When she turned towards me, my jaw dropped.  Well, little Miss Sexy was a former Chinese student of mine.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  This is because she was a model of prim modesty --- her blouse always buttoned at the throat --- when she entered my classroom as a freshman.  Four years later she was turning heads.  The last time I saw Miss Sexy she was fashionably dressed and strode across the campus like a catwalk model.  She certainly got more than an academic education at DU.
During a conversation I had about Korean belles with two women, an American and a Swiss, I said, ?estern girls have the best looks, but Korean girls put a lot into it (the toilette),?giving Koreans an edge.  The Swiss concurred though the American thought that they put too much into it.  Nonetheless, those 60 minutes do give Koreans an edge.
Sexy is everything nowadays, and belles are exercising and going on starvation diets to acquire the coveted S-line physique, what sculptors call the Arabesque.  What I like about Korean belles is that they can be sexy without loosing their modesty.  It? so cute when belles in mini-skirts place their bags strategically behind themselves before walking up steep hills and steps, lest they reveal too much to curious eyes.
A Korean belle? mystique lies in her effortless grace and modest posture.  It? in how she holds a sandwich delicately with a tissue --- a pack of which she is never without --- and eats an ice cream cone elegantly, savoring each tiny bite as if she hadn? a care in the world.  She lives to sip a latte and for meaningful conversation.
Belles love to dote on their dainty feet and decorate their tiny toes, wrapping them in Italian ribbons and bows.  And it is good to see belles changing those dumb platform shoes for stylish heels, giving their legs a nicer shape.
The story of Cinderella and her glass slipper is better suited to the cultures of Korea, Japan and China than to America and Europe; for feet are part of the female anatomy cherished much more in the East than in the West.
Chinese men are especially enamored of women? feet.  Their foot fetish led to the decadent practice of binding them, a cruel notion of eroticism that gives my own feet cramps when I imagine it.
Foot binding struck me as horrific when I came across a graphic account of it in the stacks of my college library, the ultimate domination of women by men.  Although the practice was abolished following the 1911 revolution of Sun Yat-Sen, there are still living examples of foot binding --- a painful procedure starting from the age of four to six --- hobbling around China.  It was a fate endured by China? storied concubines --- belles in gilded cages.
It would be remiss of me to not include the lovely sister monks among the campus belles.  Their infectious smiles and beatific glow bespeak the purity of their Buddhist ways.  They are bella. 

Sherbo  ryu0121@dongguk.edu

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