South Korea is a country known for many things from K-Pop to their strong working ethics. The society in South Korea is full of different factors. In the case of beauty field, it is not a secret that Koreans spend a lot of time and money on their beauty, regarding their high beauty standards. Tattoo can be one of the expressions of beauty. However, in Korea, tattoo is not widely accepted.
Tattooing can be an expression of beauty.
/photograph by Anabel Schmitt
Tattooing in Korea is regarded as underground culture
Tattoo culture in Korea faces restrictions from the government and judgement by the public. While only existing in the underground culture, tattoo represents the culture of protest and western influences.
First, Korean legal situation regarding tattooing makes it more difficult to try tattoo than in other countries. To be a tattooist in Korea, one needs to have medical education to legally tattoo on other people’s bodies. However, there are few tattooists who do thier job with legal medical license. Of course, having tattoos itself is not illegal. Just getting tattoo from a person who does not have official license like medical practitioner is not permitted according to the Korean law.
Of course, the legal situation cannot stop the tattoo culture from growing in the country. It is a subculture, existing mostly in the underground. Therefore, people contact to tattooist by using Social Network Service like Instagram in secret. However, tattooing in secret still takes a different form to western countries where tattooing is regarded as normal. The attitude towards the ink on the body, tattoo, is mostly positive or at least natural from youngers who are influenced by K-Pop artists and the western culture, the still existing prejudice on the tattoo culture shows an interesting controversy when it comes to the ‘natural beauty’ in the Korean society.
Coming from Europe, the legislation and negative view on tattooing seem rather strong. Considering that in Japan or China’s tattoo culture is uncommon, it seems that tattoo culture is seen rather negative in Asia.
A picture of tatoo on the left arm.
/Photograph by Anabel Schmitt
Another form of beauty: Tattooing
With the high beauty standards of Korea, carrying ink on the skin, tattooing, is viewed negatively. We get confused when we look into the reasons for tattooing. Even though it became quite common in other countries, in many Asian countries tattoo is still connected to crime, given the historical aspects of gangsters showing their allegiances through tattoos. This reasoning seems plausible, but it is also often mentioned that tattoo represents disrespect towards the family by changing the body that is given from them. In Korea, tattoos should be regarded as another expression for beauty, but complying with the social atmosphere seems more acceptable than standing out through unique ink on one’s skin.
Nowadays, as women throw their make-up away to rebel against the high beauty standards established in the country, tattoos would become more relevant than ever. The influences would not fade away but rather grow stronger in the future. Those changes do not necessarily mean that there will be more tattooed Korean people in the future. However, it can be a way for people, especially young adults, to make a certain distance between themselves and the existing beauty standards: it can also serve as a sign to change the society’s attitude when it comes to beauty.
There are standards and norms in society, and also there are people who feel uncomfortable with the reality. Having a tattoo, especially in the culture like Korea can also be a sign of rebellion while also being a sign of individualism. The latter seems highly under-appreciated in Korean society. The desire of having a tattoo is not that far from Korean culture. It is a different form of beauty. In the end, the most important thing is individual’s happiness and confidence. In Korea, self-acceptance is important issue given their higher standards and the pressure young people have to face in society. That pressure can force individuals to try to fit in or can evoke rebellion against it. One of the solutions can be tattooing.
Whatever solution people choose, while looking on tattoo culture from this perspective, it seems way closer to the subject of beauty standard as one may think. With the given changes in South Korea, from rebellion to self-acceptance attitude, like “Love Yourself” campaign by the very popular K-Pop group BTS, it will be interesting to watch how the role of tattoo culture can change from negative subculture to potentially evolving to a more accepted form of beauty.
Anabel Schmitt Anabel-Schmitt@web.de
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