▲ The Fall Winter 2013 Collections of J Brand and Kate Spade, exhibiting a chic and glam look. Provided by rvafb.worldpress.com
▲ The Fall Winter 2013 Collections of J Brand and Kate Spade, exhibiting a chic and glam look. Provided by rvafb.worldpress.com.
A lone singer on stage with smokey make-up and a revealing outfit stares sensually into the crowd—that is sexy. She caresses her legs and thighs under a mini-skirt—that is even sexier. She leans forward with necks outstretched in a loose tank top—that is too much. She twirls around a pole—now things are sexy again. She spreads her legs in a pair of mesh stockings—that is just cheap. The lady is a passionate person and she wants to show her sexual side, and the audience definitely got the point. Yet there is a fuzzy line that divides between her looking sexy and skanky. It is all about finding that appropriate line in self-expression—to express, not impress.
Whether desirable or not, people initially cannot look past the superficial appearance of others. Sure, there may be super-credible nonfictional figures including Dumbledore and Sherlock who are above that stage of naive perception, but the rest are plain, normal people with as much hope of accurately looking into a person as a fruit fly understanding how to operate a Windows 8. Exaggeration aside, first appearances count, and those who want to better reflect their personality and character definitely need to outwardly express them through their looks.
Singing the Looks
This is especially true for individuals that need to stand out from the crowd as a part of their living. Singers, entertainers, bands, and practically everyone involved in show business make an attempt to be noticed by decorating themselves and improving their looks in a way that amplifies their most distinguishable traits. And the important thing is, it works. The singers dress up, the audience responds gleefully, and both sides are happy.
The most obvious example of this would be idol groups in K-pop. Idol groups, which now take up a majority of the music industry in Korea, use several methods to visually appeal to the public. They wear particular clothes, dance to particular choreographies, and apply their make up in particular ways, all of which match the image they are trying to create. For instance, After School, a girl group attempting to appeal to the public their sexual side, tend to base their choreography on sensual moves, choose strategically revealing outfits, and wear heavy, mature make-up. With this, K-pop fans identify After School as the sexy group of the pool, and the girls have come to practically monopolize this sexy, more mature side of idol singers.
Again, it is all about forming a distinct identity and proving a point to the audience. Because no matter how passionate and sensual the singers are inside, the public will hardly notice if they cannot see it with their own eyes. After School chose to deliver the image they promised through clear appearances and outer beauty, and the niche desiring a sexy idol group reacted favorably.
The same phenomenon can be observed in a different generation, in a different part of the world. KISS, an American rock band that primarily performed during the late seventies, rose to great prominence in a short time after its debut through exaggerated costumes and eccentric performances. Face plastered with black and white paint, wearing spiky armor outfits, holding a guitar shaped like an axe, band members added even more metal to their appearances in their elaborate performances, spewing fire, playing on levitating drum sets, and sticking out their tongue. While musically, the band certainly was accomplished in its genre of hard rock and heavy metal, what really made this band stand out and created its character were the heavy costumes and performances.
▲ The band KISS, as shown in Guitar World Magazine. Provided by kissasylum.com
KISS was a phenomenal success. The highlight on their ridiculous visual effects certainly paid off when millions of fans from all over the world recognized the band for its achievements in its art, meaning both the musical and visual impact.
An interesting point to note about this phenomenon is that people are not necessarily moved to appreciate the best looking or prettiest musicians, but rather the ones who are best able to express their distinctive traits, the traits that really make them stand out, through external beauty. Going back to KISS, the brand successfully decorated themselves with a heavy, tough guy look that appropriately addressed their musical genre of heavy metal and rock. In fact, by past and current standards, the looks KISS members plastered their faces and bodies with are hardly attractive. However, the point with KISS was to showcase twisted, anti-social image, and that is exactly what the members’ costumes delivered.
The use of visuals applied not only to a single band, but also to all musicians across an entire sector. In fact, rock bands in Japan that followed this form of art created a completely new genre, visual kei, characterized by glossy make-up, flamboyant costumes, and exaggerated hair-styles. With this, the genre succeeded in generating many legions of fervent fans. While visual kei appeals to the more fervent fans of the genre, it is definitely true that the use of external beauty certainly makes up a significant portion of the music industry.
Companies also heavily rely on visual beauty. In fact, most companies make extensive efforts to create an overall image of the business that fits its company statement. That is exactly what advertisements, sponsors, and designs of a product are for, to imprint a certain image about the company in customer’s mind, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Apple products are designed to be clean, white, smooth, sleek, and simple—in other words, all the characteristics that describe a modern, high-technology product. Gone are the many buttons and analog navigation system, replaced with Apple’s signature touch screen, user-friendly simple navigation system. Meanwhile, its advertisements are also kept simple, with a tinge of the modern look that Apple strives for. The famous iPod Silhouette commercials are distinctive of Apple’s traits—straightforward black backed up with a more creative, enticing color.
Apple steers away from the traditional electronics device, and associates its company image with youthful, tech-savvy, and outgoing individuals. Interestingly, the strategy works, as people who categorize themselves as part of the sophisticated, modern population generally use Mac products. While generalization is a sin, a survey of over 300 thousand respondents by Hunch.com indicate that Mac users view themselves as liberal, creative, and trendy, while PC users view themselves as conservative, mainstream, and safe. So even without scientific basis and analysis, it is clear that consumers tend to purchase the products that best express their own character and personality through certain looks and appearances.
▲ A parody of Apple products based on the company’s brand image. Provided by Scoopertino
The outer looks are a medium that people use to create their image their character, and often the images delivered through the visual media, including company commercials and musicians, become the ones that they strive to emulate. With wider-ranged, appearance-based marketing and self-expression in the media, it is only natural that people also focus more on refining their outer looks.
Societal Atmosphere of Fashion and Beauty
Not only idol groups or companies that incorporate beauty into their marketing strategies but also ordinary people are starting to be interested in beauty. When people were not economically well off in the past, they could not focus their attention away from maintaining a livelihood. As people are more affluent these days, they have started to take more interest in their external appearance. But, even if they have a lot of interest, they do not know how to adorn themselves externally in a way that fits with their style. In order to help them, many TV programs and smart phone applications have been created.
In particular, in contemporary information-oriented society, people are open to diverse ways of obtaining fashion- and beauty-related information. Smartphones are one of the pathways that people can use to learn about such information. As an increasing number of people own smartphones, usage of Social Networking Services (SNS) has skyrocketed accordingly. As a result, SNS is one of the sources that are being utilized for fashion and beauty aspects.
Facebook is one of the most frequently used SNS among people around the world. On Facebook, there are pages that offer people fashion-related information. To name a few such pages, What Should I Wear? and Fashion & Style are popular. What Should I Wear? has 290 thousand likes and it deals with what combination of clothes fits both the weather and one’s gender. Also, it uploads pictures of models so that people can have a look at what models wear and try to imitate them. Fashion & Style has approximately 50 thousand likes and mostly has pictures of models in fashion shows and accessories.
On YouTube, there are a myriad of videos that talk about fashion and beauty. However, videos uploaded by Jen, who goes by the username “From Head to Toe,” are the most famous and popular among people around the world. Jen uploads beauty- and fashion-related videos by themes such as “how to make-up for glasses,” and “everyday monolid make-up tutorial.” Most of the videos have over 600 thousand views and many people leave comments saying that they learned a lot through the videos. If they have questions about certain make-up methods, they ask through comments and people answer together, forming a place for communication as well.
▲ Jen holding cosmetics to explain a make-up. Provided by 2.bp.blogspot.com
Jen not only deals with beauty or make-up, she uploads videos about fashion as well. She wears different types of clothes that fit particular situations such as graduation and prom. If someone is struggling to find the right clothes for a specific event, he or she can take a look at Jen’s videos and get a piece of advice through them. Since Jen has uploaded videos for various situations, people can get a lot of help from the videos, depending on their situation at needs.
In smartphones, Coordi-book, Surprise, Vingle are applications that deal with fashion items. In Coordi-book, people can mix and match the clothes with pictures provided by shopping malls. They can even buy clothes through the application. Surprise provides sale information on particular brands that the person likes. Vingle has the most sources about fashion in that it offers daily looks, street fashion and the latest information about fashion styles.
Through such applications and SNS, numerous people can seek the type of clothes that suit them and know what kind of clothing is appropriate for certain seasons and so forth. What used to be a vague picture of fashion and clothes has become a specific picture of coordination of clothes that fit the individual’s style.
Television, which is an orthodox mass media, is broadcasting diverse beauty-related programs that help people who are seeking correct make-up methods that fit their facial appearance. Some of the cosmetics used in the beauty shows actually become very popular in shops and a lot of people do accept the advice recommended on the programs. Get it All Beauty, Star Beauty Show and Get it Grooming are some of the most famous programs that people watch. These programs are not only for women but also for men. This implies that men are also interested in their beauty.
▲ Poster of TV program, Get it Beauty. Provided by torrentdn.com
Choi Soo Yun (’13, Division ofInternational Studies) actually got great help from these beauty-related programs. She said, “By looking at programs, I was able to learn which cosmetics are good for make-up. Since I have single eyelids, I was able to find out how to draw an eye line by watching videos. Such programs were very beneficial to me and to people without siblings who can give advice on make-up.”
With the help of various forms of media that deal with beauty and fashion related information, an increasing number of people have started to find their own method for make-up. By decorating their external appearance that fits their own style, people have started to reject the trend of fashion and beauty at that time. Even though trend seems to create temptation among many people and makes them feel involved, by watching the beauty-related programs, people are beginning to realize that it is not the trend that makes their appearance stand out, but it is their sense of style.
Thus, as more and more people start to dress up and make up their appearance that fits their characteristics, they all differ from person to person distinctively. When other people see a person who is not overly following the trend, they feel that the person knows his or her own style well and is meticulous and prudent when it comes to fashion and beauty. By extension, each individual’s own fashion and beauty style tend to reveal his or her internal aspect.
Why Do People Express Themselves Through “Beauty”?
Beauty has always been one of society’s greatest obsessions. Since the Ancient Greeks, humans have been obsessed with having aesthetic appeal. In today’s media-saturated world where we are surrounded by images of what we should look like but fail to look like, it is worse than ever.
People think that beauty promises them a better job, more friends, a higher income, and even better spouses. There was also research that showed the relation between workers’ appearance and their salary. It turned out that for all countries of the world, better-looking workers tended to have higher pay. There is no way to prove whether their appearance has influenced their pay or that the higher pay has led them to spend on their beauty. However, it is true that a lot of people think that beauty gives them everything. At this time in the world, people believe that beauty has a “magical power.”
▲ Professor Sung is explaining the psychology behind "beauty and consumption." Photographed by Kim Jung Ik
“In every era, people believe that one thing has the magical power over everything. And in this era, it is the ‘Beauty.’” says Professor Sung Yeon Shin (Department of Psychology), who is at the forefront of research on beauty and consumption. “It is not even surprising. People think that money gives them morality, better personality, and better relationships with others,” added Sung.
Over-expressing Might Lead to Other Problems
It is a positive phenomenon that people are starting to make their own style and their own personal impression on others. From head to toe, they decorate themselves with clothes, accessories, and take care of the way they look by going on a diet, getting plastic surgery, and so on. One famous actress on TV show said she can save money on her electricity and heating bill, but she cannot cut back on buying her bags. She is just one of the people who care about how they would look to others. When the pursuit of better impression and the desire to create a flourishing image of themselves through clothes and accessories become excessive, people can start to overly style themselves, as the society does not give enough credit to them as they are.
It all started as the economy becomes more stable and people started to spend on expressing themselves outwardly. For the last decade, people’s expenditures on beauty items has significantly risen, showing that people's interests in expressing themselves have risen. This trend is predominantly seen in people who buy a handful of luxury items from expensive brands, even by going into debt. It is because they wanted to identify themselves as a part of the classy group. They are obsessed with luxury brands not only because they are good-looking and fashionable, but they are worth it, just to show them off to others. Now, beauty and consumption cannot be separated into two. This is the main phenomenon of “conspicuous consumption”.
“Conspicuous consumption” is the main consuming pattern of modern society. Their original aspiration to express themselves well to others has changed into aspirations for luxurious products. Conspicuous consumption has been an object of fascination going back at least as far as 1899, when people spent their money in order to demonstrate their social status.
▲ Paris Hilton obsessed with Louis-Vitton products. Provided by Google
It is also prominent in Korea. Korean people tend to prefer expensive items over the same quality items on sale. The psychological explanation of their mindset is “Panoplies Effect.” People tend to follow the logic that by having that specific product, they will look as if they are part of high-class society. So, even if they have to starve and skip their lunch meal, they are willing to buy 3000-dollar Louis-Vuitton or Gucci handbags.
This is also partly triggered by the media. The media, including SNS, major websites and television shows, focus too much on enhancing one’s appearance. Not only the rich, but also fashion models who appear on shows give a tacit message of being well-off and individually distinguished equals having luxurious brand outfits. Paris Hilton is one typical example. Paris Hilton is well-known for her extravagant spending. The media portrays her behaviors as what a “typical rich” would do, consuming only expensive luxury items. However, this is a misleading stereotype as survey shows 89 percent of the rich pursue “stealth wealth.”
It is becoming a problem because it leads to a vicious cycle of consumption. At first, people overly spend their money on beauty, hoping that investing in good signature items can change something in their lives. However, soon, they realize it cannot make much difference in their lives, and this leads to aspirations for more consumption. They keep on spending until they find satisfaction. However, satisfaction does not come easily.
Right Ways to Express Your Beauty
Then, here comes a question. Does much consumption of beauty products make us happier? A lot of studies have proved it does not. Curtis Eaton Research Team in Kelgury University have pointed out that “the disposition of consuming luxury items makes consumers more reliant on those items and in the end makes them feel hopeless.”
▲ A women shopping with her hands full of shopping bags. Provided by Hankuk GyeongJae
Purchasing expensive handbags or vehicles cannot satisfy people. It can primarily satisfy one the moment that one actually makes the purchase. However, it only increases the comparative inferiority in overall society.
It does not mean that there is no other way. It can be overcome by spending in a reasonable, and pursuing one’s own style. What is meant by being “reasonable” here is not the definition of the economic term. It is about how we decide to spend money. People now spend money on themselves and do not care about expressing their real selves. However, there are ways that they can purchase products while creating their own style in a reasonable way. Kim Na young, one famous Korean entertainer said in her interview that “pursuing our own style, does not necessarily have to cost a great amount of money. The cheaper it is, the better.” Experts say that nowadays there are brands that sell good clothes in a wholesale, so that it could satisfy all the needs of people who pursue their own uniqueness while cutting back on their money. This could be one possible way that future consumers could express their internal self through outward appearance.