How to look younger/thinner/cuter: Korean theory

The conversation at lunch today turned to the faces Korean women make when they have their picture taken.

I must admit, I do find it all rather odd. Korean women love taking pictures of themselves. They’re quite open about this. You will see them in groups, or alone, at tourist attractions, or just walking down the street, stretching out their arms to snap pictures of themselves with their phones. You will even see a woman sitting alone in Starbucks, happily photographing herself. Or – the ultimate cringe, in my opinion – on a date with a man, sitting at the table in the romantic restaurant, completely ignoring her companion and instead taking pictures of herself! No, really. This actually happens, every day, all over Korea.

But it doesn’t end there. There are a lot of rules and hints and meanings behind their poses, and this is what Chris was asking today as we ate lunch. What’s this thing with Korean girls blowing out their cheeks in pictures? he asked in a confused tone, demonstrating the pose. All the Korean women at the table started to laugh as Terri and I nodded in shared confusion, and added some other poses to the mix. No, really, please explain this cultural difference to the foreigners! I said humbly, scared of causing offence, but fortunately my colleagues are great that way – very open, easy-going, and good-humoured. They seem to enjoy seeing the funny side of their country through our eyes, and are very approachable when it comes to asking them about things we don’t understand.

They think it makes them look younger, said one colleague, the most plain-spoken, sassy, and cynical of the group – and the least typically “Korean” of them, having spent a lot of time living in Australia. She rolled her eyes. I can’t imagine ever seeing a picture of her doing the Pufferfish Pose, as I have dubbed it. Another colleague looked a little embarrassed. Have you seen my new profile picture? she asked. There was much hilarity as it was revealed that she was making that very same pose on Facebook as we spoke.

There really is no such thing as just smiling for a picture in Korea. At the very least, you will make the peace sign with your fingers, but there are so many other options it would make your mind boggle. Terri and I agreed today that we may panic at the sight of a camera when we leave Korea, not knowing what to do, as we now stick up our fingers at them as instinctively as you’d hold up your hands if someone aimed a gun at you. And so, thanks to my obliging colleagues*, here are some of the most popular ways to have your picture taken. It’s best if you try to look shy, and open your eyes as wide as possible, as if surprised and embarrassed to see the camera that you’ve been posing in front of since the day you were born. Also, please note that if you are taking the photo by yourself, you must stretch your arm out as far as it will go, elevated at an angle of 45°, and look up at it with your head tilted sideways at the same angle. (We were given very specific instructions and demonstrations about this in today’s tutorial.) All these photos, however, were taken by another person.

First up: “Pufferfish” AKA “Babyface” – as we have already learned, this is meant to make you look younger. Something to do with making your cheeks chubby like a baby’s, I don’t know.

The peace sign one is obvious, so we won’t bother with a photo of that, but did you know that in Korea there are different positions for you to hold your fingers in for varying levels/types of cuteness? This for example:

Framing an eye with your fingers is seen as adorable, and all little children are taught to pose like this. Framing both eyes (one with each hand) is just oh-my-goodness-I-could-eat-you-up cute. And the wink is an added bonus. Alternatively, be Cray-zee and just do the peace sign with both hands:

If it’s extra cuteness you’re after, on the other hand, simply put your hands at the side of your head and act as if you’re asleep.

In Korea, people are rather paranoid about the size of their heads. They think that Westerners have small faces and Koreans have big faces, and a big face is apparently a very unattractive thing to be stuck with. Despite the fact that I am much bigger than any of my colleagues, I have still been told several times that I am lucky to have such a small face. I don’t see this at all. If I compare my face to a Korean friend’s in a picture, mine looks far bigger! But there’s no arguing with them on this. Their faces are huge. Ours are tiny. And so what to do with a large face to make it seem smaller in photos? Well going through Blepharoplasty Beverly Hills would be my ideal, but just not possible with my budget, girls, please help I need some photo life hacks you might want to share with me.

Want to look girlishly playful? Why not be a sweet lil’ bunny rabbit?

Next up, dimples. Everyone knows dimples are cute. But what if you don’t have any? No problem! Don’t despair! Simply point to the place where the dimple ought to be, and hope for the best. This apparently makes men fall over themselves to buy you drinks and pretty things.

And to finish, please enjoy a “corndog” – so named for obvious reasons (although lollipop or Chupachup would work better, shape-wise, if you ask me). No one, however, knows what the point of it is.

*I got the permission of my colleagues to take and publish these pictures (although they don’t know where, exactly – I try to keep my blog a secret from those I see in everyday life!). Although I don’t usually publish pictures of people I know on here, they were essential to the post, and I decided against blurring the faces since it kind of spoiled the effect. 

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10 thoughts on “How to look younger/thinner/cuter: Korean theory

  1. Jen says:

    I’m absolutely baffled about the big face thing!

    Oh, and you were asking for topics – do you know any Koreans who have travelled who’d be willing to explain what they find weird about Western Countries? We were up in the Highlands a few months ago and a minibus of Koreans appeared, took some photos then fled back into their vehicles. I’d love to know what they thought of how things work over here.

  2. LOVE THIS! Just got home and read this to husband and sons, and we are all rolling….this clears SO much up! Cannot wait to share with my friend who’s also just moved here and equally baffled….this is should be required reading for anyone moving to Korea!

    • :) Glad it was helpful! It’s one of those things I’ve just gradually adapted to without ever asking questions. It took the arrival of a baffled new foreigner to remind me that it wasn’t the norm back home! I’m very grateful to have colleagues who can laugh at themselves and share these things with us.

  3. Kara says:

    I soo love this post, I’ve been giggling all the way! I’ve often wondered what was with those funny poses. However,I occasionally feel the need to pull a silly pose when a camera comes out as I have yet to perfect my go-to photo face. I think I’ll go for the peace sign over the eye next time!

    • It’s the ultimate cute face, dontcha know! :) Thanks for commenting, Kara, I love getting comments saying I made someone laugh. My main goal with this blog!

  4. HR says:

    I’m loving your post. I am 22 years old Korean girl but has been always wondering why they do that… It’s not really everyone. None of my korean born-korean raised friends do that. But anyway I googled ‘why Korean girls always take picture of themselves’ and your one showed up! Very much enjoyed it. U gotta know it looks weird to lot’s of Koreans too haha

    • HR says:

      Oh and plus, korean girls taking picture of themselves and put that up online looks bit narcissistic but on the other hand, they never really take compliment well and be proud of what they look like… And obsess with plastic surgery. It looks like that a lot of Korean girls are insecure but also have excessive desire to be pretty or prettier. See, as I said I am 22 years old Korean born and raised so I am not trying to offend anybody. Just giving my opinion as I am an insider ;)

      • Thanks for your comments! It’s good to get some insider insight. :) You sound like the colleague I mentioned who rolled her eyes when we started the discussion – she thinks it’s very strange and silly, too! My other colleagues admitted that they do it, but they do realise that it can look funny!

        Yes, I agree that there is definitely a very strong desire to be prettier, cuter, sweeter… from a very young age, the tiny little girls at my school all do these poses too. It’s as if they already feel that they aren’t pretty enough as they are. Which – if it’s true – is a bit sad…

  5. Hannah says:

    Ahhh~

    This was a brilliant read. Very informative. You seem so pleasant! This is the first article of yours I’ve came accross and I intend to read any more you have!

    I did wonder about the different actions they do in photos, however I find that I can never just smile in photos! It’s a habit to make a peace sign or a ‘cute’ face.. And I’m British! Haha. Thankyou for the wonderful article!~

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