Thursday, April 18, 2013


So I taught a lesson on beauty.

I was nervous as I planned it, because even though I was using resources shared by other Fulbrighters -- which meant that I didn't have to create this lesson entirely from scratch -- I felt like I wasn't adequately prepared. A lot of "beauty lessons" that are passed around in native English teacher circles have similar themes: beauty is only skin deep, beauty is cultural, everyone is beautiful in their own way, etc. It is certainly more of a "moral" lesson than a grammar-based one.

The reason I felt unprepared was that I had a hard time deciding what my own lesson plan should focus on. I had the material to compare traditional standards of beauty in different countries around the world, show what the media and Photoshop can do to change our perceptions of beauty, and teach an American idiom or two. I also had photos, fables, videos, statistics, and various classroom activities at my disposal. It was too much to cover in one hour, so I had to pick and choose. And thus I had to think critically about what message I wanted to send to my students.

I decided in the end to focus on just two things: what is considered beautiful differs in many countries and cultures, and the way we perceive beauty is heavily influenced by the media. I hope that these are objective ideas. What I wanted to avoid was moralizing or preachiness, as well as too much sentimentality. 75% of my students are teenage boys; I felt like it would be difficult to reach them on an emotional level.

Furthermore, because I also wanted to know what their thoughts were, I gave them a (admittedly very boring) worksheet to fill out as we went through the lesson. (To be honest, it was also partly because I've been getting annoyed with my students for not bringing a notebook to class regularly; this way, they have to write something. And then I can read it.)

So here are some of the questions I asked, along with some selected answers. Most students didn't finish their worksheets, for various reasons. But almost everyone had at least one interesting answer. The most clever, cute, or thought-provoking I've compiled here, errors intact.

A Korean man/woman/person is beautiful if...
Male student: they have small face and length over 180cm; best of all, they look like American.
M: they are slim and they have a plastic surgery and they seem like [student's name].
M: A Korean woman is beautiful if her face is pretty and she is kind.
M: they have V-line on their face.

Female student: A Korean woman is beautiful if she is skinny.
F: A Korean man is beautiful if he is tall and has thin body and looks like woman.
F: A Korean man is beautiful if he gets plastic surgery.

Beauty is different in every culture. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
M: I agree. Beauty is decided by culture, and culture 영향을 받다 [is influenced by] environment.
M: I agree because everyone thinks differently, especially people from different cultures.
M: No, I don't agree. These days, Thanks to TV, Internet, SNS... what people want in beauty is very similar.

Where do we get our ideas of beauty?
M: we get our ideas of beauty from friends or TV or Internet. But In my case. I get ideas of beauty from my heart.

A beautiful Korean person might not be considered beautiful in another country. Do you agree or disagree? Can you give an example?
M: disagree. Korean persons are most beautiful in the world.
M: I disagree. For example, 한지민 is a beautiful Korean actres. She is always beautiful and sunshine anywhere.
M: dis, worldwide human love kpop and korean idoles.

A person who is considered ugly in Korea might be beautiful in another country. Do you agree or disagree? Can you give an example?
F: agree because they may think ugly Korean women seems true oriental.
M: Agree. Hyoyeon in Girl's generation is most ugly in GG by Korean people said. But in the other country people said Hyoyeon is beautiful.
M: No. Ugly is Ugly.

You are beautiful even if you do not look like a Korean celebrity. Do you agree or disagree?
M: agree. If someone tell me handsome. I'm handsome. If someone tell me not handsome, I'm not hansome. So, I can't judge it.
M: I disagree, because I'm not beautiful.

You are beautiful even if you are fat, or have freckles or an unusual haircut, or have single eyelids or double eyelids. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
M: I think they are beautiful if they are attractive enough to cover these proplems.
M: I agree because real beauty is not a external beauty. real beauty is internal beauty.
M: Disagree. These are makes people look like ugly or disgusting.
F: If I am fat. I am not beautiful.

Overall, I was not surprised with the answers. I need to actively tell myself not to be disappointed, however, because to be quite honest, it saddens me that most of my students are unable to see beauty in anyone who is not tall, thin, fair, and cute. For them, fat can't be pretty. Hairless can't be pretty. Tattoos and piercings cannot be beautiful. Freckles, in particular, are atrocious. (I think my students initially thought that the freckled girl whose photo I showed actually had a bad case of acne, even though I provided a Korean translation: 주근깨, not 여드름. Nevertheless, they were literally revulsed by her.) Why, teenagers, why must you exhibit such shallowness?

Well, Andrew, you say, because they're teenagers, duh. And because you asked them for their opinions, and they gave them.

Right you are. I've got to cut them some slack. After all, beauty is subjective, and it's silly to bemoan a difference of opinion.

On the other hand, I know that I gave at least some students something to think about as they left class. US, one of my more likable students, told me that at first, he believed that our individual ideas of beauty came simply from our own minds, but now he can see that what we see in advertising and on TV does influence us.

- - -

On a side note, I also showed the Average Faces of various East Asian races, and my students could pick out the Korean every single time. It was impressive; I had trouble distinguishing the Koreans and the Japanese, but my students knew instantly who was Japanese (and made disparaging noises at them...). When asked to vote on the most attractive face, most hands up went for -- you guessed it -- the Koreans. Second-place finishers were the Taiwanese, weirdly enough.

How well can you do? Take a look below.
Which country is each "average man" from? (Answers below)
Which country is each "average woman" from? (Answers below)
So, that's evidence that familiarity breeds liking (I think I'm mis-using that psychological concept, but anyway). It's no surprise to me that Koreans like Koreans. But what about races that they're arguably unfamiliar with? I showed my students white faces next. A majority of every class thought that the bottom left pair were the most beautiful, but nobody correctly guessed what country they were from.
Each man-woman pair represents one country with a majority White population.
So, in light of Dove's most recent beauty campaign and its consequent backlash, I've thinking more than ever about beauty and its role in our society. There's so much to be dissected here that I'm really tempted to do a follow-up lesson with my students and see what they think of concepts such as inner beauty, unconventional beauty, and self-esteem.

I would love for all of my students to think highly of themselves, because they're all quite smart and I'm not just saying that. But in addition, I believe that because everyone is created in God's (spiritual and physical) image, there's beauty to be found in every face, and I hope that knowing they are beautiful just as they come can help my students battle the pressures to conform to the unnatural and impossible beauty standards that we face.

- - -

Okay, and now for the "Whose face is that?" answers:
Men: (top left to right) Mongolian, Taiwanese, Chinese, (bottom) Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese
Women: (top left to right) Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Mongolian, (bottom) Japanese, Chinese, Korean
Whites: (top left to right) Italian, French, (bottom) American (!), Swiss

Why am I not surprised that my students found the Americans the most attractive, even though they kept guessing that they were English or French?


  1. Thanks for posting about this, Andrew! I like how you narrowed down your focus to the two (but would love to see if you do decide to do a follow-up lesson!), and want to see what I can do with the concept of "beauty" with my all-girls classes!

    1. Yeah -- I never got to do a follow-up lesson, because the scheduling didn't work out. I like to bring it up in conversation with my students over meals. I'm glad I put an idea in their heads that they can choose what to do with. I'm excited to hear how it goes over at your school -- keep me in the loop!