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Becoming “Beautiful” … Becoming “American”? A Study on Constructions of Beauty and Identity Among Korean and Filipina Women in the United States

Abstract

How do Korean and Filipina women engage in beauty and bodywork, to reconcile issues of ethnicity, identity, and beauty within American society? The minority status of Asians in the United States results in the adoption of basic Anglo-Saxon beauty ideals by Korean and Filipina women. Divergent assimilation experiences in the United States however create different pathways for these women to engage in beauty and bodywork. I analyze interviews conducted in 2005, with 9 Korean and 11 Filipina women, who were selected through a snowball method. The Korean and Filipina women’s beauty rhetoric indicate similar beauty ideologies in terms of ideal beauty and body types. Differences in rhetoric among these women arose in how they identified their looks within American culture. Korean women explained their beauty ideals by referencing social class, while Filipina women referenced the social culture they associated with (i.e., black culture). Differences among these women were even more prevalent within beauty work. Korean women were actively working to maintain white body ideals (i.e., weight) more so than their Filipina counterparts. The women’s responses reflect the ways in which assimilation experiences and gender stereotypes affect how these women engage in beauty and bodywork.

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