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Not just another pretty face: The modern phenomenon of eoljjang

‘Young Koreans are actively engaging in producing and cultivating their own stars through eoljjang.’

July 08,2008
Yang Jeong-won, Ji Ju-yeon, and Yang Han-na are Seoul National University students voted eoljjang by Internet supporters. [JoongAng Ilbo]
One scene keeps reoccurring in the candlelight protests: when police pull out their cameras to take pictures of the crowd to figure out the scale of the rally, the demonstrators shout, “Take the shot from an eoljjang angle if you can!”

“Eoljjang,” a slang term which roughly translates as “good-looking face,” is a social phenomenon that hit the country a few years back when the culture of digital cameras and personal blogs became popular. The idea of eoljjang gradually turned to photo techniques that make you look younger and prettier on camera. In the protest, the citizen’s request was merely to mock public authority.

On the Internet, the eoljjang trend is going strong. Three major Korean portal sites run Internet communities that support and publicize Internet eoljjang ? ordinary people who happen to look good on camera.

“Five Eoljjang Cafe” (http://cafe.daum.net/5i), which launched in 2002, has 400,000 members and has even produced celebrities who are now actresses and models. These sites select candidates based on votes from site visitors. Campus Web sites run similar contests, in which students post pictures of eoljjang candidates and vote on finalists.

Last month, Lim Seon-hee, a 23-year old foreign diplomacy major at Seoul National University who was voted the school’s eoljjang, was made an announcer on a local cable entertainment program.

The desire to become an eoljjang has led to some less-than-honest practices. Some sites put an emphasis on finding out if contestants have cheated by digitally manipulating their images.

“The culture of eoljjang has become a major part of entertainment for young Koreans nowadays, in that they actively engage in producing and cultivating their own stars,” says Kim Heon-sik, a cultural critic.

The culture also has an impact on the younger generation’s purchasing decisions. For example, the idea of the “selka,” or “self camera” first started with Webcams, then gradually spread to digital cameras.

“Most digital cameras nowadays have automatic functions that give you the most satisfying image of the background and the subject to meet consumer demand,” says Ahn Ji-hoon, a Samsung Techwin official.

In makeup and fashion as well, eoljjang has given rise to new trends.

Typical items for camera-conscious crowds include colored contact lenses, lip gloss and a miniskirt. Lip gloss is considered the biggest hit within the makeup industry since 2000.

Even lifestyle has been affected. Most eoljjang candidates aspire to go into the entertainment business. Some want to become news announcers. For many, being an eoljjang is a quick way to gain fame. And that’s causing some concerns.

Kwak Geum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, says many young people don’t see the downsides of eoljjang.

“It’s psychologically proven that appealing looks can create a positive impression on people,” she said. “If they are exceptionally attractive, it could serve to hide their intellectual level, which means that good looks aren’t always an asset. In fact, they could often be a barrier.”


By Lee Yeo-young JoongAng Ilbo [myfeast@joongang.co.kr]


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