[LETTERS to the editor]Nothing but a numberKudos to Yoo Kyung-ha for raising an excellent point regarding Korea’s obsession with age. I think this is an especially pressing issue for women in this country, as youth and beauty are given precedence over other, more substantial qualities, such as intelligence, talent, and experience. While the fleeting advantages of youth and beauty are desired traits in any society, every rational human being knows that ageing is inevitable and that, yes, you too will one day be old and ugly. This is why it is hard for me to understand why people support a system that socially and economically marginalizes those who eventually succumb to the inevitable process of aging.
A Korean acquaintance of mine is an extremely talented, experienced and qualified yoga instructor. However, she is finding it difficult to gain employment in Korea because she is over 30. She is losing jobs to youthful ex-ballerinas who have little experience but make good show ponies and are useful for the company’s advertising and marketing campaigns. Another Korean friend recently underwent extensive and painful plastic surgery to make herself younger and more beautiful in order to “get a boyfriend.” Bearing in mind that she was not stupid, unattractive, “old,” or overweight to begin with, I can only conclude that the unrealistic ideals of women proliferated by mass culture finally got to her.
Although I have only been in Korea for a few months, I have had many experiences that lead me to believe that there is an expiry date on women: if you’re not married by a certain age you’ll be left on the shelf, growing old with only a few stray cats for company. Being in my mid-20s, I am forever being asked if I’m married. I always reply “no” with a dismissive laugh and leave it at that. I don’t go into the fact that I am the product of a miserable marriage whereby my parents married for the sole reason that they felt they should. They were immature and unprepared for the overwhelming financial and emotional responsibilities that marriage, and eventually children, brought. I shouldn’t need to tell you that their marriage ended in a messy and painful divorce.
Korea is a thriving and prosperous country, so really, where is the justification in pressuring people to marry? Perhaps for the less well-off, marriage as a mutually beneficial economic arrangement is an appealing option. But for those who simply wish to get married because you think you’re supposed to, it’s expected of you, think carefully about it. Those who are encouraging you have their own agenda ― they wish to have their own decision to marry vindicated by yours ― they did it and now it’s your turn. Don’t question it, it’s natural, it’s just what you do. Of course, if you disregard this, you will live an unhappy, unfulfilled life.
Many people marry for love also and this is seen as the ideal situation. However, most unmarried people of my generation simply haven’t found “the one” yet ― we’re still exploring our options, trying to figure ourselves out, while becoming responsible citizens who can contribute to society.
Having said that, it’s easy to see why my Korean girlfriends are obsessed with “Sex and the City” with its single, financially independent women in their 30s who are trying to make the most of their lives. The kind of lifestyle portrayed on this show, while undeniably privileged, is something of a revelation and speaks to women of my generation. The essence of the show’s message is, “Yes, you can be happy and fulfilled even if you’re ― gasp! ― Over 30 and not married!” Just because this kind of lifestyle wasn’t available to most women 60, 40 or even 20 years ago, it doesn’t make it wrong.
How one lives one’s life should be up to him or her. Times change, values change and we must adapt in order to live our lives in the best way possible. Ultimately, you are only as old as you feel.
by Tania Campbell
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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