Lookism – A manga got me thinking

I just read a Manhwa (a Korean Webcomic) called „Lookism“ and somehow I feel the need to talk about it. Why in English? Because I can. :D For further info in German scroll a looong way down. :>

Da heck is a „lookism“?

Before we delve deep into the manga itself, let’s shortly define what the concept of „lookism“ is. According to the world’s main source of information, Wikipedia, this word stands for „a concept used to describe a setting where there exists discriminatory treatment toward physically unattractive people; […] While not classified in the same way as racial, cultural sexual discrimination, „lookism“ is widespread and affects how people are perceived as well as affecting their opportunities in terms of relationships, job opportunities, etc.“ That being said, the manga focuses exactly on all those things.

The main character of „Lookism“ is the definition of „ugly loser“ and is constantly being bullied countless times. Contrary to the cliché though, he behaves in a way that doesn’t even make him seem all that sympathetic and so the reader is not quite sure where the story is going. When loser-dude transfers schools, suddenly one of those „let’s ignore that this is impossible for the sake of making a really good argument“ things happens and *bam* he turns into the most gorgeous guy ever, at least according to everyone he meets from then on out. For the first time in his life, people treat him with respect and women don’t look at him as if they’d just seen something crawl out of the trash can. On the inside, our main guy is still the same though and therefore he is very confused by the completely different behaviour of everyone around him, just because he is suddenly tall and good-looking instead of a small, chubby and glasses-wearing nobody.

The manhwa plays with a lot of social dynamics that hopefully none of you really had to go through. The bullying in school is sometimes „just“ getting beat up, but sometimes is close to torture. Nevertheless it’s really a funny piece and I wholeheartedly recommend it. (Although it’s still not finished, so it could still turn out to become boring or something.)

From loser to winner with just one spoonful of impossibility!

Anyways. Why am I writing this article so suddenly? Well, you know what always kills me on the inside? Adorable characters being treated like shit. That happens quite often in „Lookism“. What’s even worse? That while he’s a good looking dude, our main character realises how superficial everyone is and how hard it is to break out of the habit of judging people due to their appearance. He realizes he does the same to others, but he also notices that he judged himself this way. Or at least the reader notices this, in the beginning the maybe-anti-maybe-hero to be is still too confused and happy when he is treated like a very valuable person. Believing whatever others taught you to think about yourself is normal, but it can be very very toxic. „Don’t let that get to your head!“ is what I thought, when I (in my mind) experienced the new friendliness of everyone around no-longer-loser-dude. Because a lot of the other characters grew up with the setting of „weak person gets bullied, strong person does the bullying“ they do not question it and cannot really imagine that it could be any different. But instead of being swept along, our main character manages to reflect on his experiences and his current situation and tries to be one of these rare „good persons“.

When he interacts with those on the lower end of the food chain, i.e. the ones being bullied, they at first shy away because they are afraid he just wants to collect them as his underlings. And that’s what for me depicts the cruelty of this situation the best. People who are suspicious of good-looking, popular, strong or wealthy people because these people „have it all“ and could not have any reason to treat the weaker, uglier or in whichever arbitrary measuring system „lower“ people as equals. Except making fun of them or abusing them in another way. In the past, they were right to assume this often enough.

When it comes to the sad parts, the story feels very real

And you know why this hits me so hard? Because I’ve met those people. I am not an astonishingly beautiful person. Neither am I especially popular and let’s not even talk about calling me rich. xD But I think I do look okay and it seems I can sometimes handle talking to people in a way that makes them like me. So I would guess that I am not totally on the lower end of this food chain thing. Still, I never thought people would actually think about themselves as being somewhere below me. (Of course I do judge people by their appearance and I am not without prejudices (no one is), but I try to give everyone a chance and just judge whether I get along with them, they are nice, have a good character, blabla, all this stuff everyone always says they do.)

So why do I think I’ve met these people and why did it have an impact on me? Well, it’s just … sometimes you get to know a group of new people. Be it at work, at university, in a course or whereever. Some are more shy, some are outgoing. But sometimes, there is one person among them, who just talks to few people or does not really talk at all, at first. When they do talk, it is often in a rather quiet voice. That is because they don’t expect you to respond and over time it has just gotten too bothersome to actually raise your voice while waiting for the painful moment when nobody answers you. Maybe they just have unusual interests and they don’t really have any hope left that someone might actually ask a question about this. When you do, they will look at you, expecting to have misheard. Then you will see their eyes go a little wide, when they realize, yes, somebody has actually asked me a question!“ and a little bit flustered they begin to answer. Still expecting you to be just polite and waiting for an „Aha.“ from your side, that ends the conversation.

How do you talk to people again?

Sometimes there are people who only speak to others they judge to be „in their league“. These groups have existed since school times and consisted of nerds, fatties, ugly people or just socially very awkward ones. That was not a very nice way to put it, but people who have been ostracized with these kind of labels will rather group together with others who have experienced a similar treatment before trying to interact with those people they judge to be „above them“. And when suddenly someone comes along and talks to them, who they think is „better“ or „above their level“, they might be very astonished. It’s just very sad that I have started to chat friendly with someone who was sitting at the next table and I could see their brain being like „She is actually talking to me! Why?“ … When it comes to talking to people I am not sure whether I am just less sensitive to weirdness because I am weird myself or whether other people are just too scared of „otherness“ to bother talking to people who seem unusual.

One problem I can see though, is that because some people have been depraved of social interactions (I’m not the one who should be talking about this as if I hadn’t, but well … xD) they might not know how to handle suddenly being interacted with. A lack of experience when it comes to talking to others can lead to general awkwardness when no one knows exactly what to say. But this can also create to another reason why not everyone talks to the „weirdos“: It can be hard to hold them at a healthy distance. This sounds harsh, but not everyone who talks to someone else immediately wants that other person to become their new best friend or their romantic partner. In fact it would be very difficult if that were the case because then nobody among us would have anthing like friends or acquaintances. It’s the dilemma of the seemingly once in a lifetime chance: „Oh my god, usually nobody talks to me! I will never have another chance to find a girlfriend/boyfriend/best friend again!!! And also this person was nice enough to talk to me, they must be the best person ever, I have to get as much out of this conversation as possible!“

Nevertheless, I still think that of course not everyone does this because this is only something like a worst case scenario. And also if more people did not ignore so many other people, we might not even have so many people who get flustered just because someone they define as a „not loser“ talks to them in the first place. I know that not everyone gets along with everybody else (I despise enough people in this world to be quite sure of that :D), but we could at least try to give a few more people a chance.

We would appreciate if you could stop drooling. Thanks.

Another reason why the manhwa resonated with me that much is that the women in it are very much head over heels for the pretty boy and with his old body they wouldn’t even let his old body sit next to them on the bus. And I know this might sound prejudiced towards women in general, but I have listened to girls (and gay guys) explaining how „hot“ a guy is SO FUCKING MANY TIMES that I am a little bit sick of it. It’s just so depressing to get the feeling that everyone around me is always undressing everybody else in their mind and holding up signs with „Uuuh, it’s an 8.5, but he gets extra points for the sixpack!“ or the other way around „Whoa, she’s a 9.0 and look at that ass!“. Really, really depressing. -.-

While the women on average come over as almost exclusively focusing on good looks, the men in Park Tae Joon’s manhwa are not better. They see every guy as either a possible threat or a potential subordinate they could pick upon and treat pretty girls (the not so pretty ones are often simply ignored) as something that has to be impressed by being the strongest, most handsome or coolest guy around. Preferable while wearing the most fashionable and expensive clothes. (The latter part seems to be of even greater importance in Korea, if my view of a lot of other countries does not deceive me.) This way, everyone is trapped inside a rigid social structure that harshly punishes any deviants and rewards people for things such as good looks, thereby making all of them focus even more on those superficial traits to secure their own place in the system.

The fictional story works by using the most extreme characters you could imagine. Still, I cannot pretend that I do not sometimes think along the same lines as some of the people I just criticized. Whenever I see a couple where one of the partners looks a lot better than the other according to current beauty standards, I find myself wondering why they are a couple. But then I realize that there would be no fucking reason for one person not to love the other, just because somebody might think their looks are not equally awesome. Except if this person cares a lot about what other people think, but in that case they probably have a whole lot of additional problems besides choosing a partner* by themselves. What I want to say is: Of course you can acknowledge that other people look good. We all like looking at pretty things. But please don’t always treat other people like decoration and judge their worth based on how often they seem to go to the gym or whether they have been blessed with a pretty face or not.

[* = So yeah, just to mention this, dating is a whole lot more complicated and I won’t open this Pandora’s box here. I just wanted to focus on treating people like actual people, regardless of superficial features. ^^]

There is still hope, right?

Even within the manhwa not all is bad. To be more precise the author plays with the fact that no one actually is what they seem to be when you first lay eyes on them. And even if they turn out to be as superficial or brutal as they first seem to be, the development of the story shows another idea clearly: people can change. So all is not lost, if just someone challenges the system, maybe people will start to think about their own behaviour and how it affects others. :)

I don’t know. Does this habit of judging others disturb anybody else? Or am I the only one? The manhwa makes the point that pretty people do not even notice how harsh the system of judging others is because they always had it easy. I am not sure if that is completely right and I assume the author is in general more on the ugly people’s side, but what do you think? Are there double standards for pretty, popular or whathever kind of people compared to other people? Have you ever experienced something like that? Have you ever reflected on where on the social „food chain“ you unconsciously put yourself everyday? If yes, do you know what makes you put yourself in that exact place? An interesting point when it comes to the realism of the story is that Park Tae Jun (also sometimes written as „Joon“ depending on the source) is not only a webcomic writer, but also … something for which I am missing an English word. Koreans call him „ulzzang“, which apparently means „best face“ or „good-looking“ and simply means that dude is famous for being handsome. So the guy who writes about pretty people having privileges belongs to the pretty people. Kinda interesting, right? :) 

I know this whole thing is certainly not a new topic and you probably already read tons of things about this, but since the manwha got me thinking, I just thought I might share my thoughts, sadness and annoyance with you. I am curious what you think about this old but in my opinion still valid topic, so comment away, dear readers! Be it with theoretical insights or personal stories or general criticism, the comment box is there for you! :D

I do hope you have a wonderful day and feel yourself to be looking „just right“, so you won’t have to waste another minute with thinking about superficial stuff after I have taken so much of your time babbling about it.

Take care!
0utofjoint =)

Why English? Warum nich Deutsch?

Hallo an alle Leser, die verwirrt sind, weil hier normalerweise keine englischen Artikel rumwuseln.  Ich hatte einfach Bock, diesen Artikel auf Englisch zu schreiben. Tut mir leid, falls euch das auf Deutsch lieber gewesen wäre! ^^“Ich glaube es liegt auch ein wenig daran, dass ich momentan ja quasi nahezu Englischlehrerin bin und den Manhwa auf Englisch gelesen hab und überhaupt meistens eher wenig Deutsch rede.

Eventuell könnte ich den Artikel nochmal übersetzen, aber nur wenn ich ihn auch in ein paar Tagen noch für sinnvoll halte und dann auch noch motiviert genug dazu bin. :D Ihr könnt ja mal feedbacken, was ihr generell so davon haltet und ob ihr englisches Gefasel von mir auch mögt. Ich hab zwar auch ein zweites Blögchen, wo ich auf Englisch schreibe, aber das ist doch sehr auf meine Japanreise und das Essen dort fokussiert, daher passte der Artikel irgendwie nich rein. Und hier weiß ich immerhin, dass es zumindest bei den deutschen Artikeln genügend Menschen gibt, die auch gerne mal mit mir diskutieren, wenn ich wieder mal vollkommen zufällig ins Grübeln über irrelevante Dinge geraten bin. :D Auf Logikfehler oder Auslassungen dürft ihr natürlich auch gerne hinweisen. :)

Ich wünsche euch jedenfalls einen tiefgründigen Tag, ob er von Englisch, Deutsch oder Japanisch geprägt sein mag, ist mir wurscht, Hauptsache ihr fühlt euch darin wohl und kommunikativ angemessen eingebettet. Ich glaube das war ein neuer Rekord was die Seltsamkeit meiner Artikelenden angeht. o.O

Alles Flauschige!
Eure 0utofjoint =)

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4 Kommentare

  1. I do think Korea is one of the ‚best‘ settings for this story, since the whole ‚beauty‘ thing is a lot worse there. Like plastic surgery advertisements all over the place, and ‚health care‘ stores on every corner of the street. When I was there, it was really intimidating, and I honestly started wondering how ‚real‘ the people around me actually were… So if you look plain there, you’re treated as ugly. :(
    Anyway, that was slightly off-topic. I agree with you on most of what you said. I also think that’s one of the reasons talking to internet people is so great, because you don’t see the people so you can’t change your idea of the person based on their looks. I agree on the part where you talk about it being difficult for the ‚losers‘ when a ‚winner‘ suddenly talks to them (been there). I’m always happy when the lead in a drama or TV-show is played by a plain-looking person, because I hope it’s a sign to the world that you don’t have to be good-looking to ‚become someone‘.
    I’m bad at putting my opinion into words, so I’ll leave it at this. I just strongly agree with all you’ve said about this topic. :)

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    1. My brain … at first I read „I don’t think Korea is“ and started wondering whether you wanted a less extreme setting. I’ll just blame this on not being a morning person. :D
      That sounds totally scary. O_O But you still want to go back there, so I’m guessing the country has its strong points and people are not hostile towards each other? Or did you just not see anyone you would label as „not pretty“ because everyone already surgeried themselves to perfection as soon as they were halfway grown up?
      Yay for the internet! ^.^ Hm, if you say you know the situation where one of the „winners“ approaches a loser. In your experience, does this create problems because then other people get irritated by this person’s behaviour and the „loser“ who was approached has to handle their irritation as a kind of punching ball? (Others telling that person to not get the feeling they were worth anything or becoming jealous of them and shunning them because they had the attention of someone from the top of the food chain?) I’m just curious if the manga and/or my gut feeling is right in this respect. :)
      True! I did not even mention media, but those things have an enormous influence! You’re totally right, plain people should also be allowed to exist in movies and shows! :( Everybody should be represented. One thing where the manhwa slightly touches this is when the main character gets a job as a model and is offered a jaw-dropping amount of money just for wearing expensive clothes in front of a camera. Yes, I know, modelling can be tough, but in this case his nice looking self really just got put in front of a lense and had to do some poses and was paid more than his ugly self earned working in a convenience store within a week or a month even. Which is sad because the other him, which is the same person just in a different body, would never have this opportunity. But I am talking too much again, sorry! :D I just wanted to mention it since it did not really fit into the article and you mentioned actors, which reminded me of the model stuff from the manga. Anyways, thank you very much for your kind comment, dear campfires-Yooya! ^-^

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  2. Huuuu, diesen tollen Artikel sehe ich leider jetzt erst! Voll toll, dass du über Lookism schreibst – das Thema beschäftigt mich auch! Wenn du Bock hast, würde ich mich meeeeega über eine Übersetzung freuen – die könnten wir auf notjanina.com als Gastbeitrag veröffentlichen! Natürlich mit Links zu deinen Blogs etc. :-) Meld dich mal, würde mich freuen :-)

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