The New Cyborg in Seoul

Seoul really is the most technologically advanced city, and as columnist Carla Vitantonio notes, the new cyborgs have already been born. Join Carla as she explores life and gender issues through the eyes of an Italian woman in South Korea.

The New Cyborg
The New Cyborg

I’m pushing forward my anthropological research on this inscrutable Asia.

I look around myself in the metro and all I see are women of an undefined age somewhere between 17 and 45. The more I look at them the more they seem indefinable, the more I look at them the more I realize there’s something that doesn’t quite fit in these 50s’ style cute dresses, in these pointed heels, in this always bright, always soft hair.

There is something that quite doesn’t fit, because it seems like all these women have in their mind a unique, changeless model which is always the same, for everybody.

Because of this uniquely Korean ideal, hair will never be soft or bright enough, eyes never deep enough, eye-lids never perfect, skin never sufficiently white.

I clash against the stereotypical dream of the baby-woman, beautiful doll-like skin as white as porcelain, lips perfectly shaped as if they belong to an ancient mannequin in a shrine. Around me, these dolls sport three or four clothing styles, all the same, only colors and sizes change. Actually, even the sizes are mostly all the same.

I enter a shop and discover that there are no fitting rooms. I enter another. Ditto. And ditto the next shop, and the next. Fitting rooms simply DO NOT exist here, because there’s no need to fit anything. Clothes fit nearly everybody in the same way. There are three sizes, yet only because of the remote chance of some imperfect centimeter that can make the difference. Three sizes that are almost all the same, and you can do nothing but choosing the color.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the four Korean Dolls:

The Sporty Doll: Young, tight pants, American sneakers and big hoody, a little bit too big on the shoulders, one or two sizes bigger than normal, as if it has just been taken from the drawer of an imaginary boyfriend.

The Superyoung Doll: Really a high-necked top but inguinal shorts, worldwide-known-brand backpack, ipod ipad and iwhatever.

The Elegant Doll: in case of afternoon dating with following engagement, skirt to the knee, thin heels, hair up, light make up, small bag to the elbow. And finally, for the most demanding we can offer…

The Night Doll: aggressive heels, mini skirt more mini than ever, strong lipstick en pendant with the nails, a little bit of lace, lots of glitter, anorak Dick Tracy style.

These are our all-around stereotypical Korean dolls; all motionless, all perfect, even a smile is forbidden as the skin can be damaged.

Curious as to the habits of the Korean doll, I ask some questions to the locals and I discover that the average girl needs about two hours in order to get ready for going out. I also discover that in her bathroom is an army of whitening creams, anti-wrinkles, anti-lucid, antioxidant, anti-anti. Further investigation, and I find that an average of two in three women in Korea have already had plastic surgery by age 18.

It seems so many in this country are fiercely trying to please this overbearing ghost of perfection I glimpse in the metro:

Bigger eyes
Deeper eye-lids
Better curved forehead
Less prominent jaws
Less bent legs
Bigger breasts
Straighter nose
Juicy lip

and above all… stomach reduction, because if you weigh more than 36 kilos (80lbs) you’re living in a tragedy. Also popular are sweat gland removal (being sweating a not-so-noble-affair) and calf reduction (they’re often too big to be elegant.)

For those past their ‘prime,’ after a certain age here, comes “vaginal rejuvenation” surgery. Yes, in Korea you can have back a fifteen year-old vagina.

The New Cyborg is Here

The new cyborg is already among us, in the metro in the offices and in the buses. It doesn’t laugh, doesn’t cry, it barely speaks, eats just a little bit and seems to get pleasure even less. The new cyborg’s body is not made in order to achieve pleasure, but just to be looked at, admired, taken care of.

The overbearing ghost of perfection whom the new cyborg attempts to imitate is the ghost of a baby, a doll-woman: no need to act sexy, seductive, intelligent, just plainly, simply, cute.

The new cyborg is a girl you can help by carrying her bag while she brings you along for some shopping, she is a little, perfect cyborg with an undefinable age that you can show off to your colleagues, and on the necessary occasion she is a blow-up doll who can satisfy quick appetites.

I am astonished the slavery to this idea, this mass-movement of impossible aiming towards a cyborg-like perfection.

I am shocked by this way of using the body as a fashionable toy, a toy that continuously needs to be improved, until it is perfectly equal to the Korean idol.

These mechanic bodies
These all-the-same beauties
This continuous call-to-arms to be the un-reachable ghost that is the cyborg

This unavoidable and unchangeable beauty worries me, this homogenization of tastes, these forever-young armies of cyborgs, they make me shiver while I look at them, marching out from the metro stations in order to win their battle against any possible diversity, against who they are.

There are those in this city who say “even if you’ve got so many wrinkles, you’re not so bad” and it shocks me, it leaves me speechless. Most of the women I meet are more than perfect, and the ones who are not remain full of complexes, unable to see themselves fitting anywhere in the puzzle because of their diversity, their 55, my goodness, 55 kilos, their foreheads slightly flat, their eyes too small.

As for the cyborg women, the Amazons of the mechanic progress, how can I talk to these people about diversity? About the uniqueness of body? What am I blathering about to them?

These, and other questions, I ask myself daily, while I am getting ready for my new mini-war in the metro. Every day, as I look at Western men, all drooling at the thought of having their own cyborg-dolls.