"Hello! BEAUTIFUL" followed by an enthusiastic thumbs up from the speaker.
This is the phrase which sometimes greets me at my local Superette by one of the men that works there.
I know he's meaning it as a compliment and trying to be friendly towards the foreigner trying to be understood at the checkout, but I always feel uncomfortable when someone comments on the way I look. I feel even more uncomfortable being commented on in a country where they have 'whitener' in many of their moisturizing lotions and top the list for plastic surgery.
It's hard to explain how I feel, I think there are two things going on:
Up until my early 20's I had really terrible self-esteem and although that is definitely not the case nowadays the past still echoes through from time to time. So from time to time part of me doesn't believe compliments are genuine and I laugh them off - a facet of my personality which has annoyed a number of people.
On the flip side, the other part of me feels like I'm upholding some kind of aesthetic evil by being blonde hair and blue-eyed. But the thing is - there is no truth in beauty. There never has been. It's fluid and ever changing. Think about walking on ground which is shifting constantly like moving tectonic plates. That's how unstable it is. The misnomer perhaps in Korea is that beauty is like a mathematical equation: 2+2=4.
But they're not alone in that belief. To some extent on a superficial level (and I really don't like to admit it) I play into the same game that 2+2=4, even though it doesn't. I'm disillusioned by the same myth, even though I grew up all the way over in New Zealand. I get blonde highlights and the clothes I choose to wear, it's all a manipulation of appearance and how I want to appear (or not appear) to other people.
I always have the same hairstyle: long, with a few layers around my face. My clothes: neat but not immaculate. The idea was always to strike right in the middle of the continuum: too untidy - you're noticed, too stylish - you're noticed. Nothing flashy - no tattoos, only my ears pierced and only once. You have to strike that middle. The middle is where people don't comment because there is absolutely nothing of note to comment on and therefore you can grasp at some semblance of invisibility. Invisibility in a visually hungry world has always been my aim, mainly because I don't want my legacy to be - oh that blonde girl with the long hair.
But let's face it, humans take physical form and we have eyes. You are going to be looked at.
And my attempt at invisibility?
From time to time - like in the Superette - I still fail. Why? Because many of us still believe 2+2=4. But it doesn't. Not this time. It's just a lie we treat as truth so we can make it a concrete series of tasks to complete and achieve.