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Koreans and the Small Face Phenomenon

Having grown up in the U.S., I have heard on more than one occasion that celebrities possess larger heads compared to those of the general population, the idea being that the larger head will have larger features, which will show better on screen. There is even an episode of Entourage where Turtle proclaims, “The bigger the head, the bigger the star.”

However, in Korea, the exact opposite is true. The smaller your head/face, the more attractive you are.

A picture of Ivy, a Korean celebrity, posing between two fans.
Notice how small her face is compared to that of “normal” people.
(image source)

It is not uncommon for foreigners to be utterly confounded when first met with this phenomenon. “Gosh, your face is so small!” may sound like an inappropriate remark, but it is in fact a high compliment among Koreans.

Online Korean forums are often abuzz with face size discussions. When debating up-and-coming stars, it is not unusual to find comments such as “Her face is so small…she’s so pretty!” or “She’ll never make it because her head is too big.” In 2008, one of the most popular articles on Naver, a Yahoo-like portal, concerned the average Korean face size.

Koreans’ fascination with small faces often delve deep into the celebrity world, with stars with unusually small (and coveted) faces are asked to hold up every-day objects next to their heads…even busting out measuring tapes for proof!

Actress Han Yehseul can cover her entire face with a CD. (image source)

Model/actress Koh Ara’s face is a mere 17cm, or 6.69 inches, long. (image source)

I’m not really sure where the small face phenomenon originated. However, it is widely believed among Koreans that small faces photograph/video well, and that a smaller face will make you look skinner in photos as well. In a culture so obsessed with media and image, it is not difficult to see how this idea established such a strong foothold in the Korean psyche.

The cultural fixation on small faces has even coined a new term: the “V-line.” To Koreans, a small, perfectly oval face is no longer ideal. That oval must be made even smaller to create a V (a pointed chin).

Koreans are so obsessed with small faces that one of the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures involves shaving down one’s cheeks and jawline to undo what mother nature gave you. Take a look at these “before” and “after” photos of actress Park Minyoung:

(image source)

I once read that the jaw-shaving surgery is so in demand because it kills two birds with one stone: your diet is restricted to liquids for a full month after surgery, so you end up losing a lot of weight too!

I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. I think that if the size of your head/face is in proportion with the rest of your body, you should be happy, no? However, the Korean side of me longs to have a small face, because let’s face it – I have a rather large head.

And with that in mind, I have one last question: is it possible to be pretty, or even beautiful, with a large face?