Jul 14, 2009  •  In Beauty, Information, Korean, Personal

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?

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131 Responses to “Koreans and the Small Face Phenomenon”

  1. Emily says:

    Wow I’ve never heard of this! Maybe that’s why my Korean FSIL agreed to marry my brother – he has a really small head for his body. 😛

    Personally, I think that people look best when their heads are in proportion with the rest of their bodies but I’ve never really given this much thought. Maybe I’ll change my opinion after some more observation.

      • dedly dream says:

        I think that anyone can look beautiful if they accentuate what they have. God gave you that face because it looks beautiful on you, thus, you shouldn’t be messing with your face. The reasons? One, God gave you that face because it looks beautiful on you, and two, you may suffer from an individual “reverse cheerleader effect”; a specific part of your body may look good individually, but when seen with your body as a whole it won’t.

        P.S. I think you look very, very beautiful with your original head. It suits you very well, and like many Koreans you have very beautiful features without surgery.

  2. Geek in Heels says:

    I never really considered face size to be so important either, until I started hanging out with more Koreans, watching more Korean shows, and reading more Korean websites. Some people have actually straight-out told me that I would be prettier if my head was smaller.

    Cosmetic surgery has become so rampant in Korea that Asian blepharoplasty (the double eyelid surgery) is almost considered a rite of passage for young women. I think that pretty soon, the big-eyed, small-faced look will become so exaggerated that girls will not look human anymore. Case in point:

    + makeup and hair =

  3. It’s so that they look more childlike, but DAMN that is some screwed up ish to get your JAW shaved down just for “beauty”

  4. Two Wishes says:

    On the one hand, the big-eyed small-jawed baby look seems to be a universal measure of an attractive female. But the emphasis on an actual small head — or countries that believe well-fed is beautiful as opposed to the Western norm of thinness, or whatever — just goes to show how arbitrary these cultural beauty standards can be. Sad that we women (and increasingly, men) beat ourselves up so much over something that arbitrary.

  5. Chammas says:

    Interesting. I lived in Seoul when I was a teenager, I got some interesting comments on the way I looked. I was told on several occasions that I had big eyes like an alien. I was told it was a good thing, but I thought it was strange. Like the comment before me every culture has their idea of what beauty is. It’s just unfortunate that beauty tends to be something that has to be surgically created.

  6. THE TRUTH says:

    look, let’s all face the simple TRUTH. They want to look more WHITE. It is pitiful and shameful! Please, everyone, let’s all love ourselves!

    • scoff says:

      Get over yourself, big eyes and pale faces don’t only belong to white people did u guys now copyright it?, e.g White people spry themselves orange do they want to look asian? When white people are pale they MOSTLY have a more pink hue while the ideal milky skin in korea is a more yellow/beige hue. Those standards where wanted in east asia before they ever even saw european people, The ulzzang look which you might call wanting to be white is pale skin, big eyes, and SMALL nose and lips, in asia smaller lips are preferred while in western countries plumper lips are MOSTLY preferred.

      • Kim says:

        Oh, no denial please. Maybe those Korean said they don’t want to become white. But don’t you know the current trend of forehead implant along with rhinoplasty ? They want to copies skull struckture of white. Sorry, but it’s common in White to have face that small and more projected to the front. And it’s common in East Asian too have flatter face. Just see Korean top actress like Kim Tae Hee. Is pretty rare to find such a big eye in Korean. I’m chinese and I want to be honest I want some of White trait on my face except their skin tone.

      • Mina says:

        How often do I have to explain people that you can’t compare human races with each other. We live in a media-ruled world with a beauty-hierarchy. Whites are on top followed by asians and black people (random: the brighter your skin as an asian and african, the better) – a white person will surely not try to look asian or black because she wants to get tan or dark hair- white people are more successfull in any-way instead of asians- so why would they? But it would be natural for asians and blacks aiming for a more caucasian look because duuuh they’re on top. So big eyes, v shaped faces, slim, double eyelid, high nose- where else does that come from? Whites are even treated better anywhere… reason? … I’m asian myself btw. lets face the facts.

    • stx53550 says:


    • Oh, please says:

      Really? How is wanting to be paler a pitiful and shameful thought?
      I had to stop and comment because this is really offending since I’m Korean, but what about you white people obsessing over tan skin? There are lots of different oppinions form different people around the world, so think before you say such things, because cultures can be different and shouldn’t be judged of! Gosh!

      P.S. We think people with small faces are pretty BECAUSE it regulates out your body shape and makes you look taller and skinnier. Not because we want to look freaky or anything.

  7. Girl says:

    The other day, my Korean friend randomly brought up how small my face was. I didn’t really get it –I thought being able to cover your face with one hand was kind of freaky. But now I get this bizarre trend.

    Ick, it’s a shame some people go through all that surgery and pain and such just for beauty. >n<
    I mean…is it really worth it? Soon everyone is going to look like carbon copies…

  8. j says:

    this thanksgiving i went to go see my boyfriends family (he is korean) and i thought it was so rude that his aunt kept staring at me and asking me why my face was so small but now i realize that -maybe- it was a compliment

  9. Nizram says:

    Their life and their choices. A lot of people have plastic surgery these days and if they think that having it improves their looks and make them happier, then so be it.

  10. Chloe says:

    I have a very small face, even though I am short. And I’m very self conscious about it, I feel like a look like a child, and I feel like I can’t be pretty with a small face! Haha, so I’m the complete opposite! But at least Koreans would think I was pretty!

  11. Kira says:

    I think it’s a waste. Many are pretty before surgery, and end up looking like one out of an army of robots afterward. No offense, but they are all starting to look a like.

  12. thirteen says:

    i think they are pretty much already looking alike…so freaky.look at SNSD, they are so same!

    • scoff says:

      thirteen? Is that how old you are cause it’s darn likely reading your comment, maybe you don’t know them all too well or your not all too attentive but me and thousands of other people could tell them apart in our sleep, “There are so same” WTH

    • Kim says:

      Yoona looks like Sunny? ehm… Maybe you cannot differentiate asian face at all?

  13. kumb says:

    there is a difference between small head and small face, which is it? A face area is the distance from your eye brows to your bottom lip. Here is an example of a small face http://cdn.holytaco.com/www/sites/default/files/photo/d3/8194/Why-Small-Face_500x500.jpg

  14. Badger says:

    I’m American & I didn’t even notice big faces were what was popular. D:
    I always preferred the smaller faces.

  15. Talia says:

    I just returned from a fantastic summer abroad in Japan. I noticed this small face trend carries true there too. In the US I’ve always been somewhat self-conscious about my small face, but I never really thought about it much. Then I arrived in Japan and my school friends commented on it much to my chagrin. They meant it as a compliment, they told me.

    After an interlude away from home I’m intrigued by the beauty standard differences, and how they’re affecting me and my own considerations. As other posters have pointed out, it’s interesting to consider how our ideas about aesthetics change. I’m reminded of many painting I saw in an art history class in which the subjects were large, wide woman. At the time these woman were held as the model of feminine beauty.

    What do you think has influenced our cultures in the twenty first century in both Asia and the Western world to focus on things like huge eyes?

  16. Mayla Nee says:

    I don't think this is about looking more white. White people tan, even at the risk of getting cancer, get lip injections, and butt implants but yet no one accusing them of wanting to be black. They also get cheek implants, face injections (for a fuller face), nose jobs for button noses, get their hair flatten bone straight, and diet themselves to be super skinny but yet no one accuses them of wanting to be Asian.

    For the most part, Beauty is based on rarity. White people with tan skins, round butts, and full lips are called beautiful because those features are rare to their race. White women with high cheekbones, sculpted faces, button noses, and petite shapes are considered beautiful too because those features are rare to their race too. Think about it! Common, white traits such as pale skin, large hooked noses, beady eyes, thin lips, shapeless faces (why do you think they get cheek implants & face injections), and flat butts aren't like by Whites let alone any other race.

    Koreans obsess with double eye lids and v faces because they are somewhat rare in their society. Sure there are some Asians who are born with double eye lids and v-faces but its very rare for them to be born with both. Hence, its rarity. And movie stars always want to seem so different than the average woman. So they get plastic surgery to align themselves with these rare features. It's the same story in Korea, as it is in the US with an unnatural amount of tanned, button nosed, full lipped, high cheek boned, and petite White women famous in Hollywood.

    So looking "prettier" isn't always based on "looking white." Taylor Swift's small eyes doesn't make her less white. But more so universal beauty markers which are big eyes, petite symmetrical faces (for women), small noses, clear skin and full lips. This is what beautiful women of all races have. White people aren't the only ones who have the best traits, but since they control the media; it only seems like they do.

    I don't like plastic surgery. I hate the idea of risking your life to adhere to a standard of beauty. Or to be "famous." Yeah, some people are born beautiful and it does seem unfair. In that way, plastic surgery is seen as leveling the playing field for average to ugly people. But there are people who are born rich, but there is still no excuse for a poor person to rob a bank. There are people who are naturally smart but there is still no excuse for dumb kids to cheat on a test. There are people who are naturally athletic but there is still no excuse for the non-athlete to take steroids. I just wish people would make do with what they got and work on their spirits, not their faces.

    Anyone can be famous.
    Fame is cheap.fame is easy.Fame is fleeting.
    But try achieving greatness.
    Greatness is hard.Greatness is lonely. Greatness is work.Greatness is humbling.
    Greatness is a responsibility and greatness lasts forever.
    You don’t want greatness… do you?

    • Mina says:

      Like I said above- you can’t compare races like that. Of course whites are not wanting to be more black when they tan or more asian when they dye their hair black- because when it comes to the beauty-hierarchy of the world, they’re on top. The world is ruled by the Media- and you’ll see White people anywhere. as long as that keeps up. Europe and the States- I live here, and when I try to look for a magazine with at least one or two asians or blacks in it, I don’t even find some in a huge International Magazine-Shop at the Trainstation. Yes, it’s racist. And yes, it’s stupid since we’re actually equal. But it’s the truth. So Asians try to aim for a more caucasian look without fully loosing their culture, and Blacks prefer lighter skin as well, whithout being fully white. – Let’s say all of you are right and nobody wants to look caucasian. In that case, white people must be the most beautiful people, right? since they have all those traits…. so either way- we end up realizing that whites are on top. I’m asian myself and I don’t like it but – again- lets face the facts.

  17. Macel Seineke says:

    HAHA; they all want to look more caucasian. What a loser race. have some pride of your features.

    • scoff says:

      and you guys dont wanna look asian and black with all the fake tan, lip injection etc? Stop being such a loser and get a life

      • alicia says:

        i think you scoff are the only envious here, stop being rude, people opinnion is just that, a point of view. you seem to be on the defensive, asian people must love themselves, there are ugly and beautiful girls/boys everywhere. but this kind of obsession is a really scary. i agree with Macel, asians (just the obsessed ones) WANT to look more caucasian, that’s true. all the american influence around the world and those good looking actresses/singers or hot/handsome actors maybe are the real matter (come on!!! brad pitt, angelina jolie, megan fox, zac efron, bla bla bla)

        • stx53550 says:

          hopefully you’ll meet a painful death

        • FU says:

          Duhhh.. then why are americans obsessed with having tanned skin??? Why do many americans prefer ASIAN partners?(I’ve met many) not only angelina, megan fox are stunning and beautiful but also asians! And basically, how can you say that asians are obsessed ones? To be like you??? You don’t have the right to insult us. Hate racists like you. RESPECT PLEASE.

    • stx53550 says:

      Isn’t the internet great. It allows shitheads like yourself to say shit that would, in real life
      get your head cracked open.

      Hopefully you’ll suffer the same fate fucking cunt.

      Please turn to the loaded gun in your drawer, put it in your mouth, and pull the trigger,
      blowing your brains out. You’ll be doing the whole world a favor. Shitbag.

      I would love to smash your face in until it no longer resembled anything human, faggot.

      Can you please remove yourself from the gene pool? Preferably in the most painful and agonizing way possible? Retard

      Die painfully okay? Prefearbly by getting crushed to death in a
      garbage compactor, by getting your face cut to ribbons with a
      pocketknife, your head cracked open with a baseball bat, your stomach
      sliced open and your entrails spilled out, and your eyeballs ripped
      out of their sockets. Fucking bitch

      I really hope that you get curb-stomped. It’d be hilarious to see you
      begging for help, and then someone stomps on the back of your head,
      leaving you to die in horrible, agonizing pain. Faggot

      Shut the fuck up f aggot, before you get your face bashed in and cut
      to ribbons, and your throat slit.

  18. tnzteukie says:

    LOL it doesnt mean u will look preety if you have small face and big eyes
    u have to be a lil preety :PP
    like the girl on the page
    and i also think boy/girl with small face are cute and ……. damn cute !!!!
    I SAY OwO

  19. macel seineke is a 'tard says:

    The loser here is you macel seineke. You're a disgrace to your own race. go die.

  20. macel seineke is a 'tard says:

    and anyway there are asians already born with small pretty faces so it's not even just a white thing. wtf loads of white people I see have big ugly faces ayway. not to mention no damn lips and weird noses.

  21. Kshin says:

    I am a korean guy, and althought I have been complimented on being handsome and all that bs and I think I have The biggest face in the world… it sucks especially being asian

  22. LAguy says:

    Jude law, george clooney,ben affleck ,leo decaprio, angelina jolie,kelly ripa,nic cage,
    andrew aggasi,sarah palin,jenn lopez,50 cent, kelsey grammer,kelly ozborne, christina ricci,cedric entertainer,
    dolf lundgren,,matt mcconaughy,julia louie dyfrus, sarah jessica parker,
    are just few examples of celebrities with big heads.

  23. 슬미래 says:

    I never noticed I had such a small face before. I just held up a cd to my face and it covered my face. I did think it was prettier to have a smaller face than a large one, it helps a person look younger. Though there is no reason to go all out and get jaw surgery. Who cares if your face is big or not: nobody. Prooves that we are our worst critic.
    Small faces usually have small features to accompany them also, other than eyes. Usually the lips and nose are petite and the eyes are at least a bit bigger than average. Almost every ulzzang has a small face, so you can google that and there is a small face.

  24. anony says:

    It’s disappointing how people on here assume all Asians look the same, all Europeans looks the same, all Africans look the same – etc. Not every european or asian or african person looks the same as everyone else in their race. It all depends on your genes, like lots of europeans have natural button noses, or thick lips, and how lots of asians usually gain double eyelids further in life, and how some africans have flat butts or thin lips.

    It’s all about possessing what you yourself don’t have, not what your ethnicity doesn’t have.

  25. drewlang says:

    well looking at the pictures above. The actress Han Yehseul isn’t pretty at all and she has a small face.

    I’ve seen girls with big faces who are beautiful. Just because you have a small face doesn’t mean you are beautiful. You need great features as well!

  26. Jing says:

    There are ways using makeup to make your face look smaller. Why go under the knife to totally ulter what God gave you?? Its just outrageous. But that is just my own oppinon.

    I have medium sized head and sometimes use makeup (it works) to make my face look more narrower. bleh anyway.

    Interesting post 🙂

  27. Stefani says:

    hey, I thinks those measumerents are wrong
    well.. my hole face is 18 cm, from the up of my head front to my chin
    and thats pretty normal here in latinamerica…
    i mean sorry :/ but this problem of the “big face” is just for the asian people, or only in korea i dont know
    but I cant beliebe Park Minyoung was that before D:

  28. Krasnavin says:

    Simply having a small head or face doesn’t add up to beauty. There are many people in South Asia (India, Bangladesh, etc) who have that trait
    but most would not be considered anywhere near handsome or pretty in Korea, Japan or the US. All facial and head factors need to come into play for star qualities.

  29. Rennard says:

    My head is around 24 cms … I know, its incredibly big! I’m seriously thinking in getting a jaw shaving surgery, cause it can make my face a good 2 cm smaller. Still big but not as gigantic. It sucks cause because of my big face I dont have luck with girls, and I suffer so much because of it.

  30. Philippa says:

    Im really confused – One person told me that a small face is the width of a persons face (so huge, sticking out cheek bones were bad)
    another person said it was the ratio of face to head (so a small head and big face would be good)
    and this says a small face is good… also, does the face constitute eyes to mouth being small (so their is a lot of forehead and chin?) or does it include forehead and cheeks, so basically your hairline is low and you have a small chin?

    I personally dont notice ANY of these things when I look at a person tho… haha

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