Although I find Korean culture and media very interesting (obviously, considering how much I write about it), I am continually unsettled by its beauty culture (again, something I’ve touched on a few times already). But, to be honest, although some of their cultural standards for what’s beautiful can be considered extreme, at its most basic level it doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you go, this crap is there. It’s here in America, that’s for sure–“lookism”.
First coined in the 1970s during the fat acceptance movement, the term “lookism” is a multi-purpose noun. Not only does it describe the construction of a standard for attractiveness, but it also covers judgments made about individuals based on how well they meet or don’t meet those standardizations. It’s something that exists everywhere, whether we choose to recognize it or not.
The lookism standard obviously varies depending on your environment, but generally speaking, it covers the idea that what is considered beautiful is positive, and what is considered ugly is negative. Oversimplified and kind of stupid? Yes. Reality? Also yes.
Lookism, in its most basic premise, is about an unattractive, overweight, and hopeless guy having a miracle happen to him, as he wakes up in the body of the perfect 17-year-old boy. When he goes to sleep in the handsome body, he wakes back up in his old body. When one is awake, the other sleeps. Thus begins his double life of sorts as he experiences both extremes that come with lookism.
I was always reluctant to give Looksim a chance. The fanservice genre is alive and kickin’, and I’m not a fan. At first, Lookism seemed like prime real estate for it. A comic based on a guy getting the “high school dream”? Yep, Mary Sue complex waiting to happen. I was half-expecting a harem comic, which is also not to my taste.
Of course, maybe that’s me admitting myself guilty of committing lookism myself since I was pretty quick to judge the first few chapters and put it down. Luckily a late night had me looking for something to read, and I gave the series another chance because, dude, I was pleasantly surprised.
Daniel Park has been bullied, taken advantage of, and generally run into the ground his entire life, and his current predicament in high school is no different. He is the dog of a local bully, forced in fear to every degrading thing his tormentor can conceive. This includes commands to act like Pikachu, “Pika, pika,” and all.
In the beginning, Lookism‘s protagonist is almost as unlikable as his tormentors. Although Daniel’s situation is dire and his school life is unequivocal hell, in no way has this situation humble him or encouraged growth. Rather he lusts for his own sense of power, and he admits himself that the only place he can feel that is at home with his mother, who he exercises undo anger and frustration against. He even goes so far as to, when his mom calls out his bully, take his bully’s side rather than his mothers. You suck, Daniel.
Although this was the first thing that made me less-loving this comic (“Is this jerk kid going to get everything even when he treats his mom like that?!” I thought), but actually this is the first evidence that Lookism is not a fanservice comic, and it’s not a Mary Sue pice. To my surprise, I’ve found Lookism to be a great work that focuses on multiple societal issues that come with its very appropriate title base, lookism.
As the comic progressed, what really hooked me in was Daniel’s character progression. He’s clearly flawed, and not Mary-Sue-flawed. You know, “Oh no, I’m clumsy!” or “Oh man, I’m way too nice!” Daniel lacks experience, but he’s not entirely innocent of some basic but dark feelings. His life pre-body-swap was literal crap. It was humiliation served on a rusty platter, and it affected him. As temptations arise from the benefits of his new and improved body, Daniel’s past experiences sway him both ways–for better or worse.
Lookism is admittedly full of very funny, very silly moments, but overall it’s surprising how open it is about the dark side of a lookism culture. The comic covers so many things that are culturally specific to this day and age in South Korea, including bullying, digital gambling, internet fame (and shame), host clubs, K-pop idols, stalking, and so much more.
Really, this comic is quite PG-13 as it carries language, violence, and some very creepy stuff. But it’s all done from the viewpoint of some very young and quite innocent eyes that, although it can get quite dark, it’s never too much. Lookism is quite appropriately named as its a fully open, no bars, naked looked at the entirety of a lookism-based culture and its effects. It’s quite genius when you think about it because it has you asking so many questions, makes you wonder just why changing our appearance can have so much effect on others.
Lookism is great in its cultural stripping, but it’s even better thanks to its distinct and multifaceted characters. While re-reading it for screenshots I realized that you really hate all the characters when you first meet them. Very few of these characters aren’t people that you can accurately judge at face value. Daniel himself is a great example. He’s clearly got a hard lot in life, but he treats his mom like crap at first. Another character, Zach, beats Daniel to a pulp when he first meets him just for smiling at his date. Then Vasco comes in looking like a fully-tattooed thug.
The great part is all of these characters are so much more than their first impressions. The author, Taejun Park, does a great job of utilizing reader’s prejudices and quick judgments to prove that we all suffer from lookism. We all judge each other instantaneously, and it puts all of us on edge. We all act out against our best interests in fear of the judgment that we’re passing on others ourselves.
But let me just reiterate how freaking funny this comic is. The further in you get, the more you get to know the characters true sides, the funnier it becomes. And I love that! I love that it feels like you’re really becoming friends with this diverse cast of people. They can all be so ridiculously funny with their certain quirks and silliness. Please tell me when you get to the chapter with Vasco’s birthday party–I promise, it will have you in hysterics.
I’m continually glad that I gave Lookism a chance. I’m also super grateful that the official English translation didn’t happen until much, much later, because now we get updates five days a week, and it’s awesome.
There’s so much I want to say about Lookism, but the discovery process with the characters and the plot are a joy that I don’t want to take away from any potential reader. Let me just put it simply: Lookism is a book that you cannot judge by its cover.
You can read Lookism on Webtoon; it updates every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday.