Every person needs to watch South Korea's 200 Pounds Beauty, and here's why...

I recently watched South Korea's 2006 wildly successful romantic comedy, 200 Pounds Beauty, and for those who aren't familiar with this award-winning movie, this "lighthearted" flick is about an overweight woman who goes through extreme plastic surgery to win a guy and a career, a message that I found both disturbing and strangely honest. This film, which would never get made in the United States, is a prime example of the difference between South Korean and American culture. It is wildly known that South Korea  is a plastic surgery mecca and has the highest rate of plastic surgery amongst any other country. Americans obviously get plastic surgery too, but a pro-plastic surgery film would never be made in our sensitive culture where people such as Maria Kang aka Fit Mom are met with controversy for going against the American love-yourself-mentality. Because Americans would never make this type of film (at least not as a sincere feature film and but maybe as a satire or documentary), I think it is worth watching to create a dialogue about beauty standards and the hypocrisy of vilifying those who try to meet those standards. 
200 Pound Beauty gif courtesy of http://ifangirl.tumblr.com 
The movie introduces us to its lead, Han-na, who is an overweight singer who provides the voice to a sexy pop star, Ammy, a talentless bitch who uses Han-na and treats her badly. Ammy, Han-na's love interest, and various members of society ridicule Han-na for not being skinny and "pretty," and watching the beginning of this movie made me cringe. There were numerous cruel fat jokes or gags, and they were so ridiculous that I really wondered: Are overweight people not common in South Korea? Is it really that acceptable in that society to fat shame to the extent that this movie did? It would be one thing if the cruelty came from the adversarial characters, but it was the filmmakers who seemed the most cruel with their jokes. For instance, Han-na, who probably weighed in at 200 pounds like the title suggested, was backstage at Ammy's concert, and she stood on a platform. Because of Han-na's size, the platform collapsed, and as I watched this scene, I just couldn't suspend my disbelief with how stupid the gag was. Could two people not ever stand on that platform? I mean, seriously...

The closest example to an American film with 200s Pound Beauty's style of fat jokes would be 2001's Shallow Hal, and that movie ended with the lead character realizing that he loves his overweight girlfriend, just the way she is, a far cry from the message of 200 Pounds Beauty that people really don't see beyond the surface.

The movie turned for me when Hanna decided to change her life. She pled with a plastic surgeon to give her a full body makeover, and after some blackmailing, he obliged. With some exercise and the surgeon's knife, Han-na transformed from an overweight backstage artist to a skinny, beautiful leading lady. She changed her name to Jenny, and she reentered her old world with a new identity and became a pop star, outshining her nemesis Ammy. At this point, I started to understand what the film was trying to say. Han-na as the skinny, beautiful Jenny had a better life. People treated her better. She felt better about herself. Not only did she finally get to shine, but she finally got to live.

Then the movie started to get really interesting to me when people who discovered that Jenny was not a natural beauty began to judge her, spray painting her car with the word "Phony" and threatening to expose her "fraud" to her fans. All in all, the cutthroat world Han-na/Jenny inhabited was vicious. It  both shunned women for being not "pretty" and shunned women for the audacity to change themselves for "vain" reasons. At this point, no matter how much I hated those fat jokes from before, it made sense to me that the filmmakers put so many of them in the movie. For Hanna to live a fulfilling life, she had to become Jenny because living in a cruel world was never going to be easy but conforming to societal beauty standards, no matter what it took to do so, at least gave her a chance to fight for herself.
200 Pound Beauty gif courtesy of http://ifangirl.tumblr.com 
The climax of the film occurred at Jenny's largest concert where her secret identity was going to be revealed to all of her fans by her nemesis. Knowing that the ruse was over, she confessed to her fans a tearful admission that she underwent head to toe surgery because she was unhappy with herself and wanted a change. This scene actually made me tear up because I felt the desperation and sadness that went behind Han-na/Jenny's actions, and seeing her happy made her fans happy and they forgave her for the "sin" of wanting to be beautiful. The movie ended with her receiving her happily-ever-after, and the final scene was another "plain" woman begging the plastic surgeon to give her a total body makeover. If there was any doubt that this was a pro-plastic surgery or pro-traditional-beauty-standards film, then that final scene erased it from the audience's mind.

Hollywood has plenty of makeover films because yes, Americans also recognize that being attractive can open doors to a better life. However, Hollywood movies wimp out and include a love yourself message that seemingly wipes away the messaging that it originally conveyed; although beneath all the warm feelings, Hollywood movies also say that you should love yourself but first get attractive. Plus, Hollywood movies would never use plastic surgery as the catalyst for change. They'd advocate getting fit or putting on some makeup, but in real life, many starlets actually do get plastic surgery to achieve their movie star looks.  So although the message of 200 Pounds Beauty may seem off-putting on the surface, is it actually just guilty of being honest. It made me uncomfortable at first because it seemingly was a light rom-com (no pun intended) that was actually a mirror to various societies' own obsession with beauty. Although this was a South Korean movie, this was a movie for women of all cultures, and whether or not we like or agree with its message, it is definitely one that should be talked about.