Recently, I finished reading a manga titled “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” by Gi Maeng-gi. I went on to watch the series adaptation of the comic on Netflix, available with the same name. The South Korean show stars Im Soo-hyang (Kang Mi-rae), Cha Eun-woo (Do Kyung Seok), Jo Woo-ri (Hyun Soo-ah) and Kwak Dong-yeon (Yeon-woo). While the comic was published in 2016, the show was released two years later.
The story centers around a character named Kang Mi-rae who undergoes plastic surgery to escape bullying in her adult life, something she had encountered through her school years. Called “Kang Orc” which loosely translates to ‘monster’, Mi-rae is ridiculed for her appearance and this ends up traumatizing her, taking away her self-esteem. Both the comic and the show help the audience navigate through Mi-rae’s life post-surgery. When she thought that she will be able to lead a quiet life, her college mates find novel methods to ridicule her. This time, she is called a ‘plastic monster’.
It has been years since I started watching K-Drama and “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” definitely comes under my list of Top 5 shows and Top 5 manga. What might seem like a clichéd college love story turned out to be an enlightening showcase for me, wherein not only I learned how we have been taught to perceive beauty but also how we can remedy the situation and become helpful allies to people. This narrative has been able to single-handedly prove that being humane is not really a tough job.
The characters are flawed, relatable yet at the same time, inspiring. Here are some of the lessons I learned from the story:
Looks aren’t everything. Beauty is subjective
The whole drama revolves around the idea of ‘gaze’. That is, how one looks at themselves and how others do. Both Mi-rae and Soo-ah are bullied during their childhood for their ‘looks’, the former for being ‘ugly’ (as her classmates deem her) and the latter for being ‘shabby’. Both of them resort to physical appearance to save themselves and suffer consequences for the same. The show brilliantly depicts the complexity in one’s life which leads them to make certain choices.
Soo-ah in a sense is not an antagonist but a result of her circumstances. The general message that “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” conveys is that we don’t need others’ definitions to define ourselves. Looks don’t guarantee happiness and if one wants to look good, they must do it for themselves and not for others.
Plastic Surgery is not a ‘problem’, the mindset is
Plastic Surgery is an expensive affair and Mi-rae’s parents bear the financial burden of her choice. Mi-rae is forced to resort to this option because of her bullying experience at school. The stress leads her to consider suicide as an option. Opting for Plastic Surgery is one’s individual choice and people can choose it for a variety of reasons. The practice must remain as an ‘option’ that people can avail if they have money but we must fight against the mentality that gives precedence to looks over the person, promotes a certain idea of beauty, keeping certain people on a higher pedestal over others.
Women don’t need external validation. We must first learn to love ourselves
Both Mi-rae and Soo-ah depend on external validation to learn their worth. Constantly questioning themselves through others’ opinion leaves them unhappy and both of them rate others through the same parameters, in their own individual ways. “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” puts its protagonist in situations where the solution that they think they have found turns into a problem. Mi-rae’s chooses plastic surgery to find acceptance but ends up getting excluded by her classmates. The show emphasizes the fact that to lead a happy life, we must first learn to accept ourselves.
Protagonists need not be atypical
The best thing about this show is the diversity in terms of its character portrayal. Be it Mi-rae, Soo-ah, Kyung Seok or any other character, they are all relatable and do not set a very high expectation, making the show worth following. Do-Kyung Seok, the male protagonist, is not your ideal atypical hero that people must dote on. We don’t need people like him. Instead, the show conveys that we need to be like him. The same goes for Yoo-eun.
Kyung Seok is as flawed as we all are, knows his privilege and despite being aware of his circumstances, he never uses power to exert his dominance. He is blunt not because of his background but because of his values. That’s what makes him more relatable.
There are so many things that “My ID is Gangnam Beauty” does right. Available on Netflix with subtitles, the show is worth a watch. Till now, it has received a positive response from the audience.
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