Why do women want to be beautiful? A qualitative study proposing a new “human beauty values” concept Sunwoo Kim ,Yuri Lee
This study investigated the underlying reasons women desire to be beautiful in South Korean, Chinese, and Japanese cultures by proposing a new concept called human beauty value (HBV). This exploratory qualitative study includes a literature review in related disciplines and the results from ten focus group interviews. Based on the interviews, this study proposes four dimensions of HBV (i.e., superiority, self-development, individuality, and authenticity) and a hierarchical process among the antecedents (i.e., social comparison, social competition, and social norms), the pursuit of HBV, and the consequences (i.e., emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral aspects). Participants from each culture revealed a unique hierarchical process of HBV that reflects both cultural universality and specificity. The results of this study lead to new knowledge about East Asian women’s identities and perceptions of beauty. In addition, the proposed concept, HBV, can broaden the academic lens for beauty-related disciplines.
This study proposes a new concept, human beauty value (HBV), based on an exploratory qualitative study of women’s pursuit of beauty in three East Asian cultures: South Korea, China, and Japan. This study identifies the fundamental reasons women want to be beautiful by focusing on the socio-cultural phenomena that are relevant to women’s perceptions of beauty.
Beauty is only skin-deep, but the perceived absence of beauty may lead to damaging social bias. Compared to men, women may suffer more from social anxiety, prejudice, and inequality based on their appearance [1,2]. To comprehend beauty-related socio-cultural phenomena, many studies have examined the pursuit of beauty related to body image, body perception, a body-related self-concept, and body satisfaction [3–5]. These studies have clarified factors that impact and result in the pursuit of beauty. However, although numerous previous studies on these aspects of beauty have been conducted, there is still a considerable controversy about why women, in particular, are focused on with a beautiful appearance.
Modern East Asian women’s perceptions of beauty have not drawn enough interest in academia. Some studies have attempted to examine the diverse issues related to East Asian women’s perceptions of beauty, but they have collected data from only one culture or have considered the three distinct Asian cultures as the same cultural group [6–10]. As a result, these studies have not sufficiently identified women’s perceptions of beauty considering the cultural consistency and diversity of these three prominent East Asian cultures. Furthermore, the perceptions of beauty in modern East Asia have dramatically changed in a short period of time from the mid 20th century to early 21st century due to the cultural convergence between the cultural inheritance of East Asia and the inflow of Western culture due to industrialization and democratization . As such, exploring East Asian women’s perceptions of beauty from a cross-cultural perspective can have substantial academic significance.
One of the purposes of social science is to manifest the underlying reasons why specific social phenomena occur by developing a theory explaining the relationship among socio-cultural antecedents, phenomena, and consequences, and ultimately predicting future conditions using the theory . Based on this purpose of social science and the lack of previous effective research on East Asian women’s perceptions of beauty, the following objectives were developed:
- Identify the fundamental reasons for women’s perceptions of beauty among three East Asian cultures: South Korea, China, and Japan.
- Understand the hierarchical process among the antecedents, phenomena, and consequences related to women’s desire for beauty in three East Asian cultures: South Korea, China, and Japan.
To achieve these objectives, this study proposes the new concept, HBV to identify the ultimate value East Asian women put on beauty. The study also infers why they want to be beautiful. Additionally, this study explores the antecedents and consequences of these values and systematically attempts to understand the hierarchical process among the antecedents, the pursuit of HBV, and the consequences. To build a theoretical foundation of the concept, this study first defines HBV based on the limited available previous research. Then, to empirically demonstrate the concepts of HBV, we conducted an exploratory qualitative study.