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There’s More… The Hidden Learnings of K-Drama Gangnam Beauty

4 years ago, My ID is Gangnam Beauty took the K-drama world by storm for a couple of reasons, but the main ones are as follows: 

Firstly, it forces attention on the unrealistic beauty standards honed by modern society.

Secondly, it stays true to the real consequences and dangers of such perfectionistic views—-discrimination, bullying, and mental health issues such as bulimia and suicide. 

Thirdly, the director’s courage and wit for engaging the ‘face genius’ Cha Eun Woo to deliver the underlying punch of the story’s ultimate message about beauty.

But this is not about all that.

I fell in love with this adorably honest drama for the other lessons that I learned—the hidden lessons about self-worth and friendships. Here are my three favourites:

1. ”Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”

I caught this on Instagram (@greatbuddhism). Then, a brief search on Google tells me that this is also a quote from the peace-loving Mahatma Gandhi… and a few other significant figures of the past (, 2018; Understand Qur’an Academy, 2013; Quote Investigator, 2010).  

I am not here to verify the source of the quote, but I appreciate its existence because regardless of the different forms, they all drive a sense of respect towards self.  

In My ID is Gangnam Beauty, Cha Eun Woo’s character, Do Kyung Seok, unconsciously champions this. 

Stills from the drama. Source: Watchasians CC (Accessed on 2022)

Here, he was served the famous question meant for all the protagonists of romance dramas.  However, following the storyline, it is understood that the question had other intentions—either to gain the popular vote or induce a vindictive act against the female protagonist. 

Kyung Seok recognised it. You can tell from his facial expression that, clearly, anything he said would be misunderstood or used against him. 

Stills from the drama. Source: Watchasians CC (Accessed on 2022)

So he resumed eating and said nothing. What else is better than silence in this situation? 

Arguably, it is easier said than done—-how do we ignore a question or a person without coming across as rude or arrogant? It is not feasible. 

I do not disagree. But the point of this lesson remains: it is not about ignoring a query or a remark; it is the response we choose to give. 

We owe no one an answer when their true intention is not to get a genuine one. Kyung Seok has witnessed his enquirer’s devious methods, so he is aware of her habits. He decided not to partake in her plans and acted on his choice. 

Similarly, we owe no one an explanation, especially when we are not the cause. When the female protagonist Kang Mi Rae was blamed for something that she had no control over, she recognised the guilt-tripping and simply, quietly, walked away. 

Stills from the drama. Source: Watchasians CC (Accessed on 2022)

Herein lies the crucial step to building self-worth—-knowing our worth. 

To do so, we need to see that our worth is not determined by others—-peers, or friends or family—even though we are inclined or being cajoled to think so.  

Our worth is based on our nature as human beings. Every person deserves to be treated with basic human courtesy. When it is absent, it is natural to feel a sense of seeking justice for self. That is when we make a choice to walk away, or stay around and dive into a defensive mode, or stay behind and not react.

Not all that is being said requires a reaction. 

2. Ill intentions will cross paths with you even when you did nothing

As the story progresses, the ill intentions of Soo Ah, the main antagonist, becomes clearer to Mi Rae. Like most female protagonists, Mi Rae has been minding her own business all this while, but that did not stop Soo Ah from initiating contact with her, claiming her as a friend, and sabotaging her every chance with a guy. 

Stills from the drama. Source: Watchasians CC (Accessed on 2022)

Eventually, we learned that Soo Ah is as much of a victim as Mi Rae—she had a bad experience with a friend from her past who had pursued beauty through means of surgery. This led Soo Ah to view people like her friend as cheaters. 

But does this justify her actions towards Mi Rae? Is Mi Rae the cause of Soo Ah‘s behaviour? If Mi Rae had not existed, Soo Ah would not have done what she did. If Mi Rae had not gone under the knife to acquire beauty, Soo Ah would not have been triggered. 

Wrong. No matter how much Soo Ah claimed it to be, the fact is: it was never Mi Rae’s fault but hers alone. 

Mi Rae is not responsible for what happened to Soo Ah in the past, and she definitely cannot control Soo Ah’s emotions. 

There are many times we question ourselves whether we have done something to deserve the bad things that have happened, or are happening, to us. As much as we like to think so, the truth is the exact opposite—ill intentions will cross paths with us even when we did nothing. 

Remove the guilt and see the unpleasant event as what it is—another life challenge. Then, at your own pace, find your way through it and learn what you have to learn. 

If it gives you peace, you can always be a comfort to the Soo Ahs who have crossed paths with you, just as Mi Rae did. 

But most importantly, remember, since bad things happen even when you did nothing, you are not to be blamed for it.

3. Friends do not say things that they will later apologise for

When a senior commented that Soo Ah’s pretty face seems too good to be true, she responded with a clarification that she did not go through plastic surgery, implying that her beauty is natural. 

Stills from the drama. Source: Watchasians CC (Accessed on 2022)

Then, she turned to Mi Rae and remarked with an innocent smile, “Mi Rae is prettier. I bet she didn’t get anything fixed either. Right, Mi Rae?” 

Stills from the drama. Source: Watchasians CC (Accessed on 2022)

The ensued awkward silence answered the question. Everyone could tell that Mi Rae’s face had indeed gone through reconstruction, and everyone knew that it was an inappropriate topic for a table chat.

When her motive was questioned by Kyung Seok, who saw through her pretence, she hastily apologised to Mi Rae, but only after shedding her tears in defence. 

Soo Ah may have been telling the truth if she had not consistently said things to disgrace or guilt-trip Mi Rae only to apologise for it later.

Remember that she declared herself to be Mi Rae’s friend at the start of the story. So is she a friend or a foe?

I have my own share of experiences with people who forthrightly claim to be my friends only to show their true shades much later. Friendships ended the way they usually would in such cases—-with an epiphany after much hurt and pain. 

No one wants to be hurt, and no one deserves to be hurt.  

It is helpful to spot the signs of malice so we can decide whether to self-protect or flee. Analysing Soo Ah’s lines, particularly her introduction to Kyung Seok’s mother, CEO Na, gave me some insights.

Kyung Seok had fought with another part-timer who made derogatory remarks about Soo Ah and Mi Rae, particularly Mi Rae. Whilst he was at the police station with Mi Rae and the part-timer, his mother visited and met Soo Ah for the first time. 

Soo Ah was in the midst of her secret plan to win over Kyung Seok’s affection and claim her superiority over Mi Rae. Hence, by the Korean familial custom, Kyung Seok’s mother became her golden ticket to victory. 

So she deviously manipulated the explanation to her advantage: when CEO Na asked for her son, Soo Ah put on a solemn look as she replied, “But [Kyung Seok] is not here right now.” This set the serious mood for what was to come. 

Next, Soo Ah first introduced herself as Kyung Seok’s ‘friend in college’ before resuming the worried look from earlier and continued in a helpless tone, “[Kyung Seok] is… .” Noticeably, Mi Rae was carefully kept out of the conversation, as if saying her name was a taboo. 

Stills from the drama. Source: Watchasians CC (Accessed on 2022)

CEO Na immediately caught up with the ominous atmosphere and enquired if something bad had happened to her son. Naturally, Soo Ah fed her exactly what she needed to hear: her son was ‘taken to a police station because he got into a fight’.

With CEO Na visibly shocked and worried, Soo Ah delivered the final blow with a look of disapproval: “[Your son] got into a fight with another part-timer because of a girl named Kang Mi Rae.”  

If CEO Na had not known Mi Rae prior to meeting Soo Ah, she would have bought Soo Ah’s portrayal of Mi Rae as a girl who would flirt around and make guys fight over her. The kind of girl that most Korean mothers would frown upon and keep them away from their sons. 

Fortunately for Mi Rae, Kyung Seok’s mother had known her before Soo Ah did, so the latter’s plan was foiled. 

Throughout the drama, Soo Ah’s lines tend to follow a pattern that becomes more obvious nearing the end: she would promote herself first then use it against Mi Rae. 

She uses ‘if’ often to guilt-trip Mi Rae. For instance, in her defence, Soo Ah claimed that ‘if’ she knew about Mi Rae’s surgery, she would not have brought it up, thus turning the table around and blaming Mi Rae for putting her in a spot. 

So how to tell if something was said with malice? To answer this, take a second to ask ourselves: how would it be said differently by us or others? 

Is the person who claims to be my friend truly an ally? If Soo Ah was a friend as she declared herself to be, she would put the truth before her own introduction. 

Stills from the drama. Source: Watchasians CC (Accessed on 2022)

Not being one’s friend does not make you an enemy either. But My ID is Gangnam Beauty showed me that one way to build self-worth is through managing my friendships. 

A true friend will never compromise your worth—-just as Mi Rae’s roommate and high school friend, Hyun Jung. 

Be patient, you’ll find your ‘Hyun Jung’.