I started this project some years ago. I started it with the intention of completing it. It had gotten some traction in the community.
Then life sort of got in the way.
The premise of the project came about when I was taking photos of a friend. She wanted me to take photos of her tattoo. While taking the photos she started telling me about the impact something like a tattoo has on a girl’s life here in Korea. She explained to me how her aunt had called her a slut the first time she saw it.
She felt dirty. I can understand. Being called a slut by your aunt can’t be easy. She then continued to explain more deeply about different cultural implications things like this have on women here.
Smoking, for example.
Smoking isn’t a good habit. I personally don’t like it at all. That being said, it is a choice and not usually one that directly relates to how you see a person. Here, girls hide that they smoke. Quite hard to even see a girl smoking unless you’re looking. At least, compared to how easy it is to see men smoking.
A sad reality. These types of double standards aren’t exclusive to Korea. They exist all over the world. I just find that here, the hypocrisy is more obvious. Almost all of my male friends smoke and think nothing of it. One of their girlfriends smokes and when we are sitting around the pub it is a topic of conversation. It makes little sense. Most of them have tattoos as well. I mentioned this fact recently and they told me the culture is changing. Tattoos no longer signify “gangster” as they once did. I asked simply if their girlfriends have tattoos. The look I got in return was answer enough.
My friend wanted to be photographed in a motel. At first, I didn’t get it. She explained that motels are also culturally taboo. People all act as though going there is the dirtiest thing they might ever do. It is ironic in that everyone goes to them. It is just something people do. Yet, I showed one of the photos from this series to my group of male friends and asked them what they thought of the girl. They all thought she must be a prostitute because she was in a motel, smoking, and has a tattoo.
She’s a student at one of the best universities in Korea. These guys go to motels with their girlfriends once or twice a week. They all smoke. Many have tattoos.
There are other things I want this project to explore. Age, is another. Women of a certain age and social standing become “ajjumas” here. It isn’t an affectionate term, per say. It isn’t quite negative either. The women who are divorced or who have never been married on the other hand, are often looked upon more negatively.
Other parts of society as well. Foreigners or “waygookin-dul” often face some issues that stem from a similar mindset. As a foreigner myself, I can attest to this.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Korea. I love living here. It isn’t all negative, not even close. I think much of what I mentioned is slowly changing. I suppose, for the people here I love and care about I wish it would change more quickly.
I’m not sure where this project is going to go or if it is even going to go anywhere. I do feel like it is something worth exploring. I suppose though, just like that last time, life could just keep getting in the way.
We shall see.