As a kid I liked all these “makeover” stories a lot. It all started with the one where the ugly duckling turned into a pretty white swan. Then, there was the Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality, Devil wears Prada, oh and we can’t forget Cinderella and all the reboots! I was pulled by the whole “before-after” phenomenon, sadly, because that’s what I saw on screens and in magazines. It always seemed that as a woman, things only go your way if you are beautiful, pretty, polite, and presented yourself in a certain way. “Beauty” then became standardized instead of objective. Thanks to that, I always felt like a “Before” picture who could just never seem to reach the “After” no matter what I did. Can you blame me? Just look at the representation on the screens.
Beauty standards have literally become trends. They keep changing. It’s almost like Russian Roulette at this point, as in hopefully what you look like might become a beauty trend one year. On realizing this, I got over these makeover movies after a while with some resolve. That being said Netflix is pretty sneaky. It recommends me She Was Pretty. I didn’t plan on watching it but then I saw Park Seo-Joon on the cover. I mean, who can say no to that? So, I thought I’d give it a try, worst case scenario, I get to stare at his gorgeous face for 16 episodes. And I got to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
I was glad there was no miracle that makes her suddenly beautiful and things go her way, or a knight in shining armor who makes her feel confident and loved, or an actual physical transformation like weight loss, or a whole beauty salon makeover montage. It was more delicate than that. It had complexities of feelings and passion dealing with her own resolve. Yes, of course there was a wardrobe and make up change as well but it didn’t take over the point they were trying to make. I really appreciated that.
Kim Hye-jin (played by Hwang Jung-eum) and Ji Sung-joon (played by Park Seo-joon) are childhood friends who decide to meet up after several years. Having noticed how different their looks have gotten, as in he lost all his baby fat and got ridiculously handsome, while she inherited her dad’s frizzy hair and freckles, Hye-jin starts to feel insecure. She can’t seem to face her first love this way and cooks up a scheme to have her very beautiful best friend Min Ha-ri (played by Go Joon-hae) pretend to be her and meet up with Sung-joon. It later comes and bites her back as she ends up working at the department where he turns out to be her boss. So, she needs to keep her identity a secret.
THE FEMALE LEAD: Kim Hye-jin
Kim Hye-jin is someone you either just love from the beginning ’cause you want to root for the underdog, or someone you find super annoying at first but then grows on you steadily and you end up loving her for who she is inside and out. I went in assuming that she is going to be pretty basic, a not so good-looking character gets a make-over and ta-da she’s super pretty and everything works out. But in fact, it’s way more intricate than that. She is a hard-working woman, passionate about her career. She doesn’t let her insecurities get in the way. I’m not saying one shouldn’t have any insecurities. That’s just unrealistic because of course we do. We all do. And sometimes you just can’t help it, but not letting us get affected by it is a whole other aspect. That’s what I loved about Hye-jin. Even though she has her insecurities she takes a leap, she steps forth and makes things happen for her.
She has these certain cute and pure moments like when she gets her office ID card with her photo on it. I feel like my first reaction would pretty much be damn my photo is not flattering as we tend to do that though with our school ID’s, office ID’s, licences, passport photos, mug shots? (;P) but Hye-jin is just super ecstatic with the idea of having an ID card. She got a job and that’s all that matters to her.
Of course, she is given tedious tasks to run around while the pretty one is usually excused. I can’t say for sure if it is a realistic depiction or not, but the fact that they mention that she was hired because of her mundane looks since she won’t get distracted by boys was just heartbreaking.
“The Law of Luck ensures you will receive good fortune in the future equal to the amount of misfortune you currently face. If you think you’re experiencing bad things, endure, and good things will come your way soon.”– Kim Hye-jin
She later gets transferred to, of course, the fashion department. Bit of a cliché, bit of Devil wears Prada, but unlike DWP she wasn’t constantly looked down upon by her colleagues because of her appearance and I absolutely loved that. People just did their jobs. She also finds a pretty supporting work friend Kim Shin-hyuk (played by Choi Siwon) who in his own way does his best to support her. Yes, there are comments about her looks every now and then but that’s the point of the show, I guess.
I liked how capable she is. No matter how challenging she found a situation or a task, she went out of her way to figure it out. But it did bother me that she loses all common sense when Sung-joon seems to be around. Slowly though, the things I thought were annoying started to resonate and you see her character develop in a rather steady and beautiful way.
THE MALE LEAD: Ji Sung-joon
Ji Sung-joon is shown as a rather hot-headed employer who, for me initially, was a character I liked the least. I didn’t think that was possible considering he was played by Park Seo-joon. He just seemed mean and arrogant and I did not like the way he kept yelling at Hye-jin, or the way he treated his work team making them feel intimidated. But you see a very different side of him whenever he is with Ha-ri (or rather Ha-ri pretending to be Hye-Jin). He is a warm kind hearted trying to reconnect with the fond memories he has of his first love.
Later you find out the pressure he unleashes on his staff is because of the overbearing pressure from his office in New York, he is faced with tough tasks and a deadline he needs to accomplish or the Most Magazine will be discontinued. Due to his love for his job his passion unfortunately presents him as a rude, hard to please boss you just don’t want to be around.
His childhood trauma seems to keep him in his shell and the only one he feels comfortable enough to reach out to is Hye-jin. That is why whenever he sees the real Hye-jin who always seems to lose her cool around him and mess up, it truly bothers him as she doesn’t live up to the name ‘Hye-jin’ that he holds so dear to him.
THE BEST FRIEND: Min Ha-ri
She’s Hye-jin’s best friend, so I had to write about her. Everytime she was on screen I had such strong emotions. Not all of them were good but they were always different. One moment I wanted to hug her and the next I was pissed. All the characters in this show are complex but Ha-ri seemed to be a whole other level. It’s easy to dislike her at times just as it is easy to love her.
Min Ha-ri is a dedicated best friend to Hye-Jin. Even though she was reluctant to pull a Freaky Friday with her, she went through with it. And she went all out. She made sure Sung-joon wouldn’t be suspicious of anything. With most of the Kdramas I have seen, I’ve always loved the female friendships in them. I am almost envious. They get to see each other every day, some of them are even roommates. While me and my bestie don’t even live in the same continent most of the time. (Not that it stops us from talking every day, thank you technology.) My point is, friendship, to me personally, is one of the most important things in my life. And when I see a beautiful amazing relationship of love and care between friends, it just warms my heart. I loved Ha-ri and Hye-jin. They had each other’s back. But then ‘uh-oh’. Ha-ri (while pretending to be Hye-jin) starts falling for Sung-joon. And man did I get super judge-y super quick. I was like, “Nah, you just don’t do that. I get it you can’t control who and when you fall for, but it just CANNOT be your best friend’s man/woman/person, Just no”. I didn’t want to sympathize with her. I was just mad at Ha-ri.
I started to get restless as I felt this show was going to be one of those sad love triangles, filled with insecurities, bringing a tiff between women friendships, there’s gonna be an ugly fight and what not. But I am super happy to admit I was so wrong. Instead of going at each other’s throats, which is usually how it’s shown in most movies and TV shows written by men, because apparently they believe that’s the only way women can resolve issues, these 2 friends just trusted each other. Period. Hye-jin felt something was up but when Ha-ri asked her for some time and trust, Hye-jin didn’t didn’t even hesitate to do so. They just had to come through for each other and they did. Beautifully. My restlessness towards Ha-ri faded, solely because of Hye-Jin’s faith in her. That’s how strong their friendship was. This made me want to think through Ha-ri’s point of view.
Like I said, we all have our insecurities, no matter how beautiful, strong, successful. Min Ha-ri who is the epitome of conventional beauty showed that to us. She is obsessive about her, skin care, her calorie intake and works out relentlessly to maintain how she looks. But she has this emptiness in her. She believed that since her mom left her when she was young so men would too. These abandonment issues made her believe ‘true love’ is a myth. Along with that, her family didn’t seem to treat her well. So, the only person she ever truly loved was Hye-jin. It then made sense to me that her falling for Sung-joon simply because he treated her with love and respect was inevitable. She knows what’s happening isn’t right and you can see the pain she is in.
She does end up coming through for Hye-jin. Painstakingly makes her resolve. And honestly, I applaud her for it. That must have hurt like hell.
The only thing that bothered me with this show was they do seem to go overboard in making Hye-jin appear less and less appealing at first, but for me I just kept on feeling for her. I mean I get it that’s the point but it’s funny how they know that just not being pretty won’t cut it so they need to make her almost pitiful with ripped clothes and a clumsy personality.
I gotta admit honestly the idea of casting a conventionally beautiful actress and portray her as “not pretty” did strike a nerve. When this is done, watching women who are genuinely beautiful and are shown as someone people don’t want to look at can take a toll on their self-esteem. It’s like putting an idea in someone’s head that, ‘this really pretty woman that you see here, isn’t pretty enough’. Like I mentioned before, we all have insecurities about some or the other aspects of ourselves. Growing up, I had something or the other about me that would make me uncomfortable and when I’d have my resolve with it something else would appear. I was always the shortest among my friends, once I was over that, I felt uncomfortable in my skin, after overcoming that, I felt my nose was too big, accepting that, I felt my undereyes are too puffy. What may seem too silly for some could mean something gut-wrenching for others. The cycle was never ending. However, as I travelled to different places and met amazing, different people I realized I may wish for what people have, but there were other people who wished for what I had. One silly example that comes to mind was that I always wanted one of those sexy sternal gap cleavages, you know the ones that looks almost contoured, silly I know, but when told that to my friends who actually had those, she basically smacked me in my head saying she wished she had mine so she wouldn’t have to wear a push up bra all the time for it.
It’s a funny example, I know but you see my point. Small things like these along with following some powerful empowering women on social media and loving what I do, I began to change the way I looked at myself; the little things that I was insecure about – slowly, but steadily I began to love them. It was a long painful process but I like that I got here. Don’t assume I have attained self-love nirvana; I still nit-pick things about myself, but in the end I stay grateful. But when you see beautiful women on screen, and they are shown as ‘not pretty’, ‘or too fat’, or ‘too skinny’, or ‘too dark’, or ‘too pale’, it’s always ‘too something’, it is especially scary. Mainly with the beauty standards in the entertainment industry – one of the most influential industries in the world.
If we take ‘She Was Pretty’ for example, all they did was give her freckles, frizzy hair and some worn out clothes. But none of those things had anything to do with her true beauty. I was like, “she just needs to comb her hair”, “she’s just messy”, or sometimes you just don’t have the time or the money to buy new clothes and do a full skin care routine, which actually was the case with Hye-jin. And honestly, I loved her freckles. I mean they are so cute. And it bothered me thinking if some young women or men watching might feel insecure of the fact, they had frizzy hair, or their freckles and well, some of my t-shirts do be looking like that. (Which reminds, me I need to buy fabric softener). But as I went on watching the series, I am glad it proved me right. That none of those things actually had anything to do with her beauty.
What I loved about this show was that Kim Hey-jin’s work or professionalism had nothing to do with her appearance. But when she gets her writing gig in the Fashion department, she isn’t discriminated for the way she looks. People talk to her and treat her with respect. It wasn’t about being accepted by people around her and then her feeling like she finally fit in. It was always the other way round. She worked, she learned, she grew, she tried different things. She was proactive. She took steps to figure herself out, including giving herself a makeover. But thankfully that wasn’t the ultimate aim.
On finding what she was passionate about she makes a choice to go for it and gives it her all. She does what she loves and lets go of all the beauty stigmas and she just is herself. Frizzy hair and all. It’s not about the pretty face, it’s about her heart filled with joy that brings the beautiful glow on her face. She is beautiful as she always has been.
“When someone is doing something that they really want to do, that’s when they look the most beautiful. I want to look truly beautiful as I do what I like, not for someone else, but for myself.”–Kim Hye-jin
And I couldn’t agree more. I have seen how I looked at myself at my desk job. I always felt a little sad looking in the mirror and I never knew why. Now I love what I do, writing, creating and I can’t pass the mirror without giving my reflection a wink. This doesn’t just help us with how we feel, but we begin to realize what we deserve as well.
A small but significant incident happened to me a few weeks ago. This guy slides into my DMs and tries one of those cheesy pickup lines of “has anyone told you look beautiful today?” Well, it’s the pandemic, no one has seen me and I had just woken up. Now usually I would just go “Aww thanks, that’s so sweet”. But I was actually loving my morning hair so I replied “Yeah, my mirror”. It’s silly. I know, but the funny thing is he didn’t have a response to that, he said so himself. Now this isn’t an attack on him in anyway. I’m hoping and believe he was genuinely trying to be sweet but it made me realize something. Guys usually don’t know how to react to confident, self-loving women. They go with the obvious flirting ways of praising the physical appearance, cause they probably think it’s our weak spot, or that’s the only thing we care about. We do care about it but it’s not the only thing. So they believe if they say we look pretty that’s all we want to hear and they’ve won us over. But when a woman knows that shit, they don’t have back up. More often than not they freeze. At least in my experience. But you see my point? It also seems when you are comfortable in your skin and accept you’re beautiful, it’s considered “too into herself”, or “has too much pride”, or “too narcissistic” but is it though? Is it too much? Funny how when you start loving yourself you are “too much” for some people because they can’t see past a limit. But that’s their resolve not yours. So, you go be the awesome beautiful person that you are. And go all out. What do you have to lose ?😊.
TO SUM UP:
This show was witty, quirky and funny with a heart-warming message carefully constructed through each character’s development.
I feel the pros of the show outweigh the cons so I ended up liking the show. Though I didn’t appreciate the cons, then again, I couldn’t come up with a better solution, so I liked how the pros of the show actually had their point made. That in the end none of those “external” factors really matter. The whole, over used cliché of “beauty comes from within” may have some weight to it after all.
This reminds me of a dialogue in the revived Doctor who series (S6E10 – The Girl who waited). Where Amy Pond is describing her husband Rory and says, “You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful, and then you actually talk to them, and five minutes later they’re as dull as a brick? Then there’s other people, and you meet them and think, not bad, they’re okay. And then you get to know them, and their face just sort of becomes them, like their personalities written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful. Rory’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met.
I loved how this was explained. It was so simple and yet had so much weight to it. I feel She Was Pretty over all portrayed this feeling meaningfully throughout the series. This show had a lot of complex and interesting characters, which made it a fun experience to watch as they unraveled each of them while delicately carrying the plot simply to say how we all just ARE Beautiful.