By now we all know that Korean TV Dramas have taken over globally with Netflix constantly booming with daily recommendations and being rated in the top 10 consistently in Pakistan. Initially, I had not been a fan of themes of romantic comedies that were fantasized through slow-motion shots that take up at least 30 minutes of screen time until I was introduced to the well-known drama "True Beauty" which dealt with multi-faceted issues of high-school bullying, teacher and parental negligence, the consistent stress of academic excellence, conforming to unrealistic female beauty standards wrapped in the freshness of teenage romance which I will focus on.
The reason such a show is largely viewed by a female audience is that stories of many Korean dramas centre around the female protagonist who navigates high school and complex teenage relationships. The representation of parental guidance, surveillance as well and the conservative norms surrounding teenage girls make it quite similar to how school life is in Pakistan thus making it a relatable watch.
Media portrayals of education have largely been glamorized with adults playing characters aged 18-19 setting unrealistic expectations for how a student should look, especially through exceptionally detailed outfits that resemble those seen on a fashion runway instead of the actual two-toned uniforms that most teenagers adore. Schools are only shown as a place of social engagement rather than an institution of knowledge, as with several famous U.S TV shows such as Never Have I Ever, Gossip Girl, Riverdale and more.
Pedagogy is not a tool for the storyline but rather emphasized in Korean TV Dramas, where there is a model student consistently ranking 1st in the class and the cause of envy for the rest since familial as well as scholastic pressures of academic excellence are pushed in South-Korean society where a student's reality is the rigorous education system as even the day for students attempting their College Aptitude Test is considered to be a national holiday in the nation. True Beauty's take on academic anxiety and a consistent feeling of amounting to nothing as standards of validation are set based on the performance of others, the character Kang Soo Jin embodies the emotions felt by a student struggling to please her parents who weaponize her ranking 2nd and not meeting expectations to employ abusive behaviour against her.
She adopts coping mechanisms such as aggressively washing hands that cause excessive dryness to her hands and even going to the extent of expressing disloyalty to her friends. This depiction unfortunately remains to be a reality for many. In contrast, the female lead is seen as having supportive parents who although consistently scold her for ranking last in her classes do not resort to verbal abuse to belittle their daughter which makes the show digestible yet heart-warming as a sign of hope and encouragement to not seek academic validation through achieving the best grades but with achieving consistency in hard-work.
Teacher representation has also been the centre of not only True Beauty but many high-school-based TV shows including Sky-Castle and the most recent Crash Course in Romance, where the main goal for many students is to enter the math academy for the incredibly intelligent Professor Choi Chi Yul who put forward the most motivating dialogue throughout the show
“I only expect one thing from you, guys. Guess what it is. Acing the math exam? No. Grade improvement? That will come naturally as you take my course. I want you guys to be as passionate as I am”
This speaks to how pedagogy in Korean dramas brings more light to establishing a self-identity rather than revolving it entirely around the strict grading system that prevails. Through such refreshing yet impactful viewpoints, several young teenage female viewers can be pushed towards establishing themselves as an individual rather than revolving their educational journey around the idea of marriage as we often see in Pakistani TV serials. There may be an apparent shifting of gender roles in such storylines of romance however each female character has been shown as ambitious and strong-minded towards their goals before they fall deep in love with their male counterparts. True Beauty despite being a teenage drama dealt incredibly well with issues of academic excellence and growing pains that several viewers are able to relate and learn from.