Appearance has become pivotal in the contemporary Korean society. Appearance management is now recognized as a significant part of self-care not only for personal satisfaction, but also for social relationships and success. In particular, social studies on youths (e.g., high school and university students) report that appearance has a very impactful connotation because this generation is very sensitive and highly influenced by mainstream culture, media, and fashion. However, there was no study on how appearance and authenticity as an integrated way of autonomy, reflection and self-expression affects the quality of life based on the duality of structure and individual agents (Giddens, 1984). Therefore, this study aims to examine how ‘appearance orientation’ consisting of three dimensions - appearance awareness, appearance interest, and appearance management - and ‘authenticity,’ in contrast, consisting of self-expression and autonomy are related to the quality of life dynamically.
Our research team collected questionnaires of 457 high school students from five high schools and 656 university students from five universities in Seoul and conducted statistical analyses. The findings of this study report that, as for high school students, appearance recognition as a part of appearance orientation shows a significantly negative relationship with the quality of life, whereas the ability of a social agent to freely express one’s internal values, meanings, and emotions has proved to have the most significant influence on the quality of life. For college students, appearance orientation has no significant relationship with the quality of life but self-expressing capacity has a strong positive relationship with the quality of life like high school students.
In sum, this study found that the most significant factor in improving the quality of life for Korean youths is authenticity, especially the ability to recognize and express one’s inner values, meanings, and emotions rather than appearance orientation.