WARNING: This article discusses topics like bullying, violence, and sexual assault. This may be triggering for some readers. It also contains spoilers for True Beauty and Lookism.
One of the best things about independent online media is that it can tackle social issues in unique ways without having to shy away from the reality of the problem. Nowhere is this truer than in the webtoon sphere. The lack of restrictions allows authors to write frank and hard-hitting plots about social issues which both Lookism and True Beauty show perfectly.
One of the most fascinating things about Lookism and True Beauty is how different they are. True Beauty is, at its core, a slice-of-life story with heavy romance elements. Lookism is much more action-based, with the lead character having a strange supernatural event that lets him switch between his usual body and a conventionally attractive one. This difference is made starker by the fact that True Beauty has a female protagonist, and Lookism has a male one, which, in the eyes of many, means they’re pitched to very different audiences (though there is a lot of crossover between these two audiences).
Despite this, both series talk about similar problems. They just use different storytelling lenses to do so, and these lenses give us a fascinating, frank, and often very twisted look at the issue being discussed. For instance, the key theme at the center of both stories is appearance. Specifically, how beauty standards can harm people who fall outside of them. The protagonists both change their appearance and become regarded as conventionally beautiful.
However, the lead character in True Beauty, Jugyeong Lim, alters her appearance with makeup. The lead character in Lookism, Park Hyung-Seok, jumps between bodies to get his attractive form. This difference means they live their double lives very differently. Lookism’s feels more like the classic superhero secret identity, while True Beauty’s functions more like a romance cliche, drawing from stories like Cinderella, which fits its genre.
Both series also focus heavily on bullying, with both protagonists getting bullied and witnessing other characters getting bullied throughout the story. The introduction of Lookism showed Park Hyung-Seok getting targeted due to his ugly body. However, Park Hyung-Seok used his new body and newfound fighting skill to fight against his bullies. He also used his skills to defend other people, including his new friend Jiho, like a traditional shonen hero. The series also showed that even with this newfound strength, Park Hyung-Seok was still damaged by the bullying, with him later showing PTSD-like symptoms when he reencountered his bully.
Jugyeong Lim also gets bullied, with her family treating her worse than her good-looking siblings. Then throughout her story, she encountered many other characters being bullied, both students and other people in the influencer sphere. However, as a romance heroine, Jugyeong Lim doesn’t solve her issues with fists and fighting. Instead, Jugyeong Lim acts as emotional support, helping others feel safe and supporting them as they make the decisions they need to make, fitting the grounded drama of the setting.
Sexual violence and domestic abuse are other social topics that both series handle. In True Beauty, an arc called “Sujin’s Story” saw Jugyeong learn that her bully Sujin is being abused by her boyfriend and manager Junho. While in Lookism, Park Hyung-Seok encountered a streamer who had an abusive boyfriend, a stalker who would stop at nothing to get the girl he is fixated on, and a rapist who preyed on women at a training camp. However, both approached these topics differently, especially due to the protagonists’ different genders.
True Beauty used a very grounded slow burn to show how insidious and hidden domestic abuse can be, focusing on Jugyeong Lim trying to help the victim rebuild her confidence. Lookism used its fantasy elements to show how those involved in abuse can hide it, with Park Hyung-Seok using his two bodies to see different sides of people. This allowed him and the audience to realize what was happening before Park Hyung-Seok attacked and punished the abuser.
Both True Beauty and Lookism take an unflinching look at current social issues. However, their genre and story differences mean that they show these issues in distinct ways and use different tropes to educate their audience on the problem. True Beauty is more grounded in its solutions, while Lookism often uses the character’s two bodies to fantastic effect. That said, both series show how insidious many social issues can be and how they can have far-reaching consequences.
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