Content warning: This story contains spoilers and talks about bullying.
While I’m still waiting on the upcoming episodes on Viu, it’s hard not to point out how heavy the bullying scenes are in “True Beauty.” Unlike most of my friends who are gushing over either Han Seo-jun or Lee Soo-ho, my stress comes from the fact that the bullying that Lim Ju-kyung had to experience made me remember my own.
If you’re not familiar with the K-drama, “True Beauty” was originally written as a Line webtoon. It gained popularity and was eventually adapted into the series everyone is now tuning into. It tells the story of Lim Ju-kyung, a high school student who has trouble fitting in because others find her “ugly.” She then uses makeup as a shield, but ends up meeting people who look past her physical appearance.
One probable factor to the success of its drama adaptation is that it doesn’t follow the webtoon’s timeline and story completely. And unlike in the webtoon, the actors’ portrayal and framing of scenes have gotten a more emotional response from us.
The most impactful one has been the bullying of Ju-kyung in her previous school. (For me, at least.) Aesthetically, there’s nothing dark about the scenes since it was staged as a normal phenomenon. But for those like me who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, bullying, those scenes are very very heavy. They were so heavy that I cried for most of the first few episodes.
At first, I thought I was just overreacting. (I know, I gaslight myself too much.) That being said, I discussed the drama’s “heavy” scenes with a friend. To my surprise, she was also triggered by the bullying scenes.
She shared how she would skip these scenes as much as possible—since it dampens her mood. Which I’m sure a lot of people can relate to. There are times when I’d still be thinking about my own experience even if I’ve finished watching an episode some hours earlier.
Don’t get me wrong: “True Beauty” has captured the reality of bullying (even in cyberspace) for high school students. It also touched on how parents are often oblivious to what’s happening to their kids in school. It showed just how aggressive bullies can get and how their words and actions can change someone’s attitude about learning and school in general.
And if you take out the bullying theme, the K-drama shows that abuse in any form shouldn’t affect how you treat those around you. Despite being bullied to the point of self-hate, Ju-kyung shows that she’s still kind-hearted and chooses to see the good in others.
This is the complete opposite of her supposed friend Kang Soo-jin who, despite her original caring and empathetic image, betrayed Ju-kyung by exposing her secret—her actual appearance without makeup. (Which wasn’t her story to tell, btw.) And to think her motive in doing so was pretty petty. Imagine being such a b*tch just because you didn’t get the guy. *insert Seo-jun telling her off*
That being said, a lot of people experience PTSD from school bullying. There are some who choose to look past these experiences and move on. If these Korean writers continue to give emphasis on these forms of youth struggles (which they definitely should!), I’m sure viewers would better appreciate the disclaimer at the beginning of each episode and could emotionally prepare themselves to deal with the fallout.