An Army of Beauty Queens?

Korea¡¯s servicemen are changing. The rough skin, sun-burnt faces and stubble-length hair that once were the trademarks of typical army men have gone for the new generation. Some now rival women in the use of cosmetics, and some even order wigs to disguise their short hair for the vacation. And some buy dietary supplements in an attempt to create the perfect body.

Han (21) is stationed in Gangwon Province. He spends an average of W110,000 (US$1=W944) on bath products and cosmetics. Besides the basic shampoo and conditioner, he uses toner, moisturizer, essence, sun-block and foam cleanser. Recently he has been in need of more money as he is investing in specialized acne products. Last winter, he used hand and foot cream to prevent dryness. A soldier with two months remaining of his service typically gets about W80,000 (US$1=W944) a month. That isn¡¯t nearly enough to meet his cosmetic needs, so soldiers dig into the allowance they get from their families. ¡°I got worried that my skin would get rough and dark after I joined the army. If I want to meet my girlfriend during the vacation, I have to take care of my appearance,¡± says one soldier. ¡°It¡¯s not just me. Most people here use at least two or three specialized cosmetics for their skin.¡±

AmorePacific supplies its cosmetic products to over 1,100 Post Exchanges -- the on-base shops for soldiers -- across the nation. The company said sales from January through July surged 85 percent from the same period last year. Cosmetics company Missha, after seeing surprisingly high revenues from some 30 stores in the Air Force and Navy, has started to supply its products to over 2,100 PXs for ground forces this year. Missha¡¯s marketing personnel said army sales are increasing by an average of 15 percent a month. The latest ¡°it¡± item is a moisturizing face mask.

Also on the rise is the number of soldiers wearing wigs on vacation. Ji (22), who is stationed in Gwangju, bought a wig on the Internet that copied the hairstyle of movie star Lee Jun-gi ahead of his vacation. ¡°In my compound alone, there are about three or four people who have wigs,¡± he says. More than a few take supplements in their quest for a perfect body. Muscle Club, a website specializing in muscle supplements, says soldiers make up about 20 percent of its overall sales.

Some inside the forces worry about these Generation Y soldiers obsessed with their appearance. Instead of getting used to group life and the special circumstances of being in the army, young soldiers these days seem to be self-obsessed and put too much emphasis on their appearance. But one field officer takes the longer view. ¡°This trend is not just taking place among young soldiers, but among young men in general, so I shouldn¡¯t be too worried about it,¡± he says. ¡°When I was a battalion commander, I used to buy sun-block and give it to soldiers with sensitive skin before they went on a march. Afterwards, they were more active and eager in training.¡± / 8¿ù 23, 2007 09:21 KST