23

[Hey, that’s me] In defense of…?


Flower Boy Next Door

By OhSoEnthusiastic

Notice those three dots in the title? There’s a simple reason for them. They’re there because I’m not sure the best term to use for the K-drama character I identify with most. The Candy, the Cinderella; the long-suffering, self-sacrificing, constantly taken advantage of female lead who can never leave whatever situation is hurting her yet always gets her happily ever after in the end. She’s not a popular character anymore. She might be the most despised among drama viewers today, so I realize I’m in the minority when I say she has a more diverse spectrum then she gets credit for.

For example, Chae-kyung (Goong) and Mi-young (Fated To Love You) are vastly different, yet both fall squarely under this character type. Dok-mi (Flower Boy Next Door) has all the hallmarks, but she’s also a victim of childhood trauma providing a realistic explanation for why she is who she is. Kang Mi-Rae (My ID Is Gangnam Beauty), a recent re-iteration, has insecurity so deep she drastically changes her appearance in an effort to alleviate it. Even Lee Ji-an (My Ajusshi) could feasibly fit having spent her life being pushed around and not always attempting to stop it.

But I’m not writing this to convince you that this particular flavor of female lead is more well-rounded than you think or that terms such as Candy or Cinderella are too narrow to describe her.

I’m here to tell you why I relate to these women so damn much.


High School King of Savvy

You see, I am awkward, insecure, and self-loathing. Hopeless at relationships but desperate to succeed at them; intensely naïve and innocent in a way I wish I could be proud of but am embarrassed by; head in the clouds building fantasies, putting unfair expectations on others, and ending up hurt and disappointed; easily taken advantage of and manipulated and way too nice for my own good sometimes; terrified of people figuring out who I am and leaving because they don’t like what they see.

I’m the Candy before the happy ending, the Cinderella before the Prince Charming. So when I watch these characters on screen, I can’t help but feel an affinity to them.

I watched as Jang Geu-rae (Misaeng), who could be considered the male version of this character type, suffered injustice after injustice and experienced deep, deep lows, constantly attempting to rebuild his hope and sense of self and his ability to believe things could be different, and I thought of every relationship, every dream, every attempt to pull myself up from the floor and turn these ashes into sunflowers only for someone to rip them from my hands and force me to start again, and god, do I get it.


Flower Boy Next Door

I found myself in a similar predicament this year to Dok-mi. Stuck in my apartment day after day, month after month, applying for jobs and waiting for offers and having no luck; entertaining thoughts of giving up and never leaving my apartment again and finding those thoughts so comforting I developed agoraphobia; simultaneously becoming frantic and anxious and terrified of never leaving my apartment again because the thought of the thought of never leaving being comforting was decidedly not comforting at all; ultimately having to alternate between my apartment and my parents’ house as it was the only place I felt safe and not hyped up on anxiety and existential dread. I hadn’t understood before what could drive someone to becoming a hermit, but I get it now.

Beanie Amilia did a lovely write up on Mi-young from the Korean version of Fated To Love You, but it was Xin Yi from the original who consistently brought me to heavy sobs. This awkward girl who didn’t know how to say no because she didn’t want to upset others and couldn’t verbalize her feelings and just wanted to be helpful and liked, I understood. She didn’t want to be a post-it note, but she couldn’t help it, and neither can I. During one of my recent jobs, I found myself the target of one of the managers who on three separate occasions lashed out at me inappropriately and I did nothing but let it happen, because I don’t have the skills or confidence to say no. I wish I could say that sort of thing is unusual for me, but it’s pretty par for the course, and I’ve all but given up trying to change it.

And while I’ve never had plastic surgery, I understood how Mi-rae would see it as her only option, how it feels to hate your skin so deeply you would go to drastic measures to change it. I’ve changed my personality, my hairstyle, my laugh, tried to change so many other things and guess what. None of it works. When you hate yourself, you hate yourself, and changing your clothes doesn’t make it go away. When Mi-rae came to the realization that her appearance was never the problem but the way she thought and spoke about herself and others and that confidence and contentment lie much deeper than your skin was, I felt that, because I know that’s my problem too.


My ID Is Gangnam Beauty

Of course, at a certain point in all of these stories, a switch happens. They get the guy, become successful in their career, find contentment and confidence, usually all three, and I can’t relate anymore, because there’s been no switch in my life. But before that moment, before that moment that I wait for more in these stories than any other, they are my inner and outer world come to life.

On some level, it’s pompous to compare myself to these characters, a self-indulgent act of victimhood. My life has often sucked, but I’ve chosen to be bitter about it. It’s also a sort of self-flagellation, living vicariously through these characters instead of living my own life. But I’m desperate. Like others are sick of seeing these characters on screen, I’m sick of seeing this person in the mirror. Watching these characters is like catching a glimpse of myself and feeling known and understood and like there’s hope. If this alternate universe version of me can make it, then maybe I can too.

So in defense of…me, I’m gonna keep my mousy, insecure, awkward, self-loathing heroines. I’m still waiting for the switch, and maybe if I watch carefully, I’ll finally see it.


Misaeng

 
RELATED POSTS

Tags:

23

Required fields are marked *

Firstly, this piece is excellent. Well-argued and beautifully written. But here's where I argue with you - I don't think any of your examples are actually Candies in the traditional sense of the word.

And this is where I'm sure some people's backs will straighten and their shoulders will stiffen and I anticipate all the comments telling me how wrong I am (as I very well may be) - but bear with me.

What really characterises a Candy, for me, is not a question of agency. The Candy exists to fulfill a fantasy of natural justice: that if you're quiet and noble and cheerful and self-sacrificing than the universe will reward you. The fact it rewards you usually with a man is also part of the Cinderella myth.

But the sense I got from your entire piece is not of someone stoic, keeping their head down and their smile wide while they wait for the universe to straighten itself out and reward them for nobility.

The sense I got - and the characters you identify with - are people who struggle with internal as well as external pressures. With the emphasis on struggle. These are all people who constantly win the battle but seem to never win the war. But they still fight.

Even being brave enough to write a personal piece like this shows that struggle. And so I hope that, like the characters you identify with, your struggle will eventually bear fruit.

Hwaiting!

20
3
reply

Required fields are marked *

I love this essay... and this comment!

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

I do have to disagree that the characters I mentioned aren't Candies or Cinderella's, because I think they all have at least some small part of them that fits those tropes including existing at least somewhat to fulfill that fantasy of natural justice you talk about, but I also think your line about 'these are all people who constantly win the battle but seem to never win the war' is a pretty good description of the type of character I'm talking about. I strongly identify with characters that can never seem to catch a break, spending their lives like a hamster on a hamster wheel, desperately trying to get off but the wheel's too fast for them. I can't completely dismiss what happens after the switch though either, because if it didn't hold some level of meaning for me, I probably wouldn't love Candies and Cinderella's as much as I do. But any story where a character goes through such terrible turmoil for so long yet makes it out on the other side gives me hope, and stories where the main character struggles and never succeeds just leave me feeling heartbroken. Of course, there is part of me wishing someone would come along and see me struggling and pick me back up. Because yeah, you can't expect other people to fix your problems and your self-esteem, but...not all things can be done on your own either. Sometimes you need help, and these characters all (most) find their person or their people, and it makes a difference.

There's honestly way too much I could say about these characters, so I'm gonna stop, but thank you for your comment. I appreciate it.

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

I was thinking about replying something exactly like this. I worried I wouldn't know how to describe it nicely and still show appreciation for the essay, thanks for doing it first.

Example after example I just kept thinking those were not Candies, the heart of any Candy for me is being optimistic, girl from FBND was nothing like that and for good reasons. Mirae wasn't insecure because of her personality, she simply wasn't accepted because she was completely different not even herself liked her appearance, besides not many Candies are insecure about that but she really wasn't the shy type. Jang Geurae had so many issues with his place in society he could never be a Candy. The secretary from King of Savy was way too exccentric for Candies and Ji-An from My Ahjussi was a too much a badass, no self respecting Candy could ever do blackmail. Even lovely Mi-Young from Fated was different because she chose to be kind over and over again even though she knew those people didn't exactly deserve it, she put herself first which is something Candies don't do. She was just misunderstood.

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Wow. I took a deep breath after reading your post. Thank you so much for sharing something so personal and in such an eloquent way. I have no brilliant advice because real life is hard and self worth can feel impossible, but I can send finger hearts.

10
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thanks for your piece @ohsoenthusiastic.

Go Deok Mi is one of my favourite heroines in dramaland, with her preference to stay at home and her relatable penny-pinching ways. It’s true that she had a contingent of flower boys neighbors that helped bring her out of her shell (most noisily Enrique) but it was she who opened the door. Say what you will about Enrique the Dancing Panda, he didn’t think Deok Mi needed “protecting” from the outside world.

I have a feeling you’re a perfectionist and tend to be hard on yourself, like me. You’d like to be a stronger, better version of yourself. However, to quote from Winnie the Pooh: “You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

10
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

I think I am a perfectionist, although in a somewhat unusual way. I definitely hold myself to an unrealistic, unattainable standard, but instead of working too hard at everything to compensate, my way of dealing is to just give up. I want to understand, but I don't, so I feel disappointed in myself which I internalize which then turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of me believing that I'm not capable of doing anything and then I end up not doing anything because I believe I'll fail anyway. I care too much about not being a failure, and it impacts the rest of my life.

2
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Oh well, we are way too similar in dealing with our problems. That's exactly what I do when I don't reach my own standards. Instead of working on it more, I give up thinking it's not for me and eventually every thing I desperately want to find that would work for me is removed from the list.

2
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you so, so, so, so much for this piece and showing us the vulnerable you. I kept feeling surprised how this in traditional story, like @leetennant said, the candy-type is rewarded with a man, as if a man means the ultimate goal and desire of a woman!!!! My very independent self rejects this idea, but hey... I am not criticising either, I just feel surprised the myth is still alive, LoL.

Me, I encourage you to try to switch yourself your life, and leave the man out of the table(😅). If someone along comes, well... see if it suits you, but don't try to find any, they are usually not worthy.

Second, search for the things you like about yourself and enjoy those, alone or with friends.

Third: make new friends. Maybe this is the most important one. True friends are life savers.

And fourth: if you don't feel like having new or true friends (which I cannot believe), then get yourself a dog, preferably a Chihuahua. That is my ultimate goal and desire in life! Maybe it can work for you too!

Lastly: thank you again. Your post is beautiful and very brave. 😍

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

This was absolutely beautiful! It is gorgeously and very bravely written, an I personally love the idea of a "defense" od the Candy character. However, I have to say that I agree with Judi on the "Candy traits" and I also don't see the characters you talk about - especially Deok Mi - as the Candy types :) Hwaiting!

4
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Oh great writeup @ohsoenthusiastic. You echo my thoughts. From the job search, uncomfortable comfort zones to self loathing and having a consistent desire to make things better for oneself, I am like you and my I am Jang Geu Rae. It very strangely is suffocating and freeing that many people go through the same battle as you. While I haven't seen any of the candy's you mentioned, I relate on all levels to JGR. I wpuld love to speak up for myself, make myself proud and happy but somehow it isn't always easy to remain that strong and better your own condition. There is not a prince and we all know that realistically no prince can save us unless we save ourselves.

5
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

That was beautiful and haunting.

"awkward, insecure, and self-loathing" - I was, too, though not exactly self-loathing, and would try to take refuge in (self-depreciating) humour. Hopeless at relationships but dreaming of success in one, that was me, too. I got lucky a few years ago and met someone who was everything that I wanted in a partner and the attraction was mutual. There are still moments when I wonder what he sees in me, and whether I "deserve" him.

I used to struggle with verbalizing my feelings or saying no, too, but I am getting better at them.

It is fine to be awkward and mousy - where is the fun if everyone was perfect? And I hope you get to move past the insecurity and self-loathing.

Good luck!

5
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

This is exquisite in every way. I do agree with LT/Dame Judi, though --- you've highlighted characters who struggle, and it seems that you have that same admirable trait <3 The struggle is real, we say jokingly, but actually, the struggle *is* real. HWIGHTING dear beanie! And thank you so much for sharing this. <3 <3 <3

5
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

You write so well!

This line: "living vicariously through these characters instead of living my own life." Uhm, ouch. Guilty!

But we really, really need to be kinder to ourselves. Kdrama characters have the benefit of writers who throw a spotlight on real conflicts and directors who backlight their weakest moments. Most of us just kind of muddle through the tedium and confusion, and don't have an OST that plays automatically when we reach that switch.

I remember thinking that when my Dad passed away. All sorts of people stood up and said beautiful tributes at his funeral, and I kinda felt bad that he didn't hear that when he was alive. I'm pretty sure it will be the same for all of us: we think we're leading ordinary lives, but we're somebody else's hero. And even if we're not, we're battling demons that nobody else sees, and sometimes just getting out of bed (and definitely, sharing an article like this!) is already an act of beautiful defiance and courage.

6
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you for sharing, @ohsoenthusiastic. Your piece reminded me of the period of time when everything about me eroded my self confidence and self esteem. What got me out of it were kind words from a certain teacher (the Chief Oh in my life), support from friends that were just like me, unconditional love from my family and of course, lessons I learned from dramas! It took a while for me to realize that the only thing I need to change is my perception of me. All those nasty things those people said really are not important and not true. It only matters because I let it got to me.

Here's hoping that you find that happy ending in your life soon, just like your heroines.

4
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you for sharing your story, you write it so well and it’s obvious how deeply you feel and connect with these characters ~ that’s a gift I’ve only ever found in kdramas. Especially in the opening episodes, they aren’t afraid of showing us people struggling with the heavy, dull weight of day to day life.

I’d like to say I don’t relate to Candies, but it’s their hope and optimism for justice I often find hardest to understand. Like you I’ve given up on understanding why people (at work and otherwise) have always found it easy to explode at me. I’ve given up on understanding why I can never do anything more than take it and cry later.

But these characters are wonderful because at the end of the day they will choose to stand up for themselves, to go after that brighter tomorrow (even if that involves a time skip). I hope one day you will feel that story arc too, Fighting Chingu!

And thank you, again, for being brave enough to share your story. I think by defending your Candies you are on your way to defending yourself. (I’ll stop being so cheesy now) 😅🤗

4
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

While I don't fully relate to most of the characters you mentioned I do sympathize with certain points you brought up especially about insecurity...I too have wondered about plastic surgery and whether if I changed my hair or my style of dress or whatever if things would be different and like you said I've changed my hair sometimes and it's still the same ole me. As others have said I wish you luck in not getting stuck in bitterness and hopelessness...sending you love from a fellow gal trying to make a way through my own sometimes crippling insecurities

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

This was so raw, like you’ve peeled off a bandaged wound that has barely healed. I hate seeing injustice and pity those that just take it. I haven’t seen any of these characters maybe because I am too weak to watch them. I don’t have any good answers for you on how to make that switch, but my brother was much like these you describe, and it took him 40 years to finally come out the other side, after I had almost given up hope for him. Medication and therapy has helped him (he unfortunately doesn’t have kdramas to fall back on 😜). But he’s found his better half and she’s more amazing than I could have ever dreamt for him. So here’s to your future self, after the switch, whoever that might be! Fighting!

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you for sharing this. I felt like I understood where you were coming from. But more than that, I felt that through your words I was reading how I feel nowadays. I too, am in the job-hunting/ never-leaving-my- parents-house phase of my life. I myself can’t say without idealistic certainty that it will get better, but I hope it does. Even if it’s a small change, it’s a start.

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Thank you so much for writing this. I needed to read this to be reminded of how we never suffer alone and that out there somewhere, someone struggles as much as we do and for similar reasons. Which means I'm never alone in my own struggle and I should always keep on fighting. Thank you.

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

We hear a lot about 'the male gaze' but there's 'the female gaze' too. According to a noted American woman showrunner, women viewers tend to like female characters that fall within certain parameters. Not overtly 'beautiful' but pretty enough to be able to attract that ideal man. Resilient in the face of hardship; Independent but not shunning connections; Able to feel her feelings but not overwhelmed by them; More intelligent than she's given credit for. Basically, we're talking Belle in 'Beauty and the Beast'. Whenever a female character strays outside of that venn diagram of overlapping character attributes she will get labeled as 'problematic'.

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

you can relate to imperfection but cannot relate to perfection. I get it! Hey, life afterall is imperfect. :D

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

This is a great and brave piece of writing that really resonates with me, as I've struggled with a lot of similar feelings. As I've gotten older I became more accepting of my(solo, mousy, awkward, weird)self and have realized that maybe I'm actually pretty ok, but boy oh boy is that a journey. Honestly, I think a lot of getting past some of my own self-loathing has been less any big shift in my life than a softening of my own self judgement and comparing myself to others that I think, frankly, is just an accident of aging and being to lazy to keep up the self-judgement. I hope you keep writing about and exploring these issues-- I think many, many people struggle with these same kinds things in life. And yes, like you I have a soft spot for the quietly resilient "candy" type, because I love that fantasy of one day maybe, just maybe, all of that endurance pays off.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *