The Alphabetization of Korean Women’s Body Types: Origins

(Update, 2013: See here and here for much more up to date posts on this topic, and for similar cases in English-speaking countries in the 1910s-1930s and 1940s.)

That the female body has occupied a central place in the Western cultural imagination hardly comes as news, says comparative literature writer Susan Suleiman. And while I lack knowledge of Korean counterparts to the historical examples in the visual arts, literature, and religion that she mentions, I don’t doubt that they exist.

But what to make of the recent Korean trend towards categorizing the female body and/or body parts into a plethora of different romanized “lines”? Where do they fit in?

It’s been easy enough to prove that they have become a pervasive feature of Korean popular culture; so much so, that many have acquired a life of their own, bearing little resemblance to the (idealized) women’s bodies they were first used to describe. But those earlier observations of mine were devoid of context, something which began troubling me once I paused to consider the source of the above article on the most recent manifestations of the trend, about Korean cosmetic surgeons classifying woman’s buttocks into four types. To be precise, it raised two questions, which I would appreciate readers’ help with.

The first is that is this trend of categorization qualitatively and/or quantitatively different to that which occurs in the Western media? As to the former, probably not: I need hardly point out the similar obsession with women’s bodies there, or that it also provides often impossible ideals to live up to. And however much English speakers may find Koreans’ romanization habit in this particular case both curious and amusing (and thereby memorable), arguably it merely reflects Koreans’ general obsession with English, grafted on to an interest in women’s body forms that is not dissimilar to that of the West. Indeed, even some native English sources are beginning to describe women’s bodies in terms of letters (see below), and while that failed to catch on, are they really different to describing women’s bodies in terms of bananas and hourglasses and so forth?

(Image sources: top; bottom. The results are from this 2005 study)

Forgive me for stating the obvious perhaps, and I mention all that not to exonerate the Korean media for the ways in which it warps and distorts women’s body images. Rather, that if I still feel that it does so more than its Western counterparts nevertheless (and I do), then that something more than my gut feeling is necessary to convince skeptics. And perhaps the difference simply lies in the much greater extent to which S-lines and V-lines and so forth are mentioned? After all, not for nothing do I describe them as a “pervasive feature of Korean popular culture.”

Unfortunately however, providing empirical proof of that is rather difficult, at least for a humble blogger. But I can provide indirect evidence in the meantime, which I would very grateful if any readers could add to.

The first is the source of the article on women’s buttocks I’ve translated at the end of this post. While it may not be obvious from the opening image, it’s actually on the front page of Focus, a free daily newspaper: the image on its left, not coincidentally an advertisement for a chair which supposedly shapes one’s buttocks, part of an accompanying cover.

To your average Westerner, I’d wager that this choice would immediately single out the newspaper as a tabloid—”Women have four kinds of ass! Read all about it!”—but I’ve been asking my 20-something students’ opinions of Focus and other newspapers over the past week, and only a minority considered it such. And why would they, considering that the article was also covered by numerous other news sources (see here, here, and here), including the authoritative Hanguk Kyeongjae, a business newspaper, and which even had a helpful graphic?

Ergo, the bar for tabloid journalism is rather lower in Korea, and this extends to mainstream Korean portal sites, about which I wrote the following in my last post:

Unlike their English counterparts, you have roughly a 50% chance of opening Naver, Daum, Nate, Yahoo!Korea and kr.msn.com to be greeted with headlines and thumbnail pictures about sex scandals, accidental exposures (no-chool;노출) of female celebrities, and/or crazed nude Westerners.

To which I should have added—of course—numerous thumbnail pictures of female celebrities’ S-lines, and also a warning to never look at any of the otherwise innocuous images in the “image gallery” at the bottom of Yahoo!Korea in particular, for if you do you’ll frequently be greeted with advertisements for videos of celebrities’ nipple-slips and so on alongside those birds, flowers, and interesting landscapes.

What’s more, if portal sites are fair game, is it any wonder that children are also encouraged to be concerned about their S-lines and so on? And don’t get me started on ubiquitous narrator models.

Finally, consider what Javabeans wrote on the subject, a blogger on Korean dramas who is a much more authoritative source on Korean television than I will ever be:

…while this [romanization] practice is seemingly frivolous on the surface, it actually belies much more pernicious trends in society at large, when you have celebrities vocally espousing their alphabet-lines and therefore actually objectifying themselves as a conglomeration of “perfect” body parts rather than as whole, genuine people. (my emphasis)

With that combination, something has finally clicked for me: why it is so difficult to find Korean language sources on sexism in the media, and on advertisements in particular? I’ve been looking on and off for years now, and while I accept (and would be more than happy to learn) that perhaps I’ve simply been using the wrong search terms and/or looking in the wrong places, that it is so difficult in the first place is surely telling. A solution though, is perhaps provided by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust – no, really – who had this to say about anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany:

A general problem in uncovering lost cultural axioms and cognitive orientations of societies since gone or transformed is that they are often not articulated as clearly, frequently, or loudly as their importance for the life of a given society and its individual members might suggest. In the words of one student of German attitudes during the Nazi period, “to be an anti-Semite in Hitler’s Germany was so commonplace as to go practically unnoticed.” Notions fundamental to the dominant worldview and operation of a society, precisely because they are taken for granted, often are not expressed in a manner commensurate with their prominence and significance or, when uttered, seen as worthy by others to be noted and recorded. (Vintage Books Edition, Feb. 1997; p.32)

Not lost or transformed, but equally obtuse to someone from another culture perhaps, and which I’m still only just starting to make a dent in.

But a good grounding for that would be the origins of Koreans’ obsession with romanizing women’s bodies, the second question the article raised for me. Or to be honest, an element of the subject I realized I’d paid little attention to when, serendipitously, Korean reader Chorahan provided this extremely informative comment on the subject on another post. With permission, I am happy to now place readers in her more than capable hands:

…I think the specifics of the alphabetization of Korean women are best approached in the context of the classification of women into certain rigid subtypes (read: simplified stereotypes) of women. The S-line and V-line are part of the ‘formula’ for the ‘pretty girl’ here, as are humongous pupils in big double-lidded eyes, cosmetically unaided pallor, bone-tight ligaments, etc. I would suggest that people here perpetuate this mind-boggling state of sheeple-ness precisely because this ‘formula’ serves as helpful, socially constructed and ordained criteria – with which to deduce the type of woman being dealt with, and to adjust manners to suit.

Manners are adjusted according to the woman’s ‘type’ because it is widely taken as a given that certain things can/cannot be said/thought about women depending on how they look (value-judgment wise). The socially ‘accepted’ or ‘conceivable’ scenario that follows any such encounter is rigidly stratified into according variations. My take on this phenomenon is that this is directly derived from a warped and popularized Confucian principle popularized in the Chosun dynasty called 정명론 (正名論), or literally ‘right name idea’, in which the ‘father should be fatherlike and the son sonlike etc.’ A beauty should be treated as a beauty, or a ‘talking flower’; an ugly girl can be laughed at/with (hence the ‘ugly’—or, as I like to put it, ‘uglified’—comedian typification.)

I’m a Korean girl and I’ve lived in Seoul nearly all my life, going through the average Korean educational system to enter the undergraduate level here. Inferring from the numerous social contexts in which I’ve encountered such blunt references to conventionally ugly/pretty features, I would venture the possibility that in originally familial, communal societies where everyone had to stick together whether they liked it or not, the ‘insult’ was not only an insult per se, but also employed as a form of veiled endearment. This is widely considered the ideal sort of 부담없는 (easygoing) interaction between two close individuals—dialogue employing insult as endearment, or ‘constructively realistic advice to help you in the real world’—and is often the most commonly resorted-to excuse for horrific verbal abuse. (Coloring vacuous praise according to these featural types is also just such a form of ordained interaction, considered honest and respectful and completely normal.)

I do not, however, think that this should simply be chalked up to individual stupidity on the part of people that blindly follow this line of thought/action—quite the contrary. I think it’s very telling that the homogenizing retardation of the populace in this regard is and has always been spearheaded by *the commercial/entertainment media sector,* which is—big surprise— notoriously homogenized/stereotyped! It has even resorted to homogenizing certain snapshots of stereotyped ‘diversity’ or ‘unconventionality’ in the form of teen idols that are held up on pedestals as somehow being harbingers of Korea’s ‘openness’ and ‘creativity of the youth’.

As a twenty-something Korean woman towards whom those commercials are directly marketed, I find all this very sad and disgusting and lame, and I am very troubled by the thought that people actually think Korean society is improving/ has improved in its bridging of (sexual or gender-based, if that’s your cup of tea, though I don’t think that’s all) dichotomies (if dichotomies are indeed criteria on which to issue any normative judgment.)

I think it is not people being stupid, but the other way around (stupid being people, or stupidity donning the guise of specific individual avatars): the root of the problem (of not seeing people for the people they are, and adjusting social perception/performance according to formulas hammered in by peer pressure since birth) is a sort of warped ‘commodification of human beings’ + ‘Confucian backwash’ that is only being exacerbated as people constantly look to external/ international solutions to symptoms that stem from an overlooked, simplified, but inherently endogenous disease that must be addressed within its own context.

I definitely think something fundamental has to give. This isn’t just an odd cultural quirk to cluck tongues over – this S-line, this V-line trope, this alphabetization of women just as much as the stereotyping of men – it’s seriously symptomatic of some skewed rift in the goodness and saneness and kindness of people here vs. the expressed, contorted manifestations of such potential strengths.

Not exactly concise, but this is my very understandably strong opinion regarding the topic of this post. But I’m no sociologist, so I wouldn’t know.

p.s. In first paragraph—sorry, this could be misunderstood, i don’t propose any normative suggestion—I’m suggesting as an explanation that people ‘are perpetuating’ etc. (end)

Despite all that context however, one still shudders at the thought that the following was the first thing millions of Koreans read one November morning:

Korean Women Have 4 Types of Buttocks

The results of a survey about the different types of Korean women’s buttocks have just been released.

Baram (wind) Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, which focuses on operations on the body rather than the face, performed operations on the lower bodies of 137 female patients in 2008-2009. An analysis of their different types of buttocks was performed, and the results released on the 23rd of November. All in all, Korean women have 4 types: “A”, “ㅁ,” “Round,” and “Asymmetrical/Imbalanced.”

According to the team of doctors there, women with type A have a lot of accumulated fat in their thighs, making buttocks look big and their legs short, and those with type ㅁ, a lot of accumulated fat in their thighs and around their waists, making their hips look relatively narrow. Both comprise 47% of Korean women each. On the other hand, those with relatively smooth and curved hips and buttocks have a Round type, and those with an asymmetrical or imbalanced pelvis have an asymmetrical or imbalanced type, compromising 4% and 2% of Korean women respectively.

As the doctors explain, even though Korean women’s bodies are Westernizing, Korean women still have these 4 East-Asian types of buttocks.  According to the doctor in charge of this study, Hong Yun-gi, “because Korean women’s buttocks don’t have much volume at the top, but have a lot of accumulated fat at the bottom, they look a little droopy” and so overall “their buttocks look boring overall, and their legs short.” (end)

No, the extrapolation from 137 cosmetic surgery patients to all Korean women was not a mistranslation I’m afraid. And I beg to differ on Korean women’s buttocks looking boring also, but that discussion is probably best avoided. Instead consider, first, Jezebel’s take on “the ridiculousness of dressing for your shape,” many guides to which came up as I researched this post, especially this one from The Daily Mail, a UK tabloid. Next, another case of Korean romanization gone mad that I originally planned to look at alongside the above, albeit of women’s dresses rather than their bodies per se:

And finally, literally the very first thing that came to mind when I saw the Korean article on women’s buttocks: the following picture from a post on male objectification from Sociological Images, because I wondered if men’s buttocks would ever similarly be categorized. But given that a page exists on Wikipedia for “female body shape” for instance, but not on male’s, then I suspect not in the near future.

On a side note, and not that I want to repeat the experience anytime soon, but searching for images of Korean men’s buttocks instead proved impossible, at least on Korean portal sites. But perhaps again…*cough*…I’m not looking in the right places?

41 thoughts on “The Alphabetization of Korean Women’s Body Types: Origins

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  2. I thought this was a very thoughtful post, and it’s such a huge issue, I hope lots of Koreans get involved in the discussion. I especially agree with the Nazi bit… that is to say, when something is so commonplace it’s not so noticeable.

    I don’t really have anything I feel I can add, except for anyone who’s interested the characters 正名論 are usually called the “Rectification of Names” in English, so to find out more that’s probably what you’d have to search for. It’s actually a term much older than the Choson dynasty, and it does indeed refer to behaving properly to something based upon it’s “name”, but on top of that it requires appropriate names for everything. Just as an example – the one that was used in traditional Confucianism, is a white horse really a horse? The idea this is supposed to provoke is that a white horse can only be a white horse, whereas a horse is any old horse. If you extrapolate this to apply here, woman becomes a useless category, but pretty woman, ugly woman, “라운드형 엉덩이” woman are all not just useful but necessary categories, that require language to match. (Just to add to the Confucian idea that your very smart commenter brought up).

    • Thanks. As to the Nazi bit…LOL…in the past, I’ve usually blamed the lack of Koreans’ interest and/or awareness of sexism in the media and so on the relatively undeveloped state of Gender Studies in academia here instead. But I can’t remember my original source for that, and some soul-searching I’ve had recently as readers (rightfully) have been questioning generalizations I’ve made, made me realize that I should stop attributing so much to that without checking out Korean universities’ course offerings (etc. etc.) for myself. Still, they were the product of Second-Wave Feminism in Western countries, something which I’ve repeatedly lamented Korean society is desperately in need of, so given the pervasive but unquestioned atmosphere of sexism here it seems reasonable to suppose that Gender Studies is indeed undeveloped here. Certainly not to the extent that it has filtered down into popular discourse at least.

      Where was I? Thanks for the further explanation of 正名論, and I’ll certainly bear it all in mind when I get into the topic in more detail. Hanja is a little beyond me unfortunately though, so well before then I’ll be trying to place the origins of S-lines and so on (and especially their seemingly desperate application to other fields, like the examples in this post) in the context of the equally artificial creation of groups of consumers in the 1990s to 2000s, such as “Gold Misses” and so on, which at least I do know a bit about and have some material on!^^ That was my original plan for what to do with those two examples before I was lucky enough to receive Chorohan’s comment.

          • If someone were to write that South Korea needs Nazism, it would hardly be necessary to say anything more than “no, it doesn’t.” Feminism isn’t Nazism, but it’s a destructive and totalitarian extremist ideology. It’s self-evident that a society does not benefit from such an ideology.

            • Of course, I would agree that it would not be necessary to say anything more than “no, it doesn’t” to the statement that “South Korea needs Nazism,” but it is by no means “self-evident” that “a society” does not benefit from Feminism, nor do I agree that it is “a destructive and totalitarian extremist ideology.” Indeed, “isms” are best thought of as continuums, and I think you might be surprised at how many elements to Feminism that you’d be in complete agreement with if you moved past the single, narrow and rather dogmatic view of Feminism that you seem to have.

              • I’m familiar with every variety of feminism and have examined it from all angles (whereas most feminists have examined it from exactly one angle: the official one). I have also debated many, many feminists. Conclusion: it’s a destructive anti-male and anti-equality ideology. In fact, it’s actually even anti-female. The only thing it’s really in favor of is feminism itself.

                • um . . . considering there *is* no “official” angle on feminism (and who would get to determine that, pray tell? Is there a secret board of international evil feminists who meet together in their underground lair beneath Mt. Ballbuster to determine the agenda, then disseminate it through their vast web of spies and moles, waiting for the day when our evil feminist plot will come to fruition? mwahahahaha!) I’m calling bs.

                  But please, DO open 2010 with your definition of “official feminism” and all these various feminisms you’ve studied so hard here on this message board. I like to start the new year with a good laugh.

                  • I was going to be more polite, but Gomushin Girl made me realize that the absurdity of your comment makes that rather difficult.

                    Considering that in the classic Socialism (1975), author R.N.Berki devotes pretty much the entire book to just discussing what the hell it actually is, noting in passing in the first chapter one author who found no less than 39 definitions, I very much doubt that you are familiar with “every variety” of a similarly diverse ‘ism’. Indeed, the very fact that you believe there to be an “official” version betrays your very superficial understanding of the subject, let alone if you’ve ever even “examined” it at all.

                    Regardless, given that, unlike Nazism, others clearly do not share your negative views of Feminism, please refrain from unsubstantiated one-liners about it in the future. Opinions backed with evidence and/or reasoning though, remain more than welcome.

                  • By official angle I mean the feminists themselves. When I criticize feminism I am told that I’ve been mislead by The Media (which is actually pro-feminism, but nevermind) and should get the real answers from this or that feminist source. It’s kind of like telling someone who’s suspicious of North Korea that he should stop being mislead by The Media and just trust official NK statements. Feminists do not like it when people bypass the official channels (whatever they may be), because they can’t control the flow of information. They are not confident that feminism can withstand open scrutiny (which is also why feminist blogs are infamous for very closely moderating their comments and banning people who disagree).

                    As for your sarcastic conspiracy theory talk, I have repeatedly been told by feminists that there is indeed a grand conspiracy – The Patriarchy – and anyone who isn’t onboard with feminism has been brainwashed by it.

                    • I’m afraid you’re still missing the point. Those feminists you met sound particularly dogmatic and militant, and hardly representative of all varieties of feminists or feminism. I’m a feminist for instance, and I think it’s safe to say that Gomushin Girl considers herself one, but neither of us believe that there is only one official source of feminism that shouldn’t be bypassed, nor subscribe to the idea that there is a vast patriarchal conspiracy.

                      Meanwhile, some feminist blogs are like you describe, but the one you’re reading now certainly isn’t.

                    • I’m familiar with all varieties of feminism, and I am talking about plain old regular feminists, not some militant types. It’s very disingenious to dismiss criticism towards feminism by playing some shell game where the “real” feminism is always elusively out of reach, like “oh, but those weren’t real feminists, they were just the militant types.” Those supposedly militant types will of course tell you the exact same thing. Feminists are never accountable for anything because any idea that comes under scrutiny can be easily jettisoned by attributing it to some vague group of “militant feminists” or “extremists” who don’t represent the “real” feminism. Reminds me of hot potato, except the music never stops.

                      And when all is said and done, feminism can offer nothing to substantiate the claim that it’s a struggle for gender equality. It’s even highly questionable whether feminism is good for women (fostering a mentality of victimhood and entitlement does not help women).

                      (James: WordPress only allows threads to go 10 replies deep unfortunately, so discussion continued here)

      • Thanks for the elaboration on the rectification of names, I didn’t know the English term. Yep, it’s been around since the Warring Period and (I think)has been used to justify all manner of authority. It’s just a generalizing educated guess though – the rectification of names is just one possible explanation, but this phenomenon is neither monocausal nor bicausal so I won’t limit the causes to that alone. Besides, the original concept itself may be slightly different from the socially observed concept since confucianism was/has been a very elitist body of worldviews jealously monopolized (utilized, manipulated) by ruling classes, so by the time it ‘dumbed down’ for the ‘masses’ it tended to get all distorted, and settle like a sort of sediment of vague directionality… but in the process of the distortion it would mix hodgepodge with other preexisting notions derived from buddhism or ‘taoism’ or shamanism/animism. Mapping the complexity of those dymanics should make fascinating relevant work, I think.. But I’m going off on another tangent. The extrapolation from the white horses to the beautiful women looks awesomely apt…

        Gender studies. Gender studies do not get very much press and are on the whole unpopular publicsentiment-wise but I wouldn’t say they are necessarily undeveloped at the college level, or in academia. The focus on feminist studies at Ehwa university, or the existence of a ‘Women’s Student Council’ in most universities (mine has one as well), testify to that.

        If you are interested, a friend of mine is doing graduate studies in sociology and he’s been writing all these papers on gender studies and stuff – this is the website of his advisor-professor [ http://web.yonsei.ac.kr/yoosik/index.htm ] with detailed information on the courses offered at both undergrad and grad level. (The prof’s notorious for making kids read thick English coursepacks, and has been at anglophone schools, so there shouldn’t be much trouble language-wise; you can email him or perhaps you know him already? He does 몸사회학.)

        But I donno – I’d definately say that the second wave of feminism *did* have an influence on gender studies in academia here, so much in fact that the radicality arguably rubbed off more than anything (at least very much so in the ever-wary eyes of the public.)

        Personally I’ve had run-ins with very many different types of Korean feminists and while some are into the hyphenated stuff like eco-feminism, which is very good and well, some are into political lesbianism, some just get a kick out of using their mom’s last name along with their dad’s, some are dedicated to challenging ‘straight-ism’ as the new frontier after ‘patriarchal-ism’…

        When all’s said and done the feminist ‘movement’ here (in tandem with academic gender studies really…) lashes out with as much force/self-assertion as a unified orchastrated movement and simultaneously is totally diffused. In my PERSONAL (rather uninformed and emotional) opinion this is probably because it mostly takes the leaves straight out of the second wavers’ books (like methodologies etc) but fails to take into account the whole ‘social attitudes’ aspect..

        Korea in the 2000′s isn’t the anglophone world in the 1960′s, but a lot of feminists just identify patriarchy as ‘patriarchy’ and attack that, they don’t work their ways into the workings of what is now entrenched as ‘common sense’ to the layman here. They turn themselves into ‘others’, attack, and invite attack, deluging the public’s image of ‘gender-questioning’ with a radical or even militant, divisive coloration.

        Sure, that’s not Korea’s, or feminism’s, sole fault or instance… but we’ve had about a century to figure out that the so-called patriarchy here isn’t just gonna go away with angry, increasingly meaningless to-and-fro’s, surely it’s time to come up with something else (and not just the ‘eco’-hyphen or ‘alternative’ prefix which seem really bland and problematic)? The direction Korean feminism is going in just seems actually subversive to the actual betterment of women’s rights and social attitudes towards women. So all that is probably why you don’t hear or read many positive things about that in the news, online, etc. Sorry for the pseudo-polemic…

          • Just a quick note to say thanks for your comment, and that it raises so many issues and that I have so much to discuss about it that I’ve decided to write another post on all those, rather than replying in a very long and easily overlooked comment here. I’ll try to have it up before Friday!^^

  3. The biggest issue I have with shape catagorisation is that most women, whatever race, are never one particular shape but a combination of more than one depending on weight and height. I often feel like its a ploy by cosmetic and clotehs companies to ensure no-one is ever truely satisfied with how they are and will start to seek solutions that end up being damaging to health. It is such a complex issue its hard to know where to begin.

    • I agree, and to be fair many such guides do acknowledge that, but that in turn makes one wonder what all the point of categorization is in the first place. Seriously, it reminds of me of frustrated Spanish administrators in colonial Latin America, helpless in the face of exhortations to categorize all the different degrees of blackness and whiteness of mixed-race children, and then their children, as Caucasian Spanish settlers intermingled with native Latin Americans and turned the place into a racial melting pot.

      On the other hand, I do not share all criticisms of such guides that commentors on the critique on Jezebel do. For instance, it is certainly true that a woman having small breasts does not make her less feminine and/or unsexy, and indeed the sexiest woman I have ever known didn’t, and which with her being rather short on top of that, led her to ask me why on Earth I found her so one day (we had a very honest, no bullshit {plantonic} relationship, and it was because of her attitude if anyone wants to know). Indeed, like another friend with small breasts said to me once, you just get used to them (advice which helped me in turn when I became bald), and to obsess over one’s flaws instead isn’t particularly sexy.

      But despite attitude and confidence being the most important, there’s no need to bullshit: however much this sits uncomfortably with some feminists’ worldviews, regardless of culture most guys like curves on women just like most women like men with hair, and my friends and I would fix our physical flaws in an instant if we could. So I believe that for them to wear a push-up bra on a date, say, is no more betraying feminism than I would be betraying men(?) by wearing a wig. I admit that this may sound contradictory of me though, even if I would definitely draw a line somewhere between minor titivation like that and obsessing about pretending your body is something that it’s not.

      • oh yeah, a push up bra does not make anyone anti feminist for sure, and I’m not one myself anyway, just interested in all the issues. For me the damage in catagorising everything is obviously that it generates the idea in the impressionable that conforming will make you successful, pretty, desirable when it is, as you said about your friend, the attitude that makes someone sexy, desirable and successful.

        I am, for the record, overweight and spend a lot of time with Koreans who are naturally slender and have a lighter frame. Its very hard not to feel like an elephant all the time. If it wasn’t for my Filipina friend saying to me that Asians don’t judge Westerners by the same yardstick as themselves I would maybe have a lot more issues!

        • Just in case I gave the wrong impression – the vagaries of communicating on the internet and all – I wasn’t saying that you were implying that push-up bras are anti-feminist!^^

          I hear you about the damage caused, and about the different standards for Westerners, although often I’m amazed at Korean women not seeing the irony in saying to my Western female friends, say, that they don’t have to worry about being thin and so on, when the only real difference in their situatuons is that fewer Western women choose to worry about it, and that doing the same is the only way things will ever change for Korean women also.

    • As a former reader of women’s magazines, I recall that articles on women’s body shapes generally dispensed advice on what and what not to wear, and the suggested style choices did flatter each woman. Recommending a short-waisted woman buy low-rise pants instead of high-waisted ones isn’t damaging to her health or self-esteem. Even without reading these stories, most women figure out which styles look best by trying on clothes and stick with what works, regardless of fashion trends.

      What is damaging is the preference for models with fake or real tans. A fake tan costs money and overdone, makes the wearer look like an Oompa Loompa. A real tan accelerates aging and increases the risk of skin cancer. Some traits considered beautiful cross cultural boundaries because they have evoluntionary origins while others, like tanning, are cultural constructs that can be revised or rejected outright.

      • Not that you say this of course(!), but possibly (probably?) I’ve given the impression that I think that advice about dressing according to your body type – with the proviso that most people don’t conform to one type – is useless. Quite the opposite, although I do think that to a certain extent fashion magazines etc. have a natural corporate interest in continually creating and/or (re)defining body types and dispensing advice about them. Indeed, not that I should read too much into this, but I’ve read many guides which featured the same hapless women modeling the appropriate way to address for various body types, which led me to think that dispensing genuinely useful advice for women to dress was secondary to having something to fill the magazine with that week.

        • US magazines do not use the same woman to model different styles for different body types. They use real women with those body shapes. Of course, many women do not conform perfectly to one type. For example, I am one inch smaller in the bust than the hips, which places me between an hourglass (same measurements top and bottom) and a spoon (hips 2+ inches larger). Nevertheless, body types highlight more attractive and less attractive features, and women can adjust the advice. A story on body types is, like so many other articles in women’s magazines, a recycled theme that appears regularly. BTW, that British book about 12 body types was based on body scans of thousands of women. My complaint about the book was that it used one woman model and photo edited her body for each shape. IMO, the base model was overweight as were most of the body shapes, appropriate I suppose for an audience that is mostly overweight but not user-friendly for a person of normal weight like me.

  4. This stuff is fascinating. Korea needs its own Jezebel! (I’m assuming there isn’t one already – ?)
    Chorahan, I’m curious about this statement: “It has even resorted to homogenizing certain snapshots of stereotyped ‘diversity’ or ‘unconventionality’ in the form of teen idols that are held up on pedestals as somehow being harbingers of Korea’s ‘openness’ and ‘creativity of the youth’.” Could you (assuming you’re reading this) elaborate on that?

    • Just quickly (bedtime for me!), I’m not sure she is reading because in her email to me she said she was quite busy at the moment. I’m literally about to sign off here sorry…zzz…but in the morning I’ll…zzz…make sure send her an email to let her know this post is finally up and that you’d like to…zzz…know more…zzz…zzz…zz.z.z..z..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………zzzzzz.

  5. what an amazing post! thank you for sharing that great comment!

    As a Korean who these advertisements are not* specifically aimed at, i still feel the heat from the objectification of korean women as well! I am certain that fellow women from elsewhere feel similarly, though probably to varying degrees of distress depending on their actual physical appearance.

    I wonder if this can be analyzed from a political context, too?? Although I understand that confucian ideals have much to do with the existing female stereotypes, i wonder how life under emperorship, colonization, dictatorship, and imperialism could affect korean nationals’ expectations of each other as *people*? Could you possibly write a post on this???

    i’m glad that you make a reference to Nazism.

    the following is from a quick google search on “ideal nazi woman”:

    “The Nazis had very firm ideas about the role of women in Germany. Hitler thought that the population of Germany had to increase for the country to become more powerful. Therefore women were forced to give up work and have children. Hitler reduced women’s social activity to a purely biological purpose. It was their duty to assure the future of the German race. To encourage this policy, he offered rewards to women such as marriage loans, tax allowances, and health services. He even praised the women for their “services to the state and race” publicly. As a result, they were more willing to comply with such a program. Once again, German women failed to oppose the forces of history. Instead of insisting on all that they had accomplished during the Weimar Republic, German women let themselves be manipulated by Hitler and accepted their traditional role of a housewife.”

    my own two cents:

    Thoroughly harrowed by the standards of femininity here, I had an interesting conversation with my elderly relatives about the current standard of beauty in Korea. they revealed that the current standard of beauty is “new” and that a “chosun beauty” was someone who looked “flower-like” but also distinctly korean. while i found that interesting and revealing, it did not convince me that the current korean obsession with ideal female beauty is age-old and traditional.

    another sidenote: i think i read on this blog that korea scores rather low on some sort of international “happy index”, with the great amount of social inequality being the culprit for the low score. considering the great perception of social inequality that exists (and that probably exists de-facto) here, i’ve found that there is this pervasive myth in korean culture that inequality is innate. i.e., geniuses, beautiful people, people who are very good at a certain thing, are *born* to simply grace this planet with their presence.

    for instance, i have been often advised to consider some form of plastic surgery. the rationale is that i can “fulfill my potential and be worthy of celebrity status”. please note my translation using the words “potential”, “worthy”, and “fulfill”. while living and teaching in the korean countryside, i have come to realize that most people understand that this “korean dream” myth is simply not true, and this causes a lot of unhappiness. Upon further thought, I also think that this myth can be understood parallel to the “American Dream” myth. the socioeconomic climbers, the ones who want* to be elite, protect these myths ferociously and tenaciously. i’ve noticed that the actual elite, many of which spend a lot of time abroad, regard the myth with a certain amount petulance, but distinctively not enough to deter them from enjoying the fruits of it. unfortunately, yet again i have no sources for this comment aside from my own lived experience.

  6. First of all, that last photo was a great finish! I love round, juicy buttocks especially when paired with broad shoulders and muscular legs.

    This translation is confusing: “Both comprise 47% of Korean women. On the other hand, those with relatively smooth and curved hips and buttocks have a Round type, and those with an asymmetrical or imbalanced pelvis have an asymmetrical or imbalanced type, compromising 4% and 2% of Korean women respectively.” The original Korean is clear, using the word gakgak, or “each.” To me, “both…” means “both types together.”

  7. Regarding women’s shapes, the tremendous variety makes it difficult for manufacturers to make fitted dresses. Some tend to long torsos and slim hips while others cut for an hourglass shape. This summer US retailer Target featured a variety of cute little fitted sleeveless dresses with high waists and balanced chest and hips. I bought one in every flattering style and color. The unparalled joy of finding a dress that fits perfectly is something a man probably cannot understand.

    • Oh I don’t know…we all have problems with shop-bought suits, and I look forward to the day I have both the money and the need to get several suits specifically tailored for me. A friend of mine is still raving about how comforable his are, 6 months later.

  8. @tokyojesusfist (wordpress only allows sub-threads of up to 10 comments unfortunately)

    I’m familiar with all varieties of feminism, and I am talking about plain old regular feminists, not some militant types.

    I’m really tiring of this. You keep referring to an “official” or “plain old regular” feminism (or feminists), but have still not defined it (or them) despite Gomushin Girl’s request. I put it to you that you can’t and won’t, so convenient is it for you to have a strawman to criticize.

    It’s very disingenious to dismiss criticism towards feminism by playing some shell game where the “real” feminism is always elusively out of reach, like “oh, but those weren’t real feminists, they were just the militant types.” Those supposedly militant types will of course tell you the exact same thing.

    A rather ironic criticism coming from someone whose definition of the “real” feminism is simply never in sight.

    Meanwhile, I never said that they “weren’t real feminists” because, for the last time, THERE ARE NO “REAL” FEMINISTS. Militant feminists (in thought and/or in action) – whom again, seem to be the only ones you have met – are merely one kind of feminist, of which only some strands of their methodolgy and worldviews are shared by other kinds. To judge all strands of feminist thought and or feminists on them is equivalent to judging your opinion of socialism, say, entirely on collectivization in the former USSR, or capitalism based on the recent financial crisis in the US.

    Finally, “those supposedly militant types will of course tell you the exact same thing.” What, militant feminists will also say to criticism of some bad/excessive/crazy feminists that those “aren’t real feminists, just the militant types”? Yeah, right…

    Feminists are never accountable for anything because any idea that comes under scrutiny can be easily jettisoned by attributing it to some vague group of “militant feminists” or “extremists” who don’t represent the “real” feminism.

    And apparently neither are you accountable, because you never provide any examples of what you’re complaining about.

    Oh wait, by an “idea that comes under scrutiny” that us feminists refuse to discuss, do you mean the vast patriarchal conspiracy? No, I never “jettisoned” it per se, merely meant that people who subscribe to that belief tend to belong to one extreme of the broad continuum that is feminists, just like similarly unpalatable or crazy beliefs are at the extreme of nationalism, capitalism, environmentalism, patriotism, liberalism etc. etc. But I suppose that that sounds like the same thing to you, so let me be more precise.

    I acknowledge and embrace the diversity that is feminism, and as testament to that diversity still consider myself a feminist even if I don’t subscribe to the view that there is a vast patriarchal conspiracy (just like some wouldn’t consider me one for that same reason). I do not need to defend feminism from some element of your (specious) version of it if I have never shared it, so I am not conveniently choosing not to discuss that as something not reflecting “real” feminism when – for the 15th time – that concept only exists in your own head.

    Accordingly, I dismiss descriptions of every feminist like yours when they’re based just on a small sub-sect of them, just like I am sure you would ones of all capitalists, say, just on robber-barons, or ones of American nationalism based on the KKK.

    And when all is said and done, feminism can offer nothing to substantiate the claim that it’s a struggle for gender equality. It’s even highly questionable whether feminism is good for women (fostering a mentality of victimhood and entitlement does not help women).

    Again, something which belies your claim to be “familiar with all varieties of feminism,” and which seriously makes me wonder why I’m bothering here.

    Feel free to reply to this comment: yes, I’m a feminist blogger that can handle people that disagree with me, although I apologize for how much that conflicts with your monolithic view of us. But still, don’t expect me to reply in turn unless you are finally prepared to offer a definition of your “real/official/regular” feminism.

  9. I’m really tiring of this. You keep referring to an “official” or “plain old regular” feminism (or feminists), but have still not defined it (or them) despite Gomushin Girl’s request. I put it to you that you can’t and won’t, so convenient is it for you to have a strawman to criticize.

    I already explained: “By official angle I mean the feminists themselves” and “Feminists do not like it when people bypass the official channels (whatever they may be).”

    As for regular feminists, they’re just average feminists you can find anywhere. Feminists in general.

    Meanwhile, I never said that they “weren’t real feminists” because, for the last time, THERE ARE NO “REAL” FEMINISTS. Militant feminists (in thought and/or in action) – whom again, seem to be the only ones you have met – are merely one kind of feminist, of which only some strands of their methodolgy and worldviews are shared by other kinds. To judge all strands of feminist thought and or feminists on them is equivalent to judging your opinion of socialism, say, entirely on collectivization in the former USSR, or capitalism based on the recent financial crisis in the US.

    Feminists have not organized themselves into distinct groups or different movements, and present themselves as a singular force (or at least every feminist thinks they’re representing true feminism). There is only “feminism,” so the only thing anyone can criticize is “feminism.” But when one does so, suddenly feminism splinters into an infinite number of subgroups that have nothing to do with each other.

    Finally, “those supposedly militant types will of course tell you the exact same thing.” What, militant feminists will also say to criticism of some bad/excessive/crazy feminists that those “aren’t real feminists, just the militant types”? Yeah, right…

    The feminists I am referring to that you are calling militants told me the exact same thing. They told me that I’m confusing “real” feminism with militants. Those militant feminists are actually relatively rare and really just a convinient scapegoat for other feminists. It’s like good cop & bad cop.

    And apparently neither are you accountable, because you never provide any examples of what you’re complaining about.

    I am single person who does not belong to any movement or represent one.

    …people who subscribe to that belief tend to belong to one extreme of the broad continuum that is feminists…

    The last bunch of feminists who told me tall tales of a patriarchal conspiracy insisted that they’re the real deal and I should just ignore all those crazy feminists out there. Confusing! But really, the patriarchy is a central concept of feminism. Although feminists claim it isn’t a conspiracy theory, it really is one for all intents and purposes.

    Accordingly, I dismiss descriptions of every feminist like yours when they’re based just on a small sub-sect of them

    If all those countless feminist bloggers, journalists, writers, scholars, activists and random forumgoers aren’t in any way representative of feminism as a whole, then who or what is? If there’s no real feminism, or a commonly accepted feminism, then what meaning does feminism have? What are you even defending, exactly?

    Yes, I’m a feminist blogger that can handle people that disagree with me, although I apologize for how much that conflicts with your monolithic view of us.

    The overwhelming trend is that feminists carefully moderate their blogs and silence people who disagree. I have observed this countless times, as have others.

    • Dude, you could have helped your case by spending five minutes on wikipedia, doing a copy and paste job just to prove that you knew the names of some different kinds of feminisms, or even just given us a single definition of what you think feminism is. Instead, you’ve made all kids of random, unsubstantiated statements and vague allegations, half of which don’t even make sense.

      Hell, here, I’ll *give* you a fairly basic definition of feminism, which you can refine or redefine in order to give us your own idea of what feminism is:

      Feminism is a movement aimed at achieving political, cultural, and economic equality for women.

      Now you can tell us:

      a) yes, this is feminism, and I disagree with the movement because (insert reason)
      b) no, this is not feminism. Feminism is (insert definition) and I disagree with it because (insert reason)

      • There’s no commonly accepted feminism and nobody represents feminism, so any definition should be as good as any other.

        But Wikipedia’s definition is factually incorrect. It’s not actually a definition at all, but more of a mission statement (which doesn’t necessarily have to be truthful). Feminism does not seek equality, as the things feminists say and do are anti-equality and anti-male, ultimately even anti-female and self-destructive. Feminists are quick to gobble up more privileges and freedoms and special treatment for women, but don’t want any responsibilities and don’t care about problems affecting men (such as unfair divorce laws).

        Even if a feminist appears to be earnestly fighting for equality, she does it in all the wrong ways because she has no idea what equality actually is. To feminists it’s all about percentages and statistics, not equal opportunity. It isn’t enough that a woman has an equal opportunity to, say, study computer science; women must make up 50% or more of all CS students, otherwise they are oppressed. Of course it makes no difference to feminists that women just aren’t into computers as much as men are (just like men aren’t into some things that women are). Even if men and women were exactly the same (they’re not), they still wouldn’t do the same things in the same numbers… that’s just not possible, unless you implement some weird North Korean type of totalitarian society.

        It also isn’t enough that men and women are paid the same amount of money for the same work; women must statistically make the same amount of money as men, otherwise they are oppressed. Right.

        • I’ll let your obvious ignorance shine through with this statement, as proof that you really don’t seem to understand feminism, feminists, and apparently, equality. I don’t know whether to be amused or insulted that you’ve attempted to tell myself, James, and other feminists how we feel and think and gotten it so very wrong.

          • Who exactly elected you as the supreme representative of feminism? What you believe or claim to believe has no bearing on what other feminists believe or claim to believe.

            And if equality is not about equal opportunity, then what exactly is it about? Is it about satisfying arbitrary statistical goals and setting up quotas?

  10. Pingback: “Eye Smiles” and “Egg Lines” « Extra! Korea

  11. Great post. I love that you went there, into further detail. I would tentatively argue that there might also be a qualitative difference between the occident’s ‘shapes’ (pear, hourglass, etc.) and Korea’s lines. I say tentatively because I’m not Korean and have never been to Korea; so other’s thoughts on this would absolutely be appreciated.
    So, in the West, we tend to associate a great body with an hourglass figure, but you can definitely be sexy with pear or rectangle or triangle. And you can certainly be gorgeous with any face shape… You also might watch your weight using the body mass index.
    I’ve just watched an episode of WinWin with Kim Soyeon, in which a viewer consiering plastic surgery wanted to know the dimensions in centimeters of her lovely open eyes. So, the host got out a ruler and they measured. They also measured a male idol’s small eyes, for laughs, but for me this seemed to show the different standards for men and women on this matter. Another example is the honey thighs business – a perfect ratio is given for the circumference of your thighs, lower thighs, and calves.
    Now, I know that there is the idea of being a D-cup, or having a 20-inch waist, here in the West. But it seems like there is one single ideal size/shape for practically every body part in Korea (or at least in the Korean media that I can find online to watch and get curious about).
    I also think that there is a huge difference between dressing so that you look great even with 5 extra pounds or whatever and having surgery to get the job done. I’m in great shape but there are some cuts of skirt that just make my legs look stumpy. So, I avoid them lol. Even light surgery is a major process.. and what happens when the V-line face isn’t popular anymore? I guess we’ll get implants in our jawlines then ? Of course tons of Westerners have plastic surgery, too – but if I’ve understood correctly this practice, especially for teenage girls, is far more prevalent in Korea than the comparative demographics in the West and other countries. I don’t remember where I read those facts, so I’m sorry but I can’t cite a source for this claim.
    All of this makes me think that the qualitative factor is there, too…

  12. Pingback: final fashion » silhouettes and signals

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