The effeminacy of male beauty in Korea

( Attack on the Pin-Up Boys, 2007. Source )

With thanks to author Roald Maliangkay for the kind words about this blog in it, see here for his short and very readable article of that title in the latest International Institute for Asian Studies newsletter, which I also highly recommend taking 2 minutes to subscribe to. (Email me for a PDF if the link doesn’t work).

For the specific post of mine he refers to, and many more on the kkotminam (꽃미남) phenomenon in general (literally “flower-beautiful-man”), scroll down to the sidebar on the right until you come to the “My Constantly Evolving Thesis Topic” section.

(Update: that’s been removed after a change in theme. Please see here for a list of recommended posts instead)

True, he actually argues that the factors I cite are just some of many that were ultimately responsible for the emergence of that, but then my own views have considerably evolved since first writing about the subject over 2 years ago, and I think we’re in broad agreement really.

Alternatively, perhaps that just reflects how persuasive his own article is?^^ What do you think of it?

25 thoughts on “The effeminacy of male beauty in Korea

  1. James,

    Maybe this is my immigration time warp starting to affect me, but I don’t see how the 꽃미남 phenomenon is qualitatively different from any “pretty boy” phenomenon in America or generally present in any pop culture. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of any pop culture that does not feature some kind of pretty boy. And the fact that Korea’s 꽃미남 trope is successful worldwide speaks directly to the fact that this is not really a Korean phenomenon — worldwide, women go nuts for pretty men.

    On the flip side — and I understand this is a less interesting topic — the hold that the “tough, manly man” image has over Korean pop culture is still very significant. Even though a budding actor might start out as a 꽃미남, usually the actor HAS to take on a “serious” role (which is usually equivalent to a hyper-masculine role) in a movie in order to be taken seriously as an actor. Hence the career arc of 장동건, which started in cheesy dramas but progressing through 태극기 휘날리며. 원빈 is following that arc right now. And such career arc is not much different from, say, that of DiCaprio’s or Brad Pitt’s.

    Which brings me to something, to me, is vaguely annoying. This is a bit of a out-on-a-limb position and I am still tentative on this, but I don’t know why people attempt to connect the pretty men to Korean culture. No one made a connection between, say, David Beckham and the English culture. (And Becks wears a goddamn skirt, for crying out loud.) Why the desire to connect Korean men with effeminacy?

    • Dear The Korean,

      I’m not sure it’s a desire at all. I came over to Korea at age 48 with my wife. As a literature guy, I have no interest at ALL in Korean pop or pop-culture. I was still flabbergasted, when I landed, at how effeminate Korean men looked to me (I put “me” in there to recognize that I was judging from my US point of view). I had no ‘desire’ to see them that way.

      Korean literature, which is what I have studied, is different – the men are pretty hard-assed and that’s what I expected to see. Fortunately the adjushi were there for me. ;-)

      I just landed in New Zealand two days ago and had a similar, though opposite, reaction here. The men (as James has hinted before) adopt a super macho look. Tattoos everywhere, denim, sleeveless shirts, Rock-ts, mad hair. Again, this was my initial reaction and I don’t think was driven by any desire or need to see NZlanders in any particular way. I’m from the US, I didn’t know NZ existed before I had to buy a ticket to it. ^^

      In both cases, I suppose, this is the younger generation I’m talking about. But the point is, most westerners who look at Korean culture are looking at the younger and more popular examples of it, and in Korea the effeminacy (though I hate that word, because it has so many cultural connotations I think don’t apply) outweighs the surly brutes, so to speak.

      To claim a “desire” in others to find this, is I think, to apply your own analytic to them.

      YMMV

      • Charles,

        I understand your point, but I think my point is different from yours. If we turned our focus toward the dress code of the actual young men who walk around the streets, I completely agree with your analysis. (Although I have never been to NZ.) But we are talking about pop culture here. As I understand it, Prof. Maliangkay is focused on male image in pop culture. And my point was that pop culture everywhere in the world features “pretty men.” In that sense, my last sentence was unclear — I should have said “Why the particular desire to connect pretty men in pop culture with Korean culture?” That would have fit better with the Beckham example.

        • There will be “pretty men” in most prominent pop cultures but there are different criterias. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Backstreet Boy or New kid on the block cross-dress as a woman on a TV variety show as entertainment which not only focuses on humour but also getting fangirls to squeel as their fanfic dreams are made true. I have also never seen them sing female artist songs – whilst ADOPTING more feminised movements on a prominent music station. Even when it was done i.e. Justin Timberlake versus Single Ladies it was so blatantly a parody and no one genuinely went “eeee so cuteee ahhhh my oppa” like I have seen fans do for the Korean male idols doning womens clothes or more colour clothes to slither and shake booty to SNSD and Kara.

          I don’t see members from JLS hugging eachother from behind or pretending to kiss eachother in “selcas” because it’s a different culture and really, they’d be met with many homophobic threats(It’s expected unfortunately but it doesn’t mean it’ll be detrimental. The late Steven Gately came out and all my friends still loved him/George Michael anyone?). Even with the highly intolerant attitude towards homosexuality, the idols get away with so much homoerotically suggestive behaviour (in terms of Western images) but there is no noteable outcry. Because it is a different culture. I think what James and the article writer are getting at is how we the Westeners have labelled this and that as the traits of being effeminate but in this society, it isn’t frowned upon as long as no one actually mentions they are effeminate due to their sexuality leaning to the male loving side.

          Look at Jo Kwon, no one would say he’s a straight man if shown to Westeners. My friends, teachers and family have asked “is that a woman?” to countless pictures of different Korean celebrity flower boys and it says something. They don’t know about Kpop and had that first impression so it shows to you that the pretty boy image is definitely different and that’s why it’s an interesting topic. We are in turn exploring our own impression of “effeminate” and another cultures, same with Japan. Even though Taiwan is so influenced by Korean and Japanese media itself, when you watch variety or it’s pop entertainment, you can see that their “pretty boy” image is much of our 90′s early millenium image in the West with a hint of Japan/Korean flair – usually seen most when they pretend to flirt indirectly to fans watching. Touching of the lips as if the want to kiss the viewer and “lustful” expression in the eyes. Or just general “cute” pose/facial expression

          http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/16200000/Jaejoong-with-Yunho-hero-jae-joong-16260387-1024-768.jpg The positioning of the right male – Yunho is very reminiscent of a man holding/showing care of ‘his’ woman… http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_DiFdg_LMhh0/SDHcm4yvgyI/AAAAAAAAOn0/29PwTdFRK_0/s400/jenry%2BB%2Bat%2Brequest.jpg

          Taiwan Idol Jiro Wang, the buff body but sensitive look – http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_CpjOnyeTAmY/SFDdSR3hoLI/AAAAAAAAASk/_UDjp8uXo5g/s320/Jiro_wang_dong_cheng.jpg
          His colleague Aaron Yan, the soft but intense look http://img2.lln.crunchyroll.com/i/spire4/01142008/8/2/5/4/82543771fd9390_full.jpg
          The oldest member Wu Zun, the cool exterior guy (fluffy on the inside)
          and lasty Calvin Chen, the one considered furtherest from the normal criteria hence the sweet one. You can google the rest of the photos, it’s quite evident what I mean. I have not picked certain photos, you can google stream the photos and see the patterns of photoshoots they will attain.
          Ethan Ruan – cool/slick guy

          Japan
          Yamapi – cool exterior with a quirk
          Ryuhei Matsuda – cold exterior, mysterious core (damn hot might I add, ahem)
          His brother contrastingly holds a cool exterior and warm core image
          Kazuya Kamenashi – Pretty boy with a cool exterior but playful core which “pops” out now and then

          Korea
          JongHyun – cheerful pretty boy
          colleague Key of Shinee – Pretty “bad boy”
          Jaejoong – pretty boy, soft boy
          Taecyeon – Tough guy
          Won Bin – The boy next door (I find Korean actors who are popular will resonate more with the Western Image in publications)
          Heechul – instead of magazine publications, you rather have the fan photoshopping and selcas pictures explaining his image blatantly

          America
          Brad Pitt – Rugid pretty boy Now: the “I like older men, they’re more mature” look.
          River Phoenix – Intense, traveller in the mind
          Justin Timberlake – Nsync: boy next door Post nsync: Mr independent and intense Post solo popularity peak: slick/cool and goofy transitions
          Usher – slick and intense… it has changed a bit from his debut days, he obviously had the more “playful” image before

          Anyway… despite these 4 countries having titles overlapping here, if you google those pictures of these people you will not find consistent similarity with the American ones (in exception of the full time actors not idol actors)

          Idol men in mainly Korea will share similarity with stance showing “we are men, watch us stand rigidly with power” but if you look at individual magazine publications or “selcas”, you see the difference blatantly in their individual roles.

          In terms of Japan and Taiwan, that power stance is less oftenly used in album/group publications and the more playful side that we could see in Western idol men but less oftenly is used. I would like to note that British pretty boysgroups are more effem than American pretty boysgroups
          http://www.nsync-fans.com/images/front_nsync.jpg
          http://celebritycellphonenumber.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Backstreet-Boys.jpg
          http://image.yystr.com/yyimg/09/01/446c_b.jpg
          http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_QHnJvKAYn4c/SU10wCday-I/AAAAAAAAETs/3mRyIqqCViM/s400/jls3.jpg
          Literal flowerboys http://www.aceshowbiz.com/images/news/00017788.jpg
          http://www.costpernews.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/nsync.jpg
          Westlife also had a gay member http://img.x-pack.org/img.php?5.jpg
          http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_xKR1aBnaqgA/TBSZN8DbzsI/AAAAAAAAA3U/CVJZmp5eq3s/s1600/1382.jpg
          http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_DEEmFWmDRCM/TCNgM5pKKjI/AAAAAAAABDQ/y3k8KmSn9Oo/s1600/westlife_wp_640_is.jpg
          http://blog.mybag.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Take-That1.jpg look at the middle members pose…
          Comeback British boy groups adopt the “mature man” look of course or they’d be the butt of ridicule but you won’t see boygroups posing like that anymore… e.g. JLS
          If you look at old school kidols to British idols in the 90′s, Korea always maintained the power stance image as a collective
          H.O.T
          Shinhwa
          Seo Taiji and the boys – mainly became idols through the popularity

          I feel so redundant. Im really tired lol but I spent a lot of time on this redundant reply so I will post it anyway. I was gonna revise what I’ve but Ive been needing to pee for like 2 hours now. Where is my logic you ask? I dont know but My thoughts are not very clearly structured sorry

    • I think the Korean may have come pretty close to nailing it right on the head. It is a bit difficult to articulate, but I do get the sense that there is a desire by non-Koreans to somehow connect the pretty boy phenomenon to Korean culture, and I don’t think the reasons for doing so are very intelligent. I agree with the Korean that there is a pretty boy phenomenon everywhere. To suggest this is somehow rooted in Korean culture is very ignorant position to take and it is lazy as well.

      Look at Justin Bieber… he looks pretty damn effeminate to me. As does every teen idol/boy band in the US since the dawn of time. So why do we not see foreign sociologists trying to make head to toe of this and somehow analyze this as part of American culture, a byproduct of the post-feminist age? Because that would be ridiculous. This has been going on since the long hair and flower power of the hippie movement in the 1960s was considered ‘effeminate’. Or how about Joe Namath, whose occupation as an NFL quarterback was one of the most masculine, yet he was famous for his long hair, boyish looks, and swinging lifestyle, and was even featured in an infamous ad wearing women’s pantyhose?

      Personally, while I hate to say this, I almost have to reach the conclusion that the desire by foreigners to connect effeminate pop idols with Korean culture has its roots in Orientalism and Colonialism. And that thought bothers me.

      To suggest that the effeminate male in pop culture is a new beauty ideal in Korea overarching others is just a tad far-fetched. We are talking about musicians and actors… these people do not live in the real world to begin with. And secondly as the Korean pointed out, there is a path to maturity that these artists can take. In the US Justin Timberlake took that path from boy band pretty boy to a grown-up and masculine pop artist.

      I’m not trying to piss anyone off here, so perhaps in an effort to cease myself from further bloviating, I will sum it up in these points:

      1) Trying to pin effeminacy on Korean culture ignores the place effeminate males have in other nations (ex. Japan, which I might add began Boys Before Flowers YEARS before such notions hit Korea).

      2) Trying to come up with some massive theory of the rise of effeminate males in Korean pop culture as some uniquely rooted phenomenon in Korean culture suggest a profound lack of knowledge of the music industry and the progression it has had over decades in manufacturing effeminate male idols (and might I add that K-pop’s origins are highly influenced from non-Korean i.e. US influences)

      3) This whole discussion TOTALLY IGNORES the rise of hip-hop influences in Korea and hip-hop street fashion which has become quite pervasive. In fact, not bringing up the influence that hip-hop has been developing in Korea suggests a lack of knowledge of what’s been going on in the Korean music industry. (In other words, try and find a popular effeminate MC in Korean hip-hop, underground or mainstream, I dare you.)

      Not trying to step on anyone’s toes here, this is just how I’ve seen it, in the street and in the industry.

      • To use hip-hop, if I read your argument correctly, as evidence of masculinity is to surrender your argument.. Korean hip-hop is the weakest, least aggressive hip-hop in the world (I may have missed Xtian hiphop?). It is mannered in the extreme.

        No one, I think, is arguing here that every culture doesn’t have it’s Biebers. But where the heck is:

        Van Halen/Mick Jagger/ Black Sabbath / Metallica (to name but a few hyper-masculine bands)

        Sly Stallone / The Rock / Jason Statham (to name but a few movie stars)

        The same *seems* true of the fashion sense here – I’d love to see a dirty t-shirt and ripped (by life, not some fashion designer) jeans with a proper motorcycle jacket. Or less preening in reflective surfaces of elevators.

        I am absolutely OPPOSED to ripping Korean culture as I like it and I find most of the haters just didn’t look into it, or are too inflexible to have safely left their hometowns. And many of the stereotypes that exist about Korea are either frauds or disappearing (my favorite is the “non creative” University student — man, my students are super geniuses).

        But I’ll say it again: While there may be some foreigners who do have a vested interest in finding “effeminacy” in Korean men? There are plenty of us who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about it, but can’t deny the perceivable cultural balance here… it is certainly different from that balance in the west, and without attributing good or bad to relative balances, it seems silly to ignore what is in front of our eyes..

        YMMV

        • I understand your points, and they are valid. However:

          1) When I say hip hop, I mean real hip hop such as epik high or drunken tiger. I am not taking about pop rap because a guy rhyming a few verses does not a hip hop song make. For example, I would place those types as more ‘urban pop’, and I agree it is weak. However real hop hop like epik high which challenges conventions and poses controversy like true hip hop does is in no way light. It may not be DMX hardcore, but most of what passes for mainstream hip hop these days is not.

          2) Regardless of how hardcore or not the music is, the fashion style of all rap is not feminine.

          3) I agree that many korean guys are focused on looking good. I just hate that foreigners try to find some great white whale of a reason for this based uniquely in korea. How is their behavior any different from urban metrosexuals of the US and Europe?

          • Jason,

            I think there are two parts to this discussion.

            the first, which is my point, is that you have to stretch a long way to find hyper-masculine role-models (if that is the right phrase) in Korean pop/modern culture.

            the second is your point that some foreigners, particularly young white males in Korea do try to find some kind of unique brush with which to smear Korean men with the brush of effeminacy. This is for their own stupid reasons.

            Both realities are true (yin and yang baby!) and it is our job to sort through this manicheanism to see what bits are important.

            Korea is, like any country, capable of massive contradictions…. given it’s hyperspeed transition, I’d say it is capable of more massive contradictions than most nations…

            with an emphasis on “capable.”

        • Um, you mean this “hyper-masculine” Mick Jagger?

          And this Rock?

          The bands and actors you are using aren’t even good comparisons because they aren’t even contemporary/aren’t very popular right now in the US.

          • LOL…

            You find particular videos and ignore entire careers…

            “The Expendables” — yeah.. that didn’t have any success with its all beef all tough guy plot. Here’ are the top 10 world box office male stars (http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-most-successful-actors-at-the-box-office.php):

            110. Robin Williams
            U.S. Gross – $3,177,675,199
            Worldwide Gross – $5,749,935,745

            9. Will Smith
            U.S. Gross – $2,542,908,988
            Worldwide Gross – $5,771,022,176

            8. Morgan Freeman
            U.S. Gross – $3,138,301,600
            Worldwide Gross – $5,851,042,996

            7. Eddie Murphy
            U.S. Gross – $3,470,799,901
            Worldwide Gross – $6,211,397,821

            6. Bruce Willis
            U.S. Gross – $3,045,317,743
            Worldwide Gross – $ 6,432,992,990

            5. Tom Cruise
            U.S. Gross – $3,274,294,878
            Worldwide Gross – $6,642,337,497

            4. Orlando Bloom
            U.S. Gross – $2,390,308,637
            Worldwide Gross – $6,554,217,251

            3. Harrison Ford
            U.S. Gross – $3,630,449,689
            Worldwide Gross – $6,657,454,464

            2. Tom Hanks
            U.S. Gross – $3,985,186,565
            World Gross – $8,007,367,700

            1. Samuel L Jackson
            U.S. Gross – $4,458,983,764
            Worldwide Gross – $8,640,150,950

            Over 50% actors who are primarily “action heroes” (though I await your assiduous web-search for the occasions on which some of these actors portrayed feminine or gay characters. HINT: I’d cherry-pick Robin Williams if I were you) and none who a normal viewer would characterize as “effeminate.”

            Top 10 songs in 2010 (with men singing)

            1 Just The Way You Are Bruno Mars
            2 Love The Way You Lie Eminem Featuring Rihanna
            3 Angel Dance Robert Plant
            4 California Gurls Katy Perry Featuring Snoop Dogg
            5 FEMALE SINGER
            6 FEMALE SINGER
            7 Alphaville Bryan Ferry
            8 Like A G6 Far*East Movement
            9 Grenade Bruno Mars
            10 F**k You! Cee Lo Green

            The best argument you could make there is that 30 years ago Ferry was fey and that Cee Lo dresses like a pimp.. there’s just no comparison and scratching in the dirt of youtube might turn up this or that, but you don’t have an effeminate singer in the lot. I suppose you could point to how Far*East Movement dresses, but, you know, they do have those members with Korean and Japanese ancestry, and that’s difficult to overcome…^^

            The evidence of who money is being on just doesn’t support an argument that in the West fans are interested in effeminate movies or songs. And that would be in 2010.

  2. I don’t have time to read the article right now, and so I shouldn’t comment (I know!) but I’ll read it later.

    IF you can argue successfully that Korea (and Japan) are in a more “effeminate” mode for men right now than “Western” culture, then maybe part of the reason Westerners seem so interested in looking at this is simply the RIGHT NOW aspect. It’s really worth remembering that our current mode is really simply a mode, not a fact of life. My great-grandfather’s moustache cup (!) is cobalt blue, covered in flowers, and gilded, and he was no nancy-boy. Then there’s the young men of the 20s and 30s, and so on. (And honestly, if it weren’t for the facial hair on many of them, the hipster guys of NYC, SF, and LA are not noticeably less girly, especially with emo influence starting to bleed in…)

    I’m starting to think it may be more interesting that a certain number of Westerners are really interested in all this than that Japanese and Korean men are well-groomed and wear pink polo shirts and pocket-shaped bags on straps. Heh.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to be dismissive or random, just airing some thoughts! I did skim the article and the last paragraph is especially true, reminding me of both discussions on bishounen in Japanese pop culture and on the increasing over-muscularity of boys’ action figures in the US. (Nobody wins when all the toys promote unrealistic body images…)

    In an ideal world, we wouldn’t CARE, and guys would have a more full range of clothing and hair choices available without these constant simmering ridiculous concerns about homosexuality. (Let’s face it–that’s the most constant criticism/”joke” launched at herbivore and flower and even vaguely fashionable Japanese and Korean men by non-Japanese and non-Korean men!). Heterosexism really does hurt everyone.

    • An excellent point that in many cases this entire discussion is underlain with a simmering “accusation” of homosexuality. This is why the word “effeminate” bothers me, because many use that as a code word.

      Until (if ever) being gay is acceptable across societies, I wish some super-genius could come up with a more neutral vocabulary to discuss points that are essentially about ‘mere’ fashion.

  3. Hello world!

    @Charles Montgomery:
    “Effeminate” is just a code word, as you say, and a poor choice indeed, even if sometimes I think it should be excused because, for 99% of the people, it’s immediatly perceivable. It blatantly confuses sex and gender. Better would be saying “overly gendered-characterised” maybe?
    That is, if colourful, lively, picturesque, scenic, flamboyant, baroque are not enough descriptive. English is such a rich language (it’s not mine, though, so please correct my own-made words) :-)

    @The Korean:
    To my sensibility, Korean men (ok, boys 20-30 yo) care very, very, very much about their appeareance. Which is not bad or good per se, it’s just like that! But “westerners” can’t help but notice the differences in behaviours (the massive use of facial skin-masks, creams, lotions, etcetera), in fashion choices and in ways of talking, greeting, etc. The “Beckham and his skirt” argument does not apply here at all, in my opinion.

    My question is: does T’aegyo (men’s t’aegyo!)have something to do with it or it’s more an “empty façade” dictated by what’s en vogue, as a (Korean) friend of mine aptly stressed?

    Very interesting topic!
    Eddy

  4. I don’t think it’s hygene habits or grooming habits that people necessarily consider “feminine”. Many men in the U.S. pay an excessive amount of attention on musculature and appearing “manly”, but if it’s simple vain narcissism that’s being called effeminate, then those “juiceheads” on the TV show “Jersey Shore” are just as womanly as the kkotinam and bishonen in Korea and Japan. People are right to point out that this observation of males being effeminate relies upon certain gender constructs that are sociocultural, but these change with time and thus are not unique to South Korea or Japan.

    However, I think the argument has (or should have) less to do with behaviors of men and more with biological characteristics, specifically facial structure and body type. The discussion generally revolves around the at-first-glance strange preference, that’s presumed to be exclusive to East Asian women, for men with more effeminate facial structures. I’m sure James has mentioned this before, and it’s an ongoing area of study. An insightful article at the Economist is available that explores the environmental factors that affect women’s taste in men.

    http://www.economist.com/node/17672806

  5. Just a quick note to say thank you very much for the comments, and sorry that I’ve taken so long to reply: partially because it’s been exam week at my university, but also – as per usual – I have a post going up tomorrow that was originally supposed to be rather short, but has developed into a monster instead. Once that’s up though, then I’ll finally respond properly here!

  6. Dear James and others,

    I find all the comments here really interesting. Thank you to those who read my little piece. I could not help feeling somewhat attacked, however, when I saw the term “Orientalist” being used (something which, I might add, happens much too often these days; I wonder if it is the Orientalists themselves who do so to protect “their” Orient… ㅋㅋ), so allow me to respond.

    If you do spend a lot of time in Korea, like I do (I visit every year, more than once, and have spent many years in Korea since 1988 either working full-time, teaching, studying or visiting), you do notice changes, and although I totally take the criticism of the term “effeminate” to heart, which, indeed, does have a whiff of homosexuality embedded in it, I would still argue that right now there is an unusual dynamic in the presentation of Korean male stars, as I described in the article. Some of you rightly compare all this to other cultures elsewhere in the world. Indeed, I would not contest the long-standing traditions of less typical machismo as very much an indicator of male power in Indonesia, for example, and I am not ignoring the use of cosmetics by Berlusconi or the men of some African cultures either (etc. etc.), but Korea does have some very unique aspects, and I would hate to treat Korea as if it were just another country, like everywhere else in the world, simply because we find the separate aspects in Korea elsewhere too. That would be a very dangerous generalisation, one I will always reject, because the meaning and significance of the rites and rituals will differ greatly between cultures.

    Beckham’s image was entirely different; Seri’s examples here should provide ample evidence thereof, but let’s also consider the fact that virtually all (indeed, all but one or two, to be fair) cosmetics outlets in Myôngdong right now (I have just returned from fieldwork there a week ago) are using male models to advertise female cosmetics, and that those men wear make-up in the ads, including lip-gloss. Would you see Beckham wear lip-gloss? And if so, would he be wearing pink lip-gloss? I doubt it. What my article, in all its flimsiness, was trying to say was that there is something quite unique in Korean culture at the moment, and I still believe there is. Sure, I might still have a very Western/Chinese idea of what defines the male and the female, but I have also spent a lot of time in Korea and the changes I describe seem relatively new to me (since late 1990s at the earliest); you will not find a Korean rock star wearing pink lip-gloss in the 1980s, and back in the 1960s and 1970s the great Shin Junghyun may have been a true innovator, but he and his followers merely wore long hair and wacky outfits, but nothing evidently effeminate. The censorship committees in Korea simply would not have allowed it (and just to be sure Shin’s influence remained marginal they banned his records for years). Indeed many ideas behind the styling could be found in Japan years ago, but not to the extent that you’d see all cosmetics shops in Shibuya or Harajuku use male models, and even if you had, you would find it hard to claim those stars were as international as some of the current icons of kkonminam are. (ps: I just went to Tokyo, and did not see male models used much at all, though compared to Korea the prominence of foreign models is poignant). The idea that actors and musicians do not live in the real world is debatable; As Heather Willoughby effectively argued a few years ago, people/consumers in Korea have and use the freedom to adopt and reject what they see their idols doing, but that doesn’t mean those idols do not affect their ideals. Do sportsmen not live in the real world?

    The Korean phenomenon I describe entails truly international stars employing specific notions of beauty that at least in Korea, nor on the modern international stage where they operate, have not been commonly associated with men, at least, until recently. I apologise if my article did not state that very clearly.

    I wish you all a fabulous Christmas and an even more fabulous 2011!

    Roald

  7. While the “pretty boy” phenomenon might be widespread across different cultures and countries I think it seems striking in the East Asian context. I may have written a paper about it before although I think it’s more like a constantly evolving conversation in my head… I think there’s gender politics, a certain reversal to be particular, that goes on with the pretty boy phenomenon. Korean and Japanese societies are notoriously patriarchal and male-dominated but in the relationship that goes on between the consumer and the commodity consumed, who are flower boy idols and actors, women seem to hold power. That is, they continue to define what is attractive, the success of these flower boys’ careers are in partly in their hands, etc. And then as media promotes it more, it spills over to the rest of society. And what follows is a change in standards of beauty. But gender roles and gender relations in real life are left unchanged.

    Maybe the gender power reversal as conveyed by consumption of male pop idols is more prominent in the Japanese case, where the entertainment industry is dominated by male groups, with very few female groups. There’s the herbivore men phenomenon too but that one is a bit different I think it’s a whole other set of characteristics, a generation of men who don’t want to get married and would rather pamper themselves… Something along that line.

  8. Try to visit more countries than just Korea. Simply because something is common in Hollywood movies doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe you can relate if I give some examples from European culture…during many times in History the long-haired slender youth was considered the epitome of masculine beauty.

    There are lots of places in the world where what you consider “feminine” traits are prized by women over big, ugly and smelly “masculine” men. LOL

    And I’m not just saying this because I love Super Junior.

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