Shin Min-a Shows Us How to Pose Like a Woman

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Yeah, I eat sitting cross-legged on my kitchen bench all the time too.

Fearing they hadn’t already made things quite awkward enough for Shin Min-a (신민아) in their latest entirely unconvincing “slice of regular life” photoshoot however, Giordano decided to go one better with this next shot. But which I have to admit, did at least get my attention:

(Source)

Alas, for all her efforts in keeping that smile on her face despite her right leg cramping however,  So Ji-sub (소지섭) just doesn’t seem interested. But then probably I wouldn’t be either given how loose she seems to be with her affections: she’s so enraptured with Tiger JK, for instance, that’s she’s content to sit perched on a ladder to listen to him playing his guitar:

(Source)

Unlike So Ji-sub and Jung Woo-sung (정우성), who choose to sit more comfortably when they listen to him themselves:

(Source)

But then Giordano relented, finally allowing her to sit normally while listening to Jung Woo-sung. Heck, no wonder she looks so happy:

"Oppa, thanks for talking to the producer for me. My butt was killing me!" "You're welcome. But what happened to all the spaghetti sauce?"

(Source)

Or that she has mixed feelings about appearing in the photoshoot in the first place. Which, in hindsight, is one of the most bizarre I’ve ever seen, as her purpose in it seems not to be so much to model the clothing herself, as to be a validation of the 3 men’s own clothing choices through her sexual interest in them.

Granted, the second shot should have made that obvious, but then the 3 men are widely considered among the sexiest male celebrities in Korea, about whom some female commentators on Omona! They Didn’t, for instance, had few inhibitions describing what they would like to do with them after seeing these pictures.

(Source)

Lest anyone feel I’m reading too much into the photoshoot though, then I’ll finish here by inviting readers to imagine replacing Shin Min-a with a man in the first, third, and fifth images above (and Tiger JK and Jung Woo-sung with a woman in the third and fifth respectively), and would argue that it’s so difficult to – and even harder to find actual examples – because advertisements are overwhelmingly designed for a male gaze. And which, what with seeing 500-1000 a day of them, can’t help but have socialized even the most media-savvy of us into thinking that eating spaghetti while sitting cross-legged on a kitchen bench, wedged between a gas range and toaster, is a normal and appropriate thing for women to do.

For much more on the male gaze, and many more Korean examples, see the “Erving Goffman’s ‘Gender Advertisements’ in the Korean Context” section in my sidebar, especially the following posts:

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36 thoughts on “Shin Min-a Shows Us How to Pose Like a Woman

  1. Before I forget, apologies for the slow posting and replying to comments this week, but I’ve been in bed with a terrible flu for most of it. And, albeit tanked up on amphetamines cold medicine at the moment, this is probably all I’ll be able to do until Monday I’m afraid!

  2. I’d say the weirdest thing about the first picture is not that she’s sitting on the counter and eating, but that she’s using a plate while she does. Whenever I’m sitting on the counter and eating, it’s nearly always straight from the pot of spaghetti, which I am seasoning with my own tears.

    • I agree. It’s not the sitting on the counter that is weird (I actually strongly associate eating on the counter with men….is that strange?) it’s that she put in the effort to use a plate when the pot is sitting right in front of her.

      • Forgive me for projecting perhaps: I’ve never eaten on a kitchen counter in my life, as it’s just too easy for there to be some speck of food on them to stain my clothes, or likely to be a little wet if I’ve just cleaned it to avoid precisely that. Then there’s the fact that I’m much too damn big to sit on kitchen counters anyway, which probably best explains why – to the best of my knowledge – I’ve never seen any other men doing so in movies or ads either, let alone in real life.

        Admittedly my memory may be faulty and/or selective though, so I’m happy to change my mind if there are indeed lots of examples out there of men doing so (and which, having just written this post, I’ll probably now come across in droves as soon as I turn on the TV). Still, even if there are some, I’d wager that it would still be something like 9 women on counters to every 1 guy, although I’d be interested in hearing why you strongly associate it with men Cait.

        But regardless of all that, what really got me – and which perhaps I should have been much more specific about sorry – was that she was eating from a plate while sitting cross-legged (update: have just fixed that in the post). Just sitting with your legs hanging over the edge, in contrast? Sure, have done so myself, albeit only briefly, and never to eat. But just the hassle of getting up up there like that etc. etc.,the chair or stool she would have had to have used to do so conveniently out of the picture, as is the person who would have to have handed her plate to her, unless she wanted to accidentally stick her hands in it, sit in it, or knock it off the counter as she was getting up?

        Alas, just one of the many things the media tries to persuade me is perfectly normal for women to do around the house, albeit, strangely, not the ones I’ve lived with for some reason. Not unlike this for instance:

        • I don’t mean to play devils advocate but i think you may be reading a little too much into this spread. I have a habit of sitting on counters and even…wait for it….crossing my legs if i know i’m going to be there for awhile. Sitting crossed legged is my favorite sitting position and i tend to default to it regardless or what I’m sitting on. I even have other female friends who also do this. Maybe women are portrayed in this position more often, b/c we are generally more flexible than men and do it more.

          • Yep, one of my cousins growing up always ate on the counter, cross legged-ly I might add. (perhaps this is where the association comes from) but I really don’t think it strange at all. I believe they sit (albeit not cross legged) on the counters to eat in the movie Lucky Number Slevin. I’m also thinking I’ve seen it in some Japanese dramas. I’ll have to think of more specific examples, but it really didn’t strike me as odd that she was on the counter eating.

            Perhaps what is weird is that the counter is so cramped looking? Or that she’s wearing shoes? Those both bother me, the more I look at it.

            The commercial you linked to is just awkward. Sure I dance around my house stupidly sometimes too, but I don’t attempt to do sexy dances by myself while doing chores…with my phone. Especially the part on the bed. I cringed watching it.

            • @ Cait Thanks for the reply, and I must say I’m surprised at all the kitchen bench sitters this has stirred up! And yeah, thanks to your comments and others, I realize that it is indeed really the shoes and especially the cramped bench that bother me too. Without the latter, I probably wouldn’t have written this post at all!

          • @Buki Oh, by all means please do, and I often do read too much into things. And I admit I may be doing so here too (it’s very much supposed to be tongue-in-cheek), but its wider aim is to highlight how there’s no doubting that women are indeed regularly placed into unnatural, awkward, and physically uncomfortable poses in ads, and are much more likely than men are to be too, as the posts linked to at the end of the post make clear. And not just for the sake of looking sexually appealing like in the second image either, but more often just for the sake of better demonstrating their invariably more passive gender role. Just like how in this particular photoshoot for instance, in almost all the shots of Shin Min-a with a man or men, she’s never really an active participant – or the most active participant – in the situation, merely an observer, listener, and/or, well, virtual decoration instead.

            Granted, there’s not many shots to go on (reading too much into it again), but that definitely bugged me the instant I saw it, and it’s what prompted me to write.

            Before I forget though, one reason I don’t think I’m reading too much into her sitting cross-legged on the bench is because of all the other elements in the image. Sure, I accept that you and your friends like sitting like that (although I do still think you’re exceptional in that regard), but do you do so wedged between appliances, unsanitary shoes on the bench others are about to prepare food on, and eating from a plate? It’s just awkwardness upon awkwardness.

            • Granted the shoes are ill placed. I agree with that, but this is a fashion spread. Koreans in general do not wear shoes indoors, so this whole ad is misplaced. For the sake of everyone looking “chic” and “cool” they are all wearing shoes. As to the cramped space. I like cramped spaces b/c then i have something to rest my back on or another part of my body. We could argue the realism of this shot forever, but what fashion spread is realistic. I have more problems with the other photos than this one. This one at least shows her defying convention and proper behavior. It give her an air of quirkiness.

              • Sorry to make mountains out of molehills, and if you’re tired of the subject then I completely understand. But still, it was a bit surprising and confusing to hear you conclude with “what fashion spread is realistic” when you’ve been arguing all along that, but for the shoes, the shot is actually much more realistic than I make out (e.g. you and your female friends sit like that, you like cramped spaces). What’s it to be?

                Either way, I disagree that everyone’s wearing shoes for the sake of looking chic and cool per se. Rather, that it’s because the setting is either not supposed to be Korea at all, or that it’s a version of Korea that the target consumers want to aspire to but don’t have now, and the shoes are a good signifier of that. Which I’ll discuss more in my reply to zzyzx below in a moment, but finally, yeah, I’ll certainly grant that she’s still defying the Korean family eating convention and all.

                Update: GG’s point below, that not a single dwelling she (or I) have ever seen in Korea has an open counter like that, buttresses my point that it’s not supposed to be Korea.

  3. Yeah. That second pose is super awkward. Legs for sale, anyone? While the fourth photo takes the opposite approach: look at how demure and meek and feminine I am! (Sound familiar?)

    If you ignore the fact that Koreans ALWAYS eat sitting at the table, barring special occasions like picnics, I don’t find the idea of sitting on the counter so odd, since I did it all the time when with peers or alone when back in the States. But even then my legs would be dangling off the counter, and I’d be using a cheap disposable plate (which aren’t available in Korea anyway). Hell, even a naengmyun bowl would work much better than a plate.

    All advertisement and consumer culture is aspirational, but I find the particular aesthetic peddled to late20~30 somethings today to be interesting (I’m not at that age myself, but most of the people I hang out with are). It’s a thirst for what is perceived as the leisurely, cultured, and informal lifestyle of the Western world (conveniently forgetting the fact that both the U.S. and most of Europe are mired in the worst financial crisis most of them have seen since the Great Depression) as an alternative to the increasingly backwards and authoritarian culture here.

    Since I returned to Korea in 2007 (just preceding the election of 2MB and the conservative rise to power), I’ve noticed a huge spike in conspicuous spending and importation of “foreign” foods, movies, leisure activities and other cultural capital. Not that Koreans haven’t always liked their imports, and it’s hard for me to describe what feels different about this new kind of consumerism.

    What I have noticed is that to be “in” now, you almost have to have direct exposure to American or European (more “hip” now because more “exotic”) culture, usually by having lived there for some period of time. This kind of cultural capital stands in opposition from that of the 90′s and 00′s in that foreign influences were filtered through the influence of domestic tastes. The new consumer culture requires a more sophisticated approach, more investment of time and money, and mental exertion and research in addition, but it’s definitely fakeable, and it’s not quite democratic.

    Perhaps this is Korea’s version of pretentious hipsterism? I personally would disagree, this new ideal doesn’t even pretend to be anything but mainstream. So is it growing trend toward increasingly elevated elitism, just another way to separate an elect few from the unwashed masses (who speak English poorly)? Or maybe it’s the sign of something deeper? I really don’t know.

    I also find it interesting that SMA’s pose in the second picture is more reminiscent of American or European fashion ads (think Guess or CK) than traditional asian ad material, but her pose in the fourth picture conforms much more closely to previous formulae.

      • And after all that wait, I find myself…having nothing to add sorry, as, thanks, that was really an insightful comment, and much more succinct than I would have written myself (I would have thrown the words “Occidentalism” and “Hyperreal” around pretty liberally). But speaking of which, it is often – nay, usually – simply bizarre what representations of the Western world are provided, and of which there’s more than enough examples to devote an entire blog to…off the top of my head, the Welch’s ad at the bottom of this post being a good one (it won’t embed in the comments sorry).

        Thanks again!

  4. BTW. I find it hilarious how SJS looks, as he always does, “too cool for school” (or to pay attention to nubile young women stretched out in awkward poses on the couch).

  5. Funny post. I had no idea you read Omona! – I’m a seasoned lurker there.

    I was thinking that the cross legged pose was for photographic benefit only – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen similar adverts in the west, and it does look pretty cool – but the second one down is just odd. And painful looking.
    The caption on the fifth is priceless, however.

    • Thanks. As for Omona! though, I’m not sure “read” is really the operative word: 95% of posts just clog up my Google Reader, and although it can be good for getting K-pop news quickly sometimes (like this), often it’s much simpler just to go straight to allkpop from which they get probably at least a 3rd of their stuff anyway (and Koreaboo is even quicker still). Meanwhile, I just hate how they’ve copied and pasted whole posts of mine without even asking, and I’m never very impressed with commenters, the average mental age of which would surely be about 14-16.

      Sorry for the downer…thinking about the internet just reminded of some trolls I had to deal with today. But seriously, Omona! really is just the bottom-feeder of the K-pop blogosphere!

      • Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty rubbish place to get news from – I too prefer Allkpop for news and photos, “unprofessional” or not. I find it amusing how Omona! looks down on it when it’s where they get the majority of their news as well :P

        However, for kpop related gifs and reasonably well articulated conspiracy theories (usually pertaining to SM Entertainment), there aren’t many better places to go in the English speaking k-pop blogosphere.

        They should credit your posts. That’s just unclassy.

        • Yeah, I find their love/hate relationship with Allkpop strange too. If I had to choose just one site between the 3 though, I’d probably still go with Omona. It usually has a lot more and bigger images than Allkpop, and Allkpop has a reputation of at least highly exaggerating news stories about celebrities (if not simply making it up): notably, they never link to the stories they translate, just saying it comes from Naver or whatever. Meanwhile, KoreaBoo is the fastest, but that means the news they give is usually pretty minimal (with virtually no images).

          Before I forget, for the record Omona has always credited my posts. What it is that makes me angry about it though, and is extremely bad netiquette on their part, is that they never just take the 5 mins to ask me if they can use them. It’s not like I’d say no or can do anything about it, but the gesture would be appreciated.

  6. Slice of WHAT?! Seriously, either something went horribly wrong during the shooting or these people have no concept of “regular” life whatsoever!

    Ps: some kitchen counters can be very convenient and surprisingly comfortable. Marble are my favorite, Granite follows closely.

    • Yeah – for me, it’s neither regular life nor something I’d really want to aspire to by wearing the clothes either.

      Will discuss that more when I respond to zzyzx’s comment tomorrow morning sorry (yawn).

  7. I had no idea so many people sat on counters.

    Are those three men really considered among the sexiest men in Korea? The one on the left is cute enough but I wouldn’t call him sexy. The one in the middle I’ve always thought of as ugly, and the one on the right is okay, looks better without the raggety mop on top. Do Korean women really not find rugged, masculine men sexy? Daniel Dae Kim radiates more testosterone than these three guys put together. Next time you post these images of men like this and describe them as sexy, please link to that photo of Shin Seung-hun and his six-pack, so I can soothe my eyes.

    • Tell me about it! As for the guys though, well…in hindsight I guess maybe they wouldn’t make the top ten or even twenty in a snap poll of my female students, but I’m pretty certain one or two be in the top thirty at least.

      Duly noted about Shin Seung-hun.

  8. How many kitchens in Korea would even have the space to sit on a counter in the first place? Unless I jumped in the sink, not a single kitchen I’ve ever encountered in the country would have either counter or headspace for such a feat.

    • Yeah. My daughters like to sit on them, but already 4.5 year-old Alice is getting too big to squeeze onto ours, much to her chagrin. So she’s taken to bloody climbing on my desk instead….

  9. James,

    Your points about the kitchen bench (or “counter” in the U.S.) are well taken. However, something to consider is that many Koreans often cross-legged in several places that might seem strange to Westerners. Admittedly the kitchen counter is not so common, but people are always taking off their shoes and sitting on their couches or chairs, even in libraries, restaurants and other public places. So while I agree that the overall photo shoot is probably not that natural, the kitchen shot could possibly be an extension of that culture.

    To be honest, I didn’t find the top image so strange. The only strange thing to me would be the fact that she kept her shoes on. Maybe that’s the result of me being in Korea so long. I’m in a cafe in Hongdae as I write this, and if one of the employees (whom I’m friends with and who is a very small person) sat on top of the counter it wouldn’t strike me as that strange…he sits in that half-lotus type position all the time.

    Indeed, I’ve gotten so used to seeing this kind of thing among Koreans that I’ve picked up the same habit myself, although with my height and long legs I need a lot of space. Ha ha.

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  11. I would not have given these pics a second glance in the street but looking at them closer I also find them awkward.
    I dont care about eating on the counter, its rather having her shoes on a surface dedicated to food that shocks me. Also when Jung Woo-sung is having pasta why is her plate so clean?

    Anyways Ive been wondering how many women actually work in advertising in Korea. Quite often I feel like the female’s perspective is very lopsided and stereotypical. Also, maybe its being used to Western ads but it took me a while to get used to all the cosmetic shops featuring guys while selling to women. Usually cosmetic brands say something like: “buy this to look pretty like her”, but here its more like “buy this and he will like you”. Any hindsight on the subject?

    • With the proviso that Korea has the lowest female workforce participation rate in the OECD (only about 50% of 25-64 year-old women work), then I don’t think the number of women working in the advertising industry would be substantially different to those of many other developed countries (the numbers of female managers and team leaders that have the final say on the ads though, would be a different matter). Much more important, I’d say, is how the male gaze has come to be accepted as normal by both genders and consumers and advertisers alike, as discussed more in this post.

      Meanwhile, although I did learn from a female commenter that there’s good reasons why you never actually see men watching women putting on the make-up in ads, I’ve been so long in Korea that I didn’t realize that men selling cosmetics to women was unusual sorry. What would probably account for it would be Korean advertising’s huge reliance on celebrity endorsement, as explained by Londoner Bruce Haines, currently head of Korea’s largest ad agency Cheil Worldwide (제일기획):

      Q) What’s one big difference between advertising in Korea and the UK?

      A) Celebrity endorsement – a huge proportion of Korean ads depend on famous people. Of course, it’s not uncommon in the West for stars to endorse a product, but generally the ad has a core idea and makes use of the celebrity endorsement to enhance the original concept. Not so in Korea. In its crudest form, Korean advertising degenerates to beautiful people holding a bottle. This is one of the things holding back the reputation of Korean advertising worldwide. (10 Magazine)

  12. I am impressed that she sit cross legged on the kitchen bench every time she eats. It suits pretty women to sit cross legged. She has style.

  13. I read many of your posts, and yes, they were usually convincing and well-thought out.
    This blog is INDEED focused on sociology in Korea, but I am sometimes think your posts tend to have a negative light.
    Wouldn’t this cause Korean people to be shown as “negative” to those people who aren’t familiar with their culture, etc.? Your posts ARE insightful, I really think so. But they have a possibility of highlighting only the negative parts of Korea. I mean, I was a foreigner who knows NOTHING about Korea might think that way…
    I think it would be a good idea if you had positive posts balancing out the rather “shady” ones so that a race will not be perceived in a certain way…

    ps: your points are good though! they often make sense!

      • Thanks for your compliments Janice, but frankly I couldn’t care less if anyone gets a negative impression of Korea thanks to my blog – if people unfamiliar with the country need reminding that there’s a lot more to the country than just what they see here, then that’s their own problem.

        Also, actually, is it really correct to say that this post, say, is “negative:? Whether we like it or not, Shin Min-a being presented differently – and in many senses inferior – to the men in these ads is cold, hard, objective fact, as is that gender binary is common in Korean advertising as a whole (but not just Korean advertising of course). Sure, if I see ads presenting women positively then I do usually mention them (especially on my FB page), but in the meantime I see no reason to sugercoat that reality.

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